Jimmy Fallon’s Writers Tell Us Why He May Have Another 10 Years on NBC

“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” celebrated its 10-year anniversary in May and now it’s 10 years and counting: On June 13, Fallon renewed his NBC contract through 2028. However, the show’s greatest testament to its popularity may not be on NBC.

While the broadcast network is his employer, Fallon’s “Tonight Show” stands out for its huge lead over the competition on other platforms. “The Tonight Show” has the most-followed or subscribed-to Facebook, Instagram, Threads, TikTok, and YouTube (but not X/Twitter — that’s “The Daily Show”) accounts in late night, totaling 92.5 million. Fallon’s digital content has racked up 5.8 billion views across all social platforms in the past 12 months, per ListenFirst data.

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Each platform must serve a different audience, showrunner Chris Miller said, but there’s a simple solution. He and his staff must write as if they’re producing at least three shows a night.

“We put on a show for network television, we put on a show for YouTube, and we put on a show that gets broken into a million pieces on Instagram and TikTok, and all of those types of things,” Miller told IndieWire. “We’re somewhat conscious as we do the show that we know we’re feeding all of those beasts.”

The broadcast-TV show, the one that has been on since the 1950s, is “the source material” for all of the additional platforms, said Miller, who took the showrunner post about two years ago.

A.D. Miles was Fallon’s head writer during the “Late Night” days and into the “Tonight Show” transition in 2014. He then left, and returned as head writer last year. Comparing the two shows, he said the writing strategy “changed internally.”

“We had a bigger audience and so there was a reverence for how big of a deal that was,” Miles said. “But I think this is a credit to Jimmy’s comedic north star in that it didn’t change that much in terms of our daily edict. We just come in everyday, we scan the horizon for what we can talk about, what we can make comedy out of, and just put the funniest show on possible. And that was consistent from ‘Late Night’ to the ‘Tonight Show.’ I think, if anything, we were just like, ‘Oh boy.’ It was just (like) getting called up to the big leagues.”

They consciously left some of the “frat boy” humor stuff at “Late Night,” Miller added.

“We used to have people lick lawn mowers for $10,” Miles said.

Some of the sophistication is due to “The Tonight Show’s” earlier time slot. But 12:30 or 11:30, one thing that definitely did not change was this: “You’re just going out there and trying to be as funny as possible,” Miles said.

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 1976 -- Pictured: (l-r) Writer A.D. Miles and host Jimmy Fallon during Tonight Show Gift Guide on Friday, May 17, 2024 -- (Photo by: Todd Owyoung/NBC)
Writer A.D. Miles and host Jimmy Fallon during Tonight Show Gift Guide on Friday, May 17, 2024Todd Owyoung/NBC

Fallon’s tenure has seen its bumps: The show weathered a 2023 Rolling Stone report that accused Fallon of fostering a toxic workplace environment (sources close to the show deny this). However, it began by executing a perfect handover — something that previously eluded “The Tonight Show” altogether.

In 2014, Jay Leno passed the baton to Fallon without incident; that was not the case in the previous regime changes. The 1992 transition from Johnny Carson to Leno had enough drama to fill a book and a 1996 HBO movie. And in 2009, when Leno was supposed to leave “Tonight” to then-“Late Night” host Conan O’Brien (a decision made public five years earlier), Leno was unready. The debacle ended with Leno returning to the desk after mere months of “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.”

Miles said at no point did he and Fallon “consciously” think about the prior pass-off or the lack thereof.

“Jimmy does such a different kind of show (than Leno and O’Brien),” Miles said. “Both of them serve their audiences really well, but I think our first sketch was [Fallon] with Justin (Timberlake) coming out and doing that incredible opening musical number. It just immediately carved a new lane for our version of ‘The Tonight Show.'”

Part of Jimmy’s “different kind of show” is going light on politics. It is Fallon’s preferred brand of humor, not the reflection of an uninformed writers room.

“We look at the news the minute we get up, all of us do. We watch before bed,” Miller said.

That’s pretty much a job requirement for a late-night TV writer. But news can be exhausting and sometimes the audience just needs a break. No one needs a “seventh take” on a partisan political moment at 11:30 at night, Miles said.

“By the time you’ve gone through Threads and Twitter and looked at the news and read your newspaper — I can’t imagine you want to hear one more big, long excoriation,” he said. “You have to talk about all this stuff, but there’s a way to do it where you’re not insulting the other side. Half of America likes one and half of America likes the other.”

Added Miller, “I think what you really want to do is just have some acknowledgement, ‘Yep, this is all going on, and now we’re gonna have some fun.'”

Showrunner Chris Miller
Showrunner Chris Miller

What more than half of America no longer likes is linear television. In a streaming world, there are no time slots and a propensity for delayed viewing isn’t a natural ally for topical TV shows.

Under Fallon’s new contract, “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” will continue until at least 2028. But how long can it go on in the new TV landscape?

“A long time,” Miles said. “Since I’ve been back… I’m pitching Jimmy some ideas that maybe some people would be like, ‘Eh, let’s just do the thing.’ Jimmy’s not like that. I’m pitching him some very outside-of-the-format ideas and some bigger concepts and Jimmy’s answer is always, like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s try it.’ So I’m still very optimistic and very ambitious about what we can do within this format that goes out [on] on the different platforms.”

Miller says it is the “sensibility” that comes with the late-night network-TV slot — even if that’s not when and where people watch it — that viewers embrace.

“It’s a little sexier, it’s a little smarter. Even the guests who come on, they’re dressed more,” he said. “There’s something elevated as opposed to morning shows, which are great, but you’re behind a desk with a cup of coffee and it’s daytime and it feels different. So I think that nighttime, sexy, more-adult take on things will always be there.”

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