NBC’s “Tonight Show” will try a new way to break out of TV’s late-night pack.
The Jimmy Fallon-led program is launching a new six-episode miniseries that chronicles how the show maneuvered during the coronavirus pandemic, moving to “at home” broadcasts that featured the host and his family, and its eventual return to NBC’s TV studios with fewer bells and whistles. The series can be watched whenever audiences like and does not require them to wait until after the late local news to get a first peek at the proceedings.
“I think we are just getting started with new digital series under the ‘Tonight Show’ umbrella,” said Nick Dyer, who joined “Tonight” as its head of digital in February after working for several years with Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” The miniseries will be made available through venues such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, said Dyer, with some clips potentially making their way to TikTok.
As more TV viewers turn to streaming video to get their entertainment fix, programs that rely heavily on day-and-date content have begun to consider new methods to entice their fans. TV news outlets like CNN regularly release clips of their daytime programs on Twitter to reach people who may not have time to tune in. And late-night programs have also considered new options. Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” releases of-the-moment jokes on Twitter (on Wednesday, the show mixed it up with Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz) while NBC’s Seth Meyers typically makes his signature “Closer Look” segment from NBC’s “Late Night,” available on social media several hours before his program debuts at 12:35 in the morning. NBC briefly clashed with some of its affiliates last year when it considered a plan to make “Tonight” and “Late Night” available on its streaming-video hub Peacock in the early evening — before the stations could do so.
Producers at “Tonight” see a chance to distinguish the program further from the rest of the field. “Everyone is going to watch and experience these shows on whatever platform they are currently on, whether that is television, social media, Twitter,” said Dyer. ”So our goal is to really meet those fans where they are and just create an experience for them that keeps them wanting more and having them come back for more content.”
He envisions creating programs that let viewers see more of Fallon interacting with celebrity guests from “Tonight” — and not just the exchanges he has with them during the show, on camera. He also thinks there’s room for videos of Fallon talking about some of his biggest passions, which include music and videogames. The host has already done one in which he discusses coming music releases and which he thinks are notable.
“There is an opportunity to experiment and try out new series,” said Dyer.
Just as David Letterman transformed the late-night landscape with arch humor and offbeat segments about dropping things off a five-story tower, so too have Fallon and some of his contemporaries moved the format forward by crafting vignettes that go viral on social media. During his tenure on “Late Night,” Fallon crafted showcases like “Jersey Floor” that had the host and guests like Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler discover a floor at NBC’s New York headquarters that emulated the popular MTV “Jersey Shore” reality series.
On “Tonight,” Fallon has stood apart from other shows by enlisting his guests to take part in games and contests, as well as signature sketches. While other late-night hosts have thrived in recent years by paying attention to the roiling news cycle and the Trump White House, Fallon has largely steered “Tonight” away from politics.
The NBC show suffered somewhat during the previous era, but has shown new signs of strength in recent weeks. CBS’ “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” continues to command the most viewers in late night, but Fallon’s “Tonight” has led or tied for the lead among viewers between 18 and 49, the audience most coveted by advertisers, for the past nine weeks. Executives at the network have also placed more emphasis on the number of interactions “Tonight” has with users of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube — as have the people who manage “Tonight’s” competitors.
Fallon remains “super-passionate and is always down to try new things,” said Dyer.