Burbank Bids Bon Voyage to Jay Leno and the Tonight Show

by Tony Shea on February 6, 2014


Jay Leno says so long Today marks the end of an era in Burbank not only for Jay Leno but for the Tonight Show itself, which will be moving to New York for its new host, Jimmy Fallon.

Burbank is a town that is synonymous with show business, being home to Disney/ABC, Warner Bros, Nickelodeon, the Carton Network, a legion of record companies, production facilities and, of course, NBC’s world famous Tonight Show.

The Tonight Show got started in New York when Steve Allen sailed the ship back in the 50’s. When Johnny Carson took the reins he moved out west to fulfill showbiz’s manifest destiny. 30 years after that, NBC awarded the stewardship of the Tonight Show to Jay Leno, the story of which is largely familiar to the public. Jay fought Letterman for the title and he won. And then Jay fought Conan O’Brian during the botched first hand off of the Tonight Show that occurred back in 2010. Again it was Leno who won this showbiz war.

Still, there’s been a lot of public sentiment in the last few years to make Leno out to be a some kind of monster who didn’t acknowledge the time honored plans for succession and in so doing violated a sacred oath of the late night talk show host. It’s a competitive game, and Leno found a way to win. Plain and simple. Undyling loyalty is not one of the showbiz commandments.

There’s also been a great deal of effort exerted to say that Leno was a very average, middle brow comic, who was not an edgy innovator at best, and terrible comedian at worst. Neither of these things, which I think is true.

Regarding his work as a comedian, I would say that indeed, Leno wasn’t a comedy maverick who was going to make us reevaluate our lives. He was not George Carlin. He was not Richard Pryor, but neither was Johnny Carson. Leno, I would suggest to his credit, has been a solid workmanlike presence – a pro entertainer –  a kind of comedic Dean Martin, (although Martin was a comedian too) a performer who can go out every night and give the audience a stable comfortable experience that aims to please. Dean Martin wasn’t Elvis Presley, he wasn’t a hip shaking rebel determined to undermine the sexual morals of the nation with something new. He was a solid affable chap, robust, with a solid crooner’s voice, who hired good songwriters. But above all, DeanO was a pro. Slick. Smooth. He made it look effortless. He had honed his act so well that he could simply phone it in on autopilot and you would never know the difference. So can Leno.

Whether you like that or not is another question, but a thing can only be judged by what it sets out to achieve. A comfortable mid-size sedan simply doesn’t handle like a Ferrari, if you follow me. Jay Leno was a populist entertainer who thought less about his personal vision and more about what the audience wanted, his audience, producing a repeatable experience for people typically watching television over the tips of their toes for half an hour before they went to sleep.

There’s a reason why Leno has been number 1 for so many years, as he remains even now, on this his second send off from NBC.

As relates to the town of Burbank, where I have lived for the last six years, Leno was an affable neighborhood presence. You might see him standing in front of Autobooks/AeroBooks on Magnolia or standing beside one of his many cars at one of Burbank’s annual auto shows, always, per his custom, dressed in jeans and jean shirt. You could walk right up and shake his hand and say hello, just as I did when my son was approaching his first birthday. I introduced my son and Jay Leno shook his little foot and said “Hi Nate, pleased to meet you.” It was a scene right out of the Andy Griffith show. And of course that is what Leno’s real magic might be, and why he has managed to stay in the lead against his competitors. He has an accessible everyman quality, a homespun blue collar vibe despite the fact that his net worth is north of 350 million dollars.

With Leno and the Tonight’s Show’s departure, I can’t help but feel like something will be missing from Burbank. Certainly, many entertainment companies will remain, but a changing of the guard is definitely taking place.

Burbank, though the years, has been home to many blue collar tradesman: carpenters, electricians, painters who worked behind the scenes in film and TV. Recently, there has been an influx of 25-35 year old hipsters who work at technologically sophisticated companies producing our new entertainments: video games, animation, film, music. Everyday new coffee shops, wine bars, comic book stores, and vintage clothing shops are opening. There is foot traffic. In Los Angeles, as a whole, the beginnings of a second Golden Age seem to taking root, propelled by new technology companies and new media, after more than a decade of runaway production hindered the state and local economies and Los Angeles’ entertainment industry was watered down. But now the city is going through a tremendous growth surge evidenced by the number of new buildings being erected all over town. The once depressed and dangerous streets of Downtown and North Hollywood are bustling. Real estate values are on the rise. And of course the blue waters of the Pacific ocean still crash against the coastline beneath the radiant sunshine. So things are looking up despite the loss of one of our landmarks.

In another hour, the Tonight Show will tape its last broadcast in Burbank.

Special guest stars will arrive in limousines with tinted windows.
limos arrive at tonight show

Catering trucks will arrive to set up for the after party.
catering trucks arrive at tonight show

And then the parking lot will empty out and the show will pack up and head east.

Bon Voyage.

jay leno bon voyage

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Tony Shea ( Editor-in-Chief, New York)

Tony Shea is based in New York, having recently moved from Los Angeles after more than a decade on the sunny coast. His short films have won numerous awards and screened at major festivals around the world including Comic-Con. As a musician, he is the lead singer for Los Angeles rock n’ roll band Candygram For Mongo (C4M) candygramformongo.com who has been a featured artist on Clear Channel Radio’s Discover New Music Program and whose songs have been heard on Battlestar Gallactica (Syfy Channel) and Unhitched (Fox) among other shows and films.

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