The most telling line in the Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon "West Side Story"-style duet that bridged The Tonight Show" and "Late Night" on April Fools’ Day came when they sang away any hint of friction.
“Tonight, Tonight,” they crooned. “Why do they say we fight? I like you. You like me. We’re okay.”
The song parody went a long way toward upholding the nice-guy images both NBC hosts work hard to project – and marked a united humor front amid reports
of a new "Tonight Show" shakeup in the works. Perhaps more notably, the surprise Leno-Fallon collaboration offered the best instance of cross-pollination in the crowded, sharp-tongue-filled late night comedy field since bitter competitors Leno and David Letterman teamed for a classic Super Bowl spot
three years ago.
The duo, who once both coveted Johnny Carson's late night throne, sat on a couch, buffered by Oprah Winfrey, in the 2010 game-day promo for CBS’s “Late Show.” In Monday’s “West Side Story” spoof, Leno and Fallon sang over the phone, separated by West Coast and East Coast, but joined in the cause of comedy
The two men have enjoyed a friendly on-screen relationship, as did Leno and Fallon’s predecessor, Conan O’Brien, before things went sour. Jimmy Kimmel’s 2010 appearance, via satellite, on “The Tonight Show” made for some explosive
television, largely at Leno’s expense.
Fallon, meanwhile, has collaborated for laughs with some of his late night cohorts. He and Colin Ferguson regularly waved to one another wearing Mickey Mouse gloves, and shot virtual spaghetti across the airwaves. “Instead of pretending to hate [Fallon], I pretend to like him,” Ferguson once cracked.
Fallon and Stephen Colbert waged a fake war over whose Ben & Jerry’s flavor of ice cream is better, and teamed on “Late Night” in 2011 for an epic version
of the viral pop confection “Friday.” More recently, they paired on an “Ebony and Ivory” takeoff that declared a fake détente: “Ivory and Ivory. I can tolerate you and you don’t mind me.”
Fallon and Colbert share a talent for song as well as comedy – which made it all the more significant that Leno trekked into musical territory (via an apparently dubbed basso profundo singing voice) for Monday’s Internet friendly duet with Fallon, who enjoys a strong online following.
TV hosts get into tricky territory when their future becomes fodder for humor. Leno and Fallon pulled off their meta gag in style – but only time will tell if there's an encore. Meanwhile, check out their funny take on "Tonight":
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.
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