For Jimmy Fallon it was the hair tussle seen ’round the world.
The “Tonight Show” host had the temerity to muss up guest Donald Trump’s hair deep into the 2016 presidential campaign. Fallon might well have pushed an elderly nun down the stairs judging by the media’s reaction.
The rage went on, and on, until Fallon served up a groveling apology for treating his guest like … a guest.
The host of “The Tonight Show” tells The Hollywood Reporter he “made a mistake” and apologized “if I made anyone mad.” He adds that he “would do it differently” looking back on the Sept. 15, 2016 episode….
“I did not do it to ‘normalize’ him or to say I believe in his political beliefs or any of that stuff.”
The criticism cut him deeply, as he shared in the fallout from TussleGate.
“It’s tough for morale,” he said. “You go, ‘Alright, we get it. I heard you. You made me feel bad. So now what? Are you happy? I’m depressed. Do you want to push me more? What do you want me to do? You want me to kill myself? What would make you happy? Get over it.’”
The President’s reaction proved both blustery and dead on:
The “Saturday Night Live” alum didn’t take the advice.
Fallon, like another star harassed into becoming a progressive activist (Taylor Swift), did as his media bullies told him to do. He turned “The Tonight Show” into yet another anti-Trump forum, obsessing on the President on a nightly basis.
Except late night viewers already had their anti-Trump fix with Colbert … and Kimmel … and Maher … and Bee … and Oliver … and Minaj … and Desus & Mero … Wolf … and Handler … and Corden.
What Fallon offered was an inauthentic version of their far-left broadsides, and audiences acted accordingly. TheWrap.com’s Pro edition revealed just how much audience share Fallon lost during the Trump years.
Fallon suffered double-digit declines (on a percentage basis) in total viewers and the key demo in each year of Trump’s presidency — something that Colbert and Kimmel never experienced.
Fallon’s late night showcase suffered the biggest slippage last year, when Fallon’s anti-Trump fury sometimes lapped his far-left peers.
Fallon’s average audience actually fell 17% last year compared to 2019, forcing him to slip behind Kimmel for the first time.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Fallon could have stayed more neutral, telling less venomous Trump jokes and poking the other side of the aisle with equal fervor. His comical swipe at failed presidential candidate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, for example, could have been the rule, not the exception.
It’s not like the Democrats lack comic foils. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all by herself, could fuel endless late night gags. Instead, the contrite Fallon did what the media elite told him to do.
The results aren’t pretty.
Imagine if he had kept his genial approach through the Trump era and didn’t alienate roughly half the viewing audience. He’d be positioned for the Biden administration better than any current late night show. Who wants to hear Colbert gush about Vice President Kamala Harris’s iPod playlist or President Joe Biden’s passion for ice cream. (Yes, that’s a legitimate news narrative attached to the 46th president).
Far-left hosts will be scrambling in the coming weeks to cover politics in a way that doesn’t remotely attack the Democrats, a challenge given how they currently dominate Washington. They’ll likely sic their “comic” monologues on Fox News, Tucker Carlson and Sen. Ted Cruz, but it won’t be the same as their anti-Trump glory days.
Fallon could have offered an alternative, a place where viewers know the political jokes wouldn’t be vicious and both sides will take it on the chin.
Instead, Fallon and the vaunted “Tonight Show” brand looks smaller, nay wimpier, today.