Jimmy Fallon talks 'Tonight Show': First guests? Will Smith and U2

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A month before he takes over NBC’s The Tonight Show from Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon hosted a room full of reporters at a Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour panel. To help facilitate the transition (and possibly to unscrew Leno from the host chair), Fallon will appear on Leno’s last installment of The Tonight Show on Feb. 6 before relocating the L.A.-based talk show to New York for his Feb. 17 debut. Here are some highlights from Fallon’s Q&A during and after the session, which also included new Tonight Show executive producer Josh Lieb.

• Will Smith will be Fallon’s first guest. “He’s a big Hollywood star,” said Fallon, “and he always brings it every time he goes on a talk show.” The musical guest that night? U2.

• When Leno (re-)took over The Tonight Show a few years ago, Fallon called him to say that he was not “gunning” for his position. “When you step down,” Fallon said, “let’s do it the right way.” They continued to talk to each other every couple of weeks, and Leno finally called to tell him: “This was going to be the year, and I’d love for you to be the next guy.” When a reporter followed up with Fallon and asked if he was essentially saying that he has known that he was getting The Tonight Show gig for three years, Fallon said that wasn’t the case.

• He said that he wasn’t concerned that history might repeat itself with a Conan O’Brien, seven-months-and-out-so-Leno-can-return situation, praising NBC and Leno throughout the transition. “I don’t think anything sneaky is going on here,” he said. “I trust everyone involved. NBC has been totally behind me the whole way through. And I think this one’s going to work. “He also said he wasn’t worried about where Leno might end up. “Maybe he could be the new detective on The Blacklist.”

• Although “it wasn’t easy,” Fallon wanted to move The Tonight Show to New York for several reasons: It would take the show back to its roots, where it all began; he lives there with wife and new baby; and the city at night offered the perfect setting with “the lights, Times Square, Broadway, the glitz and glamor.” He also noted that booking guests hasn’t and won’t be a problem, citing President Obama’s appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. “You can’t get bigger than that.”

• Asked what it meant to him to follow in the footsteps of Carson, Fallon responded: “Well, we’re skipping a lot of generations, but it means a lot to me. It’s surreal and it’s an honor… I don’t want to let anyone down. I want them to know that I’m going to work  as hard as I can. And I know how much the show means and I’m a big fan of television. This is an important job and I’m so looking forward to it. And I just want to make everyone laugh.”

• Fallon is planning to bring The Tonight Show to Los Angeles at least once a year.

• He is also planning on bringing the video shorts with him, and you will see them in the first few weeks. “We’re toying with two ideas right now,” he hinted.

• Fallon was brimming with enthusiasm for his new set, which is located in Studio 6B in 30 Rock, where The Tonight Show used to be based. “If you’ve ever been to Lincoln Center, that should inspire what this will look like,” he said, adding: “It’s almost like when you wear those bose noise canceling headphones and you turn it on and just feel like something different’s happened… It’s a work of art.”

• Why will the name of the show be The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon instead of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon? “It’s an homage, a tip of the cap to the origins of the show,” said Fallon. “It’s show business, it’s glamorous, it’s Hollywood. It’s kind of fun.” Or, as Lieb summed up: “‘Starring’ is a vastly more exciting word than ‘with.’”

• When a reporter brought up Fallon’s hit bit with Bruce Springsteen — which saw the duo perform a parody of “Born to Run” that poked fun of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bridge scandal — Fallon revealed that he gave   Christie a heads-up about the gag ahead of time. “I just let him know: The silver lining? Bruce Springsteen says your name. That’s pretty cool, right? I haven’t heard back yet.”

More to come…

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