The Big Apple Vs. The City Of Angels

The world of late night television buzzed with excitement last week over the launch of the Jimmy Fallon “era” of The Tonight Show. Fallon is just the sixth permanent host in the 60 year history of the show, a television institution that has been hosted by Johnny Carson and Jay Leno during 51 of the past 52 years.

Many industry commentators have also praised the NBC television network’s decision to return the show to its ancestral New York City roots from its long time home in southern California. Carson originally moved the show west in 1972, during a period when New York City was disintegrating and Los Angeles was booming in population and economic wealth.

At the time, the Big Apple was in the midst of a sickening municipal decline that would hit bottom with a close brush with bankruptcy three years later. Period films like Taxi Driver and Death Wish depicted the metropolis as a city with striking poverty and rampant crime, while television shows like The Brady Bunch and Three’s Company portrayed southern California as a land of eternal sun and easy living.

So how did New York City later manage to resurrect its fortunes so thoroughly? Why is the return of The Tonight Show now perceived as a reasonable business strategy? And when did Los Angeles manage to lose its aura of inevitable economic growth?

If urban planning expert Jane Jacobs were still alive, she would likely point to New York’s success in diversifying its economic base. In her landmark books The Death And Life Of Great American Cities and The Economy Of Cities, Jacobs noted how fiscal (as well as cultural) diversification enables regions to transition from fading industrial sectors to rising ones.

Indeed, forty years ago, New York’s economy was heavily focused on Wall Street finance. And Los Angeles’ economy was similarly focused on the entertainment industry.

Over the past several decades, however, the Big Apple’s economy has expanded into global tourism, trade, and technology. And today, even light manufacturing is making a comeback in places like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Industry City.

The economy of Los Angeles, however, remains heavily focused on the entertainment industry. Like Detroit and its automobile manufacturers, or Hartford and its insurance companies, the City of Angels is struggling to maintain its dominance in the one industry sector that has served as its engine for growth.

If you were Mayor Eric Garcetti of the City of Los Angeles, would you respond to the region’s loss of the Tonight Show by refocusing your economic development efforts on strengthening the entertainment industry? Or would you shift your focus to diversifying into other industries?