Very late tonight - technically it’ll be Tuesday - one of those rare TV switches, usually followed by cranky criticism, will go down.
At 12:35 a.m. EST, NBC’s later night show becomes “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” after Conan O’Brien stepped away to get ready to take over “The Tonight Show” on June 1.
Here’s what will undoubtedly happen. Fallon, who’s got that dopey, smart-kid, wise-acre style, will look a little nervous, and will fawn a bit too much over his first major guest, Robert De Niro, and it’ll be just OK.
Fallon’s been practicing for months, including firing his show out onto the Web, but there’s nothing that replaces the first live talk show in front of network cameras, and you can bet on a rough edge here and there.
By midday Tuesday, critics will leap to declare Fallon a failure, just as they did with O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson and Jay Leno and even, way back, David Letterman. I’m too young for Johnny Carson, but I’m betting he got blasted, too.
That’s like declaring a baseball season over after opening day. Except in this case, Fallon’s likely to have a bunch of seasons.
Talk shows and their hosts take some time to find their legs, their tone, their rhythm. They need to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Leno, for instance, after months and months as the permanent host of “The Tonight Show,” changed his studio into a more intimate place and immediately felt more comfortable and got better.
So will Fallon be good at this? Who knows. He’s a likeable guy with a sunny style and he’s a fairly decent guest on talk shows. Does that translate to a good host? Check back in a couple months to get a real answer.
One note, though. Fallon’s lead guests, besides De Niro tonight, will be Tina Fey on Tuesday, Cameron Diaz Wednesday, Donald Trump Thursday and Drew Barrymore on Friday. That’s a very mainstream, very NBC-driven lineup (Fey has “30 Rock,” Trump’s got the slapsticky “The Apprentice” on the network). We can guess Fallon’s not aiming to appeal to the very young, ironic crowd.
In contrast, by the way, Ferguson’s guest tonight is Paris Hilton. He, apparently, is trying to reach guys living in dorms.
Now here’s the rest of this week’s What to Watch (or Not). Notice there are a lot of season finales and season premieres, so yeah, this is officially midseason
“24” (8 p.m. on Fox): This is a solid rebound season for “24,” as Jack’s miserable day keeps getting worse. Tonight’s two-hour episode takes us past the midway point and things don’t look good. Doesn’t matter. My money’s on Jack.
“The Bachelor” (8 p.m. on ABC): This is not an endorsement. I’m just saying in case you’ve been watching, this is the season finale and the most dramatic rose ceremony ever.
“The Haney Project: Charles Barkley” (9 p.m. on The Golf Channel): Tiger Wood’s swing coach tries to fix Barkley’s legendarily messed-up golf game in a seven-part series. The first step will be no beer on the course for Barkley.
“Saving Grace” (10 p.m. on TNT): Holly Hunter is back as the self-destructive but fascinating cop, and in the season opener tonight, she’s paired with guest star Christina Ricci as a uniform cop rotating through the detective squad. Meanwhile, Earl the angel keeps bugging Grace.
“Harlem Heights” (10 p.m. on BET): BET was maybe the last cable channel left without some kind of “Real World”-style reality show. Until now.
“Ax Men” (10 p.m. on History): It’s season two, and in store are more trees, more danger and more flannel.
“Reaper” (8 p.m. on The CW): Finally, this clever, goofy and sweet series returns for season two and 13 more run-ins with the best devil in TV history. Oh yeah, and Sam thinks he may be Satan’s son.
“Nip/Tuck” (10 p.m. on FX): It’s the season finale and Christian and Liz are getting married. If you haven’t been watching, don’t ask.
“America’s Next Top Model” (8 p.m. on The CW): Another season begins. Anyone? Anyone?
“Top Chef - Watch What Happens Reunion” (9 p.m. on Bravo): Not usually a big fan of the reunion episode, but - and I know I’ve said this before - I love this show.
“Burn Notice” (10 p.m. on USA): Speaking of shows I love, this is one of the top scripted series on cable averaging about 5 million viewers. It will be back soon. But for now, it’s the season ender and I’m guessing Michael still won’t learn why he was burned.
“The L Word” (9 p.m. on Showtime): The series ends with a guest shot by Lucy Lawless as a detective who puts the whole gang in jail as she tries to figure out who killed Jenny. Do not, I repeat, do not tell any juvenile women-in-prison jokes.