'Tonight Show' move evokes sense of loss for Burbank, Leno

In Burbank since 1972 and with Jay Leno as host twice since 1992, 'The Tonight Show' is moving back to New York. The local city and comedian reflect on the decades and changes.

February 03, 2014|By Scott Collins

The sign advertising his show still looms over the NBC parking lot, and for a few more days throngs of fans will crowd the studio gates in Burbank before tapings. But Jay Leno says he's ready to leave — and this time, he says he really means it.

After more than 40 years, "The Tonight Show" is leaving Southern California and heading back to New York, with the 63-year-old Leno, who first became host in 1992, handing off the show to Jimmy Fallon, just 39.

Four years have passed since NBC botched a similar passing of the torch to Conan O'Brien. This time it's the passing of an era, and not just for Leno, one of the most polarizing figures in show business. It's also a sobering inflection point for the TV industry and Los Angeles generally, both of which are struggling to adapt to economic and technological forces that are threatening a cultural primacy that looked assured back in 1972, when Johnny Carson transplanted "Tonight" to what he jokingly called "beautiful downtown Burbank," the Los Angeles Times reports.


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"I'm old enough to remember when I was in New York and I was a kid, it was, 'Oh my God, the "Tonight Show's" leaving New York and going to Los Angeles,'" Leno recalled, sitting in the green room next to his studio. "It seemed like the most glamorous thing in the world."

Things change. New York — a safer, more prosperous city than it was in the 1970s — has solidified its standing as the nation's media capital, with most of the major news and talk shows originating there.

"New York is the bustling city and blah, blah, blah," Leno said. "All the excitement's there, all the movie studios, they start their big campaigns in New York. So now it's going back."

Where once "Tonight" was part of a vibrant complex that was home to "Hollywood Squares," "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and other shows, the studios will after this week become another symbol of the runaway production that has seen more than $3 billion in film and TV crew wages slip away from Southern California over the last decade. The "Tonight Show" move will cost more than 150 local jobs alone.

Leno understands that the loss of "Tonight" is a shock to the local system. "That's kind of sad to see happen," he said.

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