Missing It: What Happened to The Tonight Show Opening

Paying Attention

This post was originally put up in early September (maybe you’ve noticed a trend..as we work through some of the greatest hits from the past). Last night, 8 October 2019, the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon opening returned to its’ classic opening format…the one used since the first telecasts of the show. Why? Who knows. We’re digging for those answers now. 

On 20 March 2019, the opening to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon changed. You’d have to be a creature of habit to notice or a television producer to care about it, but on that date, the iconic opening that had served (we thought) Fallon and the Tonight Show so very well for all of it’s existence was replaced by a non-dynamic opening graphic–just a few seconds of visual really– followed by Steve Higgins WWE inspired introduction of Fallon, who comes out from behind the curtains and goes right to his mark, starting the evening off by thanking the audience (or, alternatively..”You made it, you’re here, the Tonight Show”) and then dropping into his five to seven minute monologue (after thanking the Roots, his very, very good house band).

The original Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon video opening was a short, sharp, piece of art, directed by New York film maker Spike Lee with crisp editing and music by The Roots. It had movement and attitude and it rocked into the show.   It looked like it had SNL title opening ancestry and it did, because the show is produced by Lorne Michaels, who created Saturday Night Live (among other NBC shows).  It set the tone, like the one from Jimmy’s predecessor show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (above)

And, yes, we really wanted to have it embedded in this piece but could not find a copy of it. Perhaps NBC removed it from public visibility or maybe we didn’t look in the all right places but….it was not findable.(thanks to YouTube for the video at the head of this post).

However, we were able to source something that will provide the type of deep drill down we favor here at the Media Bunker: a shot by shot analysis of the opening produced by our friends at Popspots NYC.com …..

You are encouraged to click the link and go through the opening sequence, shot by shot. That’s all it will take to give you an appreciation of what a great little opening the show (once) had and we like it so much.

So why the change and why now? No clues yet, despite more research than I want to talk about. It could be that the change was mandated by a new “showrunner” (the term previously used to denote the executive producer). One of Fallon’s key team, Mike DiCenzo, who has been with Fallon since Jimmy’s first late night show (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon) left; as DiCenzo says, “After 10 years of late night television, it’s time to decompress”. The name DiCenzo may not ring an immediate bell, but you would recognize his repeating character on the show–Bucket Hat Guy, who often engaged in complex back-and-forth word association oneupmanship with host Fallon. Who knew he was the head writer?

At the end of his term with The Tonight Show, DiCenzo was operating as “show runner” so he had extra duties layered on him in addition to the writing he produced for the show (one of his bits was “Slow Jamming the News with President Obama”…a legend). DiCenzo left the show on 22 October 2018.

DiCenzo was replaced by Jim Bell, who is a news and sports producer for NBC and worked previously as President of  NBC’s Olympics Coverage. Bell has experience with the Today Show and was brought in to punch up Fallon’s show, which has been sliding in the ratings. It was just announced that Stephen Colbert’s show (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) had done something the Late Show had not done in 50 years…finish ahead of the Tonight Show in the ratings (specifically the key under 50 demographic that advertisers and networks all want). It was also announced that Katie Hokenmeyer, another top producer for Fallon who worked hand-in-hand with DiCenzo and another staff member that has been with Jimmy since his Late Night show days, has also recently left.

There is some concern with Fallon losing to Colbert in the ratings race for the first time; Fallon is notoriously soft on current politics and Colbert is constantly blistering Trump and his team, nightly, and has built a following because of his scathing takes on the present administration. And..it can only get better for Colbert as the 2020 elections are on the horizon and that only means more interest in politics and political commentary and content that plays right into Colbert’s humor sweet spot.

NBC had obviously thought that the strategy of bringing in an ex-Today Show producer would bring a more current and controversial focus to Fallon’s show (Colbert’s show started to take off when CBS moved their Morning Show producer to Late Night). But so far, the results aren’t too good–the cohesive team that took Fallon from very late night to late night has been broken up by the departures of DiCenzo and Hockenmeyer and from a distance, it seems that Fallon is most comfortable working with the team that helped him build his career. In the new management shuffle, Jimmy is now the “talent”, and subject to executive pressure to change his style to meet a perceived new audience demand. Bell’s first turn at managing the show hasn’t done much for Bell’s reputation–he lost the time slot–and so his position as head of the show may be in jeopardy, especially since rumors are floating around that Bell doesn’t get along with Lorne Michaels, who developed Fallon’s show, Seth Meyer’s Show, SNL, and is the reigning king of comedy at NBC–i.e. Michaels is irreplaceable and Bell is not.

Why so much interest in these two late night shows and their hosts?


The two most lucrative shows at NBC have long been  the Today Show and the Tonight Show. These shows generate vast amounts of advertising revenue and are comparatively inexpensive to produce vs. series television shows or sitcoms. If you’re the head of a major network, the time slots you want to control are early morning and late night. When those cash cow time slots start to drift away, it’s time for a change.

So is that the reason the opening for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was changed? Certainly hope not because the change wiped out four years worth of brand/graphic/film equity and replaced it with an opening that–currently–is not worthy of a major network television show. No doubt Jimmy can get back in the ratings game, but he need to get the band back together.again…bringing back the original opening would be a very good start.

The Fine Print. Photo embed courtesy of our friends at Getty Images, who have the photographic history of the 20th and 21st Century on file. This photo has not been altered in any way. Copyright Getty Images, 2019,and or their designee all rights reserved. We thank them for sharing. Late Night With Jimmy Fallon via and courtesy of our friends at YouTube; all rights belong to the respective rights holders. We also thank PhotospotNYC.com and in particular Bob Egan for developing and posting their shot-by-shot analysis of The Tonight Show opening. (if only we could post it!)/ Spotify music playlist courtesy of DJ Tschugge and Spotify. Turn it up.  DonaldPiece.com is an evolving experiment in digital communications with a surprisingly broad bandwidth and is produced by Perception Engineering and the Media Bunker. Entire contents copyright (c) 2019, Donald Pierce unless otherwise noted. Thanks for reading. Come back soon. 



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1 Comment

  1. Feel free to repost any or all of my shot by shot analysis of the Tonight show intro. – Bob at PopSpots.com ( I just saw the mention in a random Google search). Glad to help.

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