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Forget Letterman and Conan: Jimmy Fallon Will Top Them Both

Stocks in this article: CMCSA CBS

"You've got an indie rock song, a country song, a hip-hop song, a classic you haven't heard in years and have forgotten how great it was," Cohen says. "I think we're going to continue along that path, that's what the audience enjoys and what we enjoy delivering."

It's a whole lot more than music, however. Instead of building an ecosystem of characters and guest performers around himself, Fallon used the stronger portions of the pop culture world around him to make the show strong where he was weakest. Making musical performances into viral clips rather than SNL fake-stage retreads made both him and the musicians he featured increasingly relevant. From Carly Rae Jepsen playing a schoolroom-instrument version of Call Me Maybe with The Roots to Bruce Springsteen and Fallon's Neil Young covering Willow Smith's Whip My Hair to Fallon's performance with The Muppets in his Late Night finale, Fallon balanced his music acumen with pop-culture in-jokes that made him indispensable to the Generation X and Millennial audiences he overlaps.

That generation and Fallon's appointed moment in time not only inform his approach, but make it wildly successful. There are a handful of elements that break through the Internet's white noise with equal efficiency: Overwhelming talent, jarring dissonance, cultural meme or careful and effective curation and promotion of each of the former. Fallon alone wasn't forceful enough to be any of the first three, but he may be the most effective curator of all of them that Internet Era television has produced.

Fallon's continued callbacks to pop culture including beer pong with Betty White, his History of Rap segments with Justin Timberlake and multiple TV show reunions that eventually drew in the casts of Full House, Saved By The Bell, and The Cosby Show weren't just nostalgic ploys. They re-appropriated pop culture pillars within a new context. That's what made lip-sync battles between Joseph Gordon Leavitt and Stephen Merchant work. They're what make Sam Rockwell improv dance numbers shine. They're what make a Paul McCartney performance of his Scrambled Eggs version of Yesterday as compelling to watch as Alicia Keys' version of the Gummi Bears theme song.

Fallon and company don't set out to make a watchable late-night show: They strive to create performances that are watchable long after the show airs. Fallon wants them to live on in the digital ether and stand out among the noise. He's built the better viral video clip and from Odd Future's Tyler The Creator to The Boss to The Fox -- he's inserted his show squarely into each meme of the last half decade.

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