To say The Roots decision to become Jimmy Fallon’s house band was met with skepticism would be understatement. When the news broke in 2008, online media company Gawker called the choice “the cultural equivalent of Miles Davis playing his horn on the subway platform to back up a semi-trained dancing spider monkey.” But, roughly a year later, the move is paying dividends for both The Roots and Fallon.
Billboard magazine’s Jason Lipshutz reports “a three-month sampling of Nielsen TV ratings through December 19 shows that average total viewership for ‘Fallon’ reached 1.79 million, surging 25 percent from a year earlier.” And while Fallon is enjoying a ratings surge, competing shows are seeing either smaller gains—like “Late Night With Jimmy Kimmel” 2.7 percent increase—or losses.
Last year, ?uestlove told The Huffington Post that the Fallon gig matches or surpasses what the entire band would make touring for 200 dates annually. So while Fallon himself continues to be panned in some circles for his comedic stylings, he has two very clear advantages. Aside from The Roots, he also employs former Billboard editor Jonathan Cohen as the show’s music booker.
Under Cohen, the show has served as a platform for the first (and to date the only) televised appearance of the reunited Goodie Mob. Other signature moments have included Black Thought freestyling with The Clipse over “Popular Demand” and Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s “History of Rap” sketch. But the ratings surge isn’t limited to Hip Hop. Bruce Springsteen has covered Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair,” and the show has featured Paul McCartney’s John Lennon tribute.
“All three [late night] shows posted viewership declines among those 18-34,” writes Lipshutz. “Fallon retained the largest share of that coveted younger audience. Its appeal to young viewers, as well as its willingness to feature performances of album tracks and older tunes, have earned the program the reputation of a hip, artist-friendly environment in late night, which in turn has helped attract marquee names.”