While late night talk show openings don't usually get the same recognition as the earworm themes for scripted series, they end up becoming quite memorable in their own right. As such, quite a few Tonight Show fans have been scratching their heads over why Jimmy Fallon's NBC staple has apparently abandoned the traditional opening titles featuring the host taking a New York City stroll while The Roots jam out.
The Tonight Show now kicks off with a heavily truncated opening that barely utilizes announcer Steve Higgins or The Roots, with Jimmy Fallon quickly launching into his monologue soon after. According to Fallon, the decision to cut the opening was inspired by the producers' intention to get to the comedy quicker. In his words:
Get to the funny, get to the comedy. [Viewers are] going to tune in at 11:35 and want to see you be funny. ‘Gimme the jokes, what’s happening in the world. Gimme the headlines. What is the president doing? What’s the new pop culture thing people are talking about? Show me a viral video and let’s go! Entertain me, I’m tired. I worked all day! I don’t need to see you walking through New York! I get it!’
Amusingly enough, Jimmy Fallon also told Variety that Netflix directly inspired the opening's removal. As subscribers can vouch for, Netflix's shows generally feature a "Skip Intro" option that allows viewers to leap past the opening credits to get straight into the plot. Such an option obviously doesn't exist for network TV, so Fallon & Co. decided to adapt the idea for their own ideals. Because dammit, we need to see people spitting in each other's faces quicker.
Now, a cynic might consider it ridiculous for Jimmy Fallon and showrunner Jim Bell to place so much viewership importance on the relatively short time that the opening sequence took to air. However, things are as heated as ever in the battle for late night talk show supremacy, with The Tonight Show consistently falling to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in both viewership and demographic ratings.
Last year, The Tonight Show still held a steady margin over The Late Show in the key 18-49 age demographic, though Stephen Colbert's viewership had topped Jimmy Fallon's. However, the most recent stats revealed that Colbert completely won out the 2018-2019 TV season, beating out Fallon's demo rating by about 18,000 people.
It marked Colbert's overarching first demo win, and The Late Show's first demo victory over The Tonight Show since the 1994-1995 season, when it was all about Leno vs. Letterman. As well, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert won out in the total viewership for the third year in a row, with a slightly higher margin of victory in the satirical comedian's favor.
When considering that on a night-to-night basis, The Tonight Show essentially runs neck and neck with The Late Show's demo rating, the decision to excise the NBC talk show's opening sequence seems slightly more justified. Especially if getting to the monologue's first joke 40 seconds faster means the difference between maintaining or losing the lead-in audience delivered by local news broadcasts. (NBC's local news telecasts reportedly top CBS news broadcasts in viewers, likely giving Fallon a little extra help.)
Having less than a minute might not seem like much of an advantage, but think for a minute about how instantly reflexive it is to change a channel whenever something even slightly non-favorable pops up. So if The Tonight Show's opening started, and the first guest mentioned was someone you didn't like, there was a decent enough chance you'd change the channel before Jimmy Fallon even opened his mouth on stage.
Now, though, the evening's guests aren't even revealed until partway through the monologue. Better to hook people in with a few jokes before letting them know which celebs will be pimping their new projects.
Rumors have surfaced recently about alleged issues happening behind the scenes on The Tonight Show, with the ratings losses to Stephen Colbert spurring them on. It's been reported that showrunner Jim Bell has been butting heads with executive producer Lorne Michaels, who first worked with Jimmy Fallon during his Saturday Night Live stint.
It's not clear how true those rumors are, but it might not be long before The Tonight Show ends up making another big change to its episodes in order to secure as much of a viewership as it can. Hopefully the show will still find ways to make the opening interesting beyond just jumping straight into the monologue. Like in the video below.
The Tonight Show airs weekday nights on NBC at 11:35 p.m. ET.