Will The Roots be the next 'Tonight Show' house band?


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PHILADELPHIA -- If Jimmy Fallon takes over as host of "The Tonight Show" from Jay Leno in 2014 in the marquee late-night spot for Comcast-owned NBC, as was widely speculated last week, does that mean The Roots will be the new "Tonight Show" band?

Probably. They may not change their name, but it's highly unlikely that Mr. Fallon would make the move from Studio 6B in 30 Rockefeller Center, where "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" is produced (and where Johnny Carson made his home during his late '60s-early'70s "Tonight Show" years in New York) to the new state-of-the-art 30 Rock studio being built for him without bringing the Philadelphia band billed as The Legendary Roots Crew with him.

Why's that? Because NBC is interested in moving Mr. Fallon, 38, into an earlier time slot than his current 12:35 a.m. start time to attract younger viewers and keep ABC's Jimmy Kimmel from gaining a stranglehold on a not-yet-graying demographic, now that the 45-year-old Mr. Kimmel is in direct time slot competition with Leno, 62, and David Letterman, 65.

And how does Mr. Fallon score so well with younger viewers? Partly his show is Internet savvy, sure, and kind of because he looks like he could still get carded if he ordered a beer at the 30 Rock commissary. But also because "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," since it came on the air in 2009, has established the most aggressive and astute musical booking policy, pulling the rug out from Conan O'Brien, whose late-night show used to attract all the hippest acts.

Now, that distinction goes to Mr. Fallon, who also attracts plenty of big names, from Prince to Paul McCartney to Bruce Springsteen to Justin Timberlake, who performed on the show five nights running one recent week. And the reason Mr. Fallon's show has so much cred basically boils down to The Roots, who made a shrewd career move taking the "Late Night" job and have pretty much become America's backing band ever since.

So, in all likelihood, The Roots and their drummer bandleader Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson look to be in line to become the house band at the most iconic late-night show on TV, with Questo stepping into the role filled by flashy-dressing trumpeter Doc Severinson from 1967 to Carson's retirement in 1992.

On Twitter on Thursday, music critic and movie director Nelson George congratulated Questlove on becoming "the new Doc Severinsen." The Roots-connected music site amended that designation: "The Funk Doc Severinsen!"

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