Though it’s hard to imagine late night television without Jimmy Fallon now, there was a time when neither he nor NBC saw him in a hosting role.
During the latest episode of the Strike Force Five podcast with Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers and John Oliver, the comedian revealed that he initially wasn’t in the running to host Late Night on NBC.
Fallon said after he left Saturday Night Live in 2004, he wanted to pursue a career acting in movies, similar to what Bill Murray or Eddie Murphy did. But around that time, producer Lorne Michaels contacted him about taking over as host of Late Night since Conan O’Brien was considering a move over to The Tonight Show in six years, following Jay Leno’s tenure.
“He [Michaels] goes, ‘Would you ever want to do a talk show?’” Fallon recalled. “I go, ‘I don’t think so. … In six years, ask me, and if I’m around I’ll think about it.’”
Years later, Michaels finally followed up with Fallon. He said he first consulted with his wife, who actually pushed him to accept the offer, saying, “‘You have to take this job. You’re one of three human beings to ever do this.’”
“So, I call Lorne, and I go, ‘I’m in. I’d love to do it,’” Fallon said. “He goes, ‘Great. NBC doesn’t really want you. But we have to talk to them.’ I’m not even on their list, by the way.”
The comedian explained that NBC was hesitant to offer him the hosting position because he hadn’t starred in that many movies yet and was still trying to get his career to take off following his days on SNL. But that’s when Michaels stepped in and actually “went to bat” for Fallon, telling NBC, “‘Either you do this with Jimmy, or I’m not involved,’ or something like that.” He added that Michaels, “Changed my life.”
Fallon went on to host Late Night from 2009 to 2014 before taking over as host of The Tonight Show, his current late night home.
He wasn’t the only Strike Force Five host to land a job on Late Night thanks to Michaels. Meyers, who currently hosts the program, said Late Night “was not on my radar at all as something that I was going to do in my future,” but then he came across a New York Post story that claimed he was one of the rumored replacements.
He said Michaels proceeded to call him shortly after. “When you talk to Lorne, it often feels like a follow-up call to a conversation that never happened,” Meyer quipped. “He literally just started saying, ‘You know, I think you’ll do it, and it will be good, and it will take time, but you’ll have Jimmy as a lead-in.’ There was again no moment when anybody ever said to me, would you like to do this?”
Meyers took over as host of Late Night in 2014 after Fallon.