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Jimmy Fallon, Still Not Funny

Four years ago, I couldn't help but write a TNR piece about why Jimmy Fallon wasn't funny, isn't funny, and could never be funny. It ran in the wake of his "SNL" departure as he tried to carry a flop of a feature film called Taxi, co-starring Queen Latifah. In the story, I remark on Fallon's can't-fail brand of comedic success: When your shtick's about nothing more than failing to stay in character or deliver a funny line (or take anything seriously), it's nearly impossible to actually fail. 

Recently, however, NBC, a failing network that just laid off a scourge of employees as its slick exec Ben Silverman posed for pictures on a skiiing vacation, announced that Jimmy Fallon will take over Conan O'Brien's "Late Night." At that point, I thought this failing-upwards nonsense would have to stop. No luck, though, apparently. Because before simply pushing Fallon onto stage the way they did Conan on his opening night, NBC, with the network's unusual luck of hit "SNL" and "30 Rock" web clips, has introduced a Jimmy Fallon vlog (that's Webby for "video blog") on which the semi-pro can practice in front of real people. You know, like an internship, with ungodly benefits. Not surprisingly, Fallon's vlog is just plain boring, which is the worst kind of bad. On one episode, he reads notes written by visitors to his site; after one in which he's called an unfunny "douchebag," he simply stares at the screen and a bleak-looking New York City. Then silence. This is supposed to be humor.

What is funny about the Fallon Effect, however, is that he simply imported the talents of former "SNL" colleague Fred Armisen (the show's new Obama) by having him on as a guest and letting him mock the whole concept of talk-show interviews. If he's still the Jimmy we know him to be, it's inevitable that he'll also tap the talents of the truly successful Tina Fey. More bolstering. Just like in his "SNL" days, Fallon is the baby of the family, only required to be cute and always eager for help. Can you think of another adult who gets paid for so little? 

Relatedly, I also wrote that year about how Conan's act would eventually cannibalize itself and have to play to the older, more conservative "Tonight Show" audience when he took over Jay's stage. Well, NBC may be worried about that, too, if we look carefully at why they chose to keep Leno and air his new variety show in the 10 p.m. time slot. Not only will NBC keep its original "Tonight Show" audience, many of whom can no longer stay up even to watch Jay, but they will have a more politically conservative, comfy layer of protection before those crazzzy-liberal, late-night heathens get the likes of Conan and then Baby Fallon. It's mainly a financial move, as keeping Leno will save the network from having to spend money on a scripted series for that slot. But the shift, if I may say so, also reeks of a fear-driven political strategy. With Leno at 10 p.m., an increasingly palatable (read: middle age-friendly) Conan at 11:35 p.m., and Fallon to pick up the scraps (and play to the simple), NBC will hit every political party member, in every age group, every night. In other words, there's no escape (unless, of course, you appreciate the heartening good sense of Letterman--what a thought). Anyway, who knew Peacocks could be so plotting and Kafka-esque?

--Adam Baer