Feb. 18, 2014 at 7:38 AM ET
Jimmy Fallon ushered in a new era of "The Tonight Show" Monday, reinventing the 60-year franchise while honoring its roots with a stylish, sophisticated set and a triumphant return to the Big Apple.
"I'm Jimmy Fallon, and I'll be your host ... for now," said the brand-new heir to the late-night throne in a humble wink to Conan O'Brien's short-lived 2009 stint before Jay Leno's return.
"This is really huge," marveled Will Smith, who said he felt "very honored" to be the first guest to take the chair beside Fallon. "I wouldn't be able to handle all this pressure you got," he joked. "Everything's riding on tonight!"
So how did he do? By all accounts, Fallon was a smashing success — and here's why.
The 'aw' factor
Smith thinks Fallon will be welcoming guests to "The Tonight Show" for a long time to come: "People are coming because of your heart," the actor said, complimenting the host's sincerity.
Fallon wore his heart on his sleeve at the opening of the show, gushing about his wife and infant daughter before introducing his parents in the audience. "I wish we could've gotten you better seats," he cracked before earnestly crediting them for his success.
"I hope you're proud of me," he told Jim and Gloria Fallon. "I know you're proud of me."
When Fallon first sat behind his elegant wood desk — with etchings of the Manhattan skyline behind him — he offered the perfect setup for a parade of cash-carrying A-list cameos.
"To my buddy who said I'd never be the host of 'The Tonight Show' — and you know who you are — you owe me 100 bucks, buddy," Fallon said. And out walked Robert De Niro, who slapped a c-note in front of his "buddy."
De Niro was followed in quick succession by Tina Fey, Joe Namath, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (who thanked Fallon for "bringing it back to New York"), Mariah Carey, Tracy Morgan, Joan Rivers, Kim Kardashian, Seth Rogen, Lindsay Lohan, Mike Tyson, Sarah Jessica Parker and Lady Gaga — all of whom made a show of paying up on a lost bet.
But Colbert used a different currency. Fallon's time-slot rival Stephen christened his desk (and the host himself) with a bucket of pennies before posing for a selfie and proclaiming, "Welcome to 11:30, b----!"
'Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing'
Next up was Smith and Fallon's insta-viral "Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing," a taped send-off of hip-hop moves. In matching "Fresh Prince" overalls, they also paid homage to Smith's first TV gig by performing The Dougie and The Carlton.
Their dance medley ranged from the classics (from the Cabbage Patch and Running Man to the Robot and Pop and Lock) to the hilariously confusing: The Leg Thing No One Can Do, Steal the Face (Then Swallow It and Throw It Back Up) and Picking Up the Money Because That's All You Had.
Rocking the Rock
U2 performed twice on the show: Their first, "Invisible," took place on the rooftop of Rock Center, with the Manhattan sunset serving as their backdrop. After Will Smith made way for the rock legends on the guest chairs, they delivered an acoustic encore version of their Oscar-nominated "Ordinary Love."
Fallon's "Tonight Show" debut was a lovefest onstage — and off. Judging by the premiere's enthusiastic reception, the comedian should feel mighty comfortable in his new seat.