Burbank officials bemoan loss of 'Tonight Show,' vow to stoke continued media interest

Burbank officials on Wednesday treated news that “The Tonight Show” was leaving for a new host in a new city like a painful break-up.

And as with most epic break-ups, the rumor mill had been whirling for weeks. On Wednesday, NBC ended weeks of gossip and speculation by confirming that Jimmy Fallon will succeed Jay Leno as host of "The Tonight Show" in the spring of 2014.

Although Leno is still the most-watched late-night television host, NBC is making the move because it thinks Fallon will do better with younger viewers in the years to come, the L.A. Times reported.

It is not the first time NBC has announced a plan to replace Leno. In 2009, NBC put Conan O'Brien in as host of "The Tonight Show" only to see ratings decline.

Leno quickly was reinstated as host of the franchise, and most significantly for Burbank, the show was never at risk of leaving the city.

But with Fallon as host, that changes.

Councilman David Gordon said losing the show would hurt a city that has benefited tremendously from the recognition “The Tonight Show” has provided.

“It’s too bad, because ‘The Tonight Show,’ in its various iterations over the years, has been very much identified with Burbank,” he said. “It’s really put Burbank on the map, internationally.”

Dozens, if not hundreds, of jobs could be impacted by the move, not to mention the pain ancillary businesses, such as restaurants and other venues, will likely feel.

Steven Ross -- president of the local chapter for the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, Local 53 -- said that even though many “Tonight Show” employees are technically “per diem” daily workers, the show will be losing around 50 union workers with years of experience.

“I worked on ‘The Tonight Show’ for 32 years… so technically one of those people that could be affected is myself,” he said.

Ross said the “Tonight Show” move comes as NBC Universal is moving most of their operations into new Universal City facilities already.

“Up to 50 people-plus were laid off last year,” he said. “There won’t be any more NBC facilities or people in that lot within the next couple of years.”

Mary Hamzoian, the city’s economic development manager, said that while Burbank isn’t worried about losing one show, or one studio, “we are the media capital of the world.”

“NBC leaving is part of their larger plan, but they’re still within the region and what’s good for the region is good for Burbank,” she said.

She noted that Burbank is still a magnet for the media industry, and that with NBC Universal moving out of their studio on Alameda -- now called Burbank Studios -- Clear Channel’s Internet radio platform iHeartRadio has already signed a 10-year lease for part of the space.

“There’s’ always an influx of media with Burbank because there’s both the bigger ones -- the studios -- and the smaller businesses as well,” she said. “To say that one or two are leaving, and that’s tarnishing our reputation, I wouldn’t say that at all…there’s really so much you can do.”

Still, with the city currently running a tourism campaign called “The Town Behind the Tinsel” – playing up Burbank’s Hollywood connections -- there’s no doubt losing “The Tonight Show” is a blow.

“It’s definitely a tourist attraction… we use that as a draw to come to Burbank; that ‘The Tonight Show’ is here,” Hamzoian said.

-- Daniel Siegal, daniel.siegal@latimes.com

Follow on Google+ and on Twitter: @Daniel_Siegal.


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