When Johnny Carson first took over from Jack Paar as The Tonight Show's host back in 1962, the change was marked with the addition of a tiny crescent moon to the show's official logo. There it has remained ever since, but always as a relatively small part of The Tonight Show's visual identity.
To mark Jimmy Fallon's debut as host of the the Tonight Show, Pentagram's Emily Oberman was asked to come up with something new. Her solution? Blow up the Tonight Show's lunar sliver into a sky-filling full moon, signifying Jimmy Fallon's bright new take and place of importance among the stars of late-night.
Having worked with Fallon before in crafting the logo for his previous show, the Late Show With Jimmy Fallon, Oberman was eager to provide a fresh new look to the most prominent hour in late night. It needed to be bold and fresh, yet still evoke the Tonight Show's 60-year heritage. It also needed to be adaptable, looking just as good on TV as it did on posters, mugs, T-shirts, umbrellas, and other official merchandise.
The Tonight Show's new logo puts the full moon front and center, spelling out the name of the show almost as if a sans-serif meteor shower had punched the words the Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon clean through its glowing surface. In some ways, it echoes Ferroconcrete's Today show rebrand, a cheery sunrise that was meant to look brighter and more human than its predecessor.
To come up with the new look, Oberman and her team studied the history of late-night and created a data visualization that shows how the somnolent world of post-primetime television has changed since Jack Paar launched the Tonight Show in 1955.
Intriguingly, the data viz looks almost like a number of overlapping moons. The bigger the moon, the brighter its star in the sky of late night. Not surprisingly, Pentagram found that Johnny Carson's Tonight Show filled the sky of late night television for 32 years, outshining pretty much all the competition. When Carson stepped aside, though, a number of smaller late night shows were suddenly able to attract an audience.
In a way, then, Pentagram's new logo for the Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon seems like a lunar forecast. For years after Carson retired, the Tonight Show's crescent has been on the wane. With the new rebrand, Pentagram is betting that Jimmy Fallon will outshine his competitors, filling the night sky in such a way that the other stars of late night won't even be visible.
Let's hope they're right: NBC can ill afford another botched Tonight Show succession.
To read more about Pentagram's work on the new Tonight Show branding, see their blog post here.