If you are of a certain age, you’ll remember the nights when an impossibly young Johnny Carson opened the Tonight Show with jokes about muggings in Central Park, transit strikes and Mayor John Lindsay.
Sure, it wasn’t the most pleasant of times in the city’s history, but Carson’s Tonight Show provided some needed comic relief for New Yorkers struggling with the city’s decline. For those beyond the Hudson River, well, the Tonight Show served as a nightly reminder that New York, for all its troubles, still was driving the nation’s conversation.
And then, in 1972, Carson moved the show west to beautiful downtown Burbank, a phrase he used with all appropriate irony. The jokes changed—Sam Yorty and S.I. Hayakawa became favorite targets—and instead of senators and authors, Carson chatted away with Hollywood celebrities who had films and memoirs to pitch.
More than 40 years have passed since Carson’s move. Now the Tonight Show is returning to the city of its birth, and with a new host, Jimmy Fallon, who will take over from Jay Leno next year.
Native New Yorker Steve Allen created the Tonight Show in Manhattan in the 1950s as something of an experiment in late-night television. It was, of course, wildly successful, thanks in no small part to the guests who just happened to live within a cab ride of the show’s studio. So it’s only appropriate that the Brooklyn-born Mr. Fallon will return the show to its roots in 2014.
New York is a different place today than it was in 1972. But as Mr. Fallon no doubt knows, the city doesn’t lack for comic material.
Just for starters, did you hear about the guy who wanted to buy a mayoral nomination?