BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – NBC’s “Tonight Show” is moving back to New York because it’s the right place for its next host, producer Lorne Michaels said Tuesday.
Jimmy Fallon has “the energy of the city,” said Michaels, who will produce “Tonight” when Fallon takes the show over from Jay Leno next year.
The move also is a tribute to New York itself, said Michaels, the longtime force behind Manhattan-based “Saturday Night Live.” Public opinion of the city has changed since Johnny Carson took the “Tonight Show” to California in 1972, the producer said.
He made his comments during a Q&A session with comedian Martin Short at a Hollywood Radio Television & Society lunch in Beverly Hills.
Michaels, who like Short is a native of Canada, reminisced about visiting New York as a teenager and seeing a taping of “Tonight” with Jack Paar, who hosted from 1957 to 1962.
“I remember how magic that was,” said Michaels, 68. He added later that Betty White was a guest that night, a testament to the staying power of some stars even as audiences show less patience for veterans.
He touched only briefly on the upcoming changes in NBC’s late-night schedule and didn’t address who will fill Fallon’s spot on “Late Night.”
Instead, he and Short, a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member who starred in the 1986 movie “Three Amigos!” produced and co-written by Michaels, kept the focus on “SNL” and Michaels’ career.
The show never holds back on mocking politicians of any stripe or even friends in the business, Michaels said, but he does try to avoid attacking “our own,” a reference to former cast members. He recalled a misstep involving Eddie Murphy.
Then-cast member David Spade made an on-air reference to Murphy as a “falling star,” a jab at the state of Murphy’s film career. That prompted a call to Spade from Murphy, who gave him “a half-hour of the truth: ‘You’re standing on my shoulders,'” Michaels recalled.
“And it was true. It was a mistake on our part,” he said, noting the show didn’t otherwise mock Murphy.
“There were a lot of things we didn’t do,” Michaels said.
“Let’s list them,” said Short, impishly.
Although “SNL” has had its ups and downs with viewers and critics, Michaels said it remains a badge of honour to host the show and join the ranks of such stars as Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and Justin Timberlake.
“So many people are angry” at not being asked, he said, without naming names, but he said the invitation can never be a favour.
“It only works in the ratings and in the studio if when the door opens the audience is incredibly excited,” Michaels said.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org and http://twitter.com/lynnelber .