L.A. Officials Dawdle as New York Prepares to Lure 'Tonight Show' to Manhattan (Analysis)

Jay Leno Jimmy Fallon Globes Horizontal - H 2013
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Jay Leno Jimmy Fallon Globes Horizontal - H 2013

As the "Tonight Show" deal unfolds with Jimmy Fallon as host in NYC, most Los Angeles officials have either studiously ignored the show's impending departure or, worse, made light of it.

If anyone needed an abject example of why runaway film and television production is spiraling into an economic crisis for Greater Los Angeles, the Tonight Show's prospective move back to Manhattan after decades in Burbank is the perfect case in point.

The problem actually is fairly simple: The state and city of New York -- like those across the country and above the border in Canada -- are making strenuous efforts to lure productions and shows to their jurisdictions. Neither the city of Los Angeles nor its political leaders seem able to muster much interest in the issue, apart from occasional mentions about the centrality of the entertainment industry to L.A.'s claim to be a center of world culture. At some point, somebody here needs to take notice that it takes more than long, sunny days and mild climate to hold on to a global industry.

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The Tonight Show is a trophy property and, while NBC has its own ratings and scheduling considerations to factor into the mix, a few concrete gestures of welcome from the host city don't hurt. New York is providing a veritable wheelbarrow of those: As the Associated Press first reported, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's new budget contains a package of tax credits to encourage film and television production in that state, one of which seems tailored to lure Tonight back to its Manhattan roots.

The governor's incentive is expected to win legislative approval within days and creates a tax incentive specifically for “a talk or variety program that filmed at least five seasons outside the state … (and) episodes are filmed before a studio audience of at least 200 more” with a budget of at least $30 million. Does any such show come to mind?

Most of Los Angeles' officials, meanwhile, have either studiously ignored the Tonight's impending departure or, worse, made light of it.

When asked for comment, a spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wondered why he was being asked about the issue, since The Tonight Show films in Burbank. Later, Villaraigosa offered this response: "If The Tonight Show decides to leave Burbank, I hope they'll consider relocating instead to Hollywood or downtown L.A."

Mayoral hopeful Eric Garcetti, who represents Hollywood, has spent most of the week  fundraising for his campaign in Chicago, Washington and New York  and was unavailable for comment on the Tonight Show matter until Friday morning. 

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The campaign released the following statement from Garcetti: "This reminds us just how important the industry is to our economic and cultural fabric. As mayor, I will continue building on the local incentives I've created and continue fighting for stronger state incentives so that we are competing as hard as we can for film and TV jobs."

His runoff-election opponent, Wendy Greuel -- a one-time DreamWorks executive -- told THR, "Some things are just better in L.A. The Dodgers. The weather. And The Tonight Show. I'd like to personally give Jimmy [Fallon] a tour of L.A. to remind him why L.A. is the entertainment capital of the world and why The Tonight Show has had so much success here for the past 41 years. I've worked my whole career to make it cheaper."

Not very specific, when New York is holding out what amounts to a check.

Burbank Mayor Dave Golonski, meanwhile, has announced he will go on hunger strike to persuade NBC to leave Tonight in his city, according to KTLA. Lots of luck with that in a town where everyone always seems to be on a diet anyway.

California's passage of film and television tax credits as part of its 2009 Tax Code appear to have made some headway in arresting runaway production that has left unemployment levels in many parts of the industry at levels unmatched since the Great Depression. It's clear, though, that far more needs to be done to meet the economic incentives New York, Canada and aggressive states like Louisiana continue to mount. Leadership on that will have to come from city and county officials here, but so far they seem mainly devoid of concrete ideas. 

Cuomo's  administration clearly has plenty of those.