Jimmy Fallon apologized to “Tonight Show” staffers Thursday afternoon following a Rolling Stone report about his behavior at NBC’s venerable late-night program over the years.
“It’s embarrassing and I feel so bad. Sorry if I embarrassed you and your family and friends,” Fallon said during a Zoom meeting with “Tonight” employees, Variety has learned. “I feel so bad I can’t even tell you.” He told the assemblage during the meeting, which was said to be brief: “I want this show to be fun, it should be inclusive for everybody, it should be funny, it should be the best show, the best people.”
Several former staff members of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” spoke to Rolling Stone about what they described as a toxic work environment behind the scenes of the NBC late night program. Some of these staffers said their mental health worsened during their time on the show, where they alleged Fallon could lash out under pressure. Nine different showrunners have managed “Tonight” since Fallon succeeded Jay Leno in 2014, and the impermanence of that position — there is significantly less turnover at Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” — is said to have exacerbated the situation.
NBC declined to make executives available for comment.
Insiders at the show have pointed to an era of stability since Chris Miller was named showrunner in March of last year. Miller, who worked with Drew Barrymore and her Flower Films production company for 23 years, has spent years working with an array of talent and entertainment executives. One of the people he struck a connection with during his time with Barrymore was Nancy Juvonen, a longtime production partner to Barrymore, and Fallon’s spouse. In his early tenure at the show, Miller tried to focus the program on Fallon’s strengths like impressions, sketches and music, and steer the program away from heavy doses of political humor.
Still, the Rolling Stone tales, many believed to have taken place during an earlier era of the program, raised eyebrows. “Nobody told Jimmy, ‘No.’ Everybody walked on eggshells, especially showrunners,” a former employee told the magazine. “You never knew which Jimmy we were going to get and when he was going to throw a hissy fit. Look how many showrunners went so quickly. We know they didn’t last long.”
The show allegedly had a “cry room” on the set where employees could decompress due to the hostile work environment.
“It was like, if Jimmy is in a bad mood, everyone’s day is fucked,” one former employee said. “People wouldn’t joke around in the office, and they wouldn’t stand around and talk to each other. It was very much like, focus on whatever it is that you have to do because Jimmy’s in a bad mood, and if he sees that, he might fly off.”
One staffer also alleged Fallon appeared drunk at work during a rehearsal and couldn’t recall crossing out a joke in his notes. “He couldn’t remember he had just crossed it out himself,” the employee said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, he [seems] drunk. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. This could be awful — this could be the end of the show right here.’”
Fallon’s “Tonight Show” is currently on hiatus due to the strikes by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA unions representing writers and actors.