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Music and mayhem: 5 ways Jimmy Fallon changed 'The Tonight Show'

Jimmy Fallon has been orchestrating late night laughs since he appeared on "Saturday Night Live," and he's only gotten funnier since.
/ Source: TODAY

Jimmy Fallon has been orchestrating late night laughs since his first appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in 1998, and he's only been getting funnier since. But it was on Feb. 17, 2014, after five years at the helm of "Late Night," that he fully came into his own: as the new host of "The Tonight Show."

Fallon's production is not your parents' "Tonight Show," that's for sure. So on the first anniversary of his tenure, we're taking a look back at how he's has changed "Tonight" — and late night — for the better!

1. Location, location, location"Tonight" was great while housed out of "beautiful downtown Burbank" (a line often used by host Johnny Carson). But after 42 years in sunny L.A., a shake-up was definitely warranted, and the show went home to New York (where it had lived until 1972). Moving the show back east kept Fallon close to his 30 Rock "SNL" roots (and close to house band The Roots), and and gave the show a fresh edginess. Fallon's 30 Rock rooftop yodel-fest with Brad Pitt and getting U2 to perform on the Top of the Rock are some of his best NYC-based moments yet.

2. He's got a song in his heartFormer "Tonight" hosts got into the groove: Johnny Carson wasn't above putting on a wig to sing as Willie Nelson, Jay Leno had his Dancing Itos and Steve Allen could play the piano and feature singing dolls. But Fallon took his talent for mimicry and love for musicians to a whole new level with his impersonations. You can feel the affection he has for his parody subjects — and so must they: That's how he ended up playing Neil Young with Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen alongside The Boss.

3. Everyone is in the chorusFallon makes sure anyone game enough to jump in gets to sing along, from ring tones awarded to specially-selected audience members (both Aerosmith and Sting have contributed vocals); and the numerous collection of Lip Sync battles — a goofy pairing of celebs and karaoke that's so popular it's getting its own spinoff show!

4. He's unapologetically nostalgicFallon happily revisits the past with reunions and tributes (like his "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" tribute to kick off his week in Los Angeles or when he goofed along with the students of "Saved the Bell's" Bayside High); raiding the music teacher's closet for renditions of popular songs using only classroom instruments; going back to summer camp with Justin Timberlake; or by channeling the adolescent girl inside him, Sara (no h!), who loves to find things to say "Ew!" about. He's even gone all the way back to the era of barbershop quartets with recurring Ragtime Gals skits.

5. Even when he isn't singing, Jimmy Fallon knows how to make the fun happenEarly on, Fallon's big ratings had critics speculating that all late-night talk shows might shift from being less talk, more variety. They may try, but not just anyone can do it with Fallon's brand of joie de vivre. He's gone pocket bike racing with Andrew Garfield; shot arrows with "Walking Dead's" Norman Reedus; gotten into a water war with Lindsay Lohan; and explained the evolution of "Mom Dancing" with first lady Michelle Obama.

We could go on. (And so can you! Here's a playlist of some of the best of Fallon's "Tonight" segments.) But for now, we'll just end with this: Happy anniversary, Jimmy! Here's to many, many more.

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