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Friday, May 10, 2013

Rome and Burbank: Sister Cities

It's hard to imagine Burbank, California and Rome being mentioned in the same breath, let alone compared, but funny things happen when a city feels itself besieged, and that is how Burbank feels right now.  The source of its anxiety is comedian Jimmy Fallon, the heir apparent to Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show," who has made it clear that when he ascends the throne in February, 2014, he will take the program--broadcast from Burbank for decades--to New York City.

There is a certain irony here.  Although "Tonight" contributes significantly to Burbank's economy, the show also shares responsibilty for Burbank's reputation as a place of unusual ordinariness.  The phrase "Beautiful Downtown Burbank"--never said without tongue in cheek, coined in 1968 by Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In announcer, Gary Owens--achieved iconic status on "The Tonight Show," where Johnny Carson roasted used car dealers (take the Slauson cut-off) and damned the host
city time and again with the faint praise of "Beautiful Downtown Burbank."  To its credit, Burbank did its best to absorb and use the insult, turning the phrase into a minor public relations campaign, which included a postcard of the pedestrian mall (above). 

The imminent departure of the program offers another challenge altogether, and it has produced a more defensive response, as if Burbank without "Tonight" must convince us that the city does, indeed, have other attractions.  And so it was that Burbank's mayor, Dave Golonski, found himself showing off Burbank's treasures to LA Times columnist Gale Holland. 

And that's where Rome comes in. 

As Holland and Golonski toured the city, the Mayor seemed.especially proud of Burbank's AMC top-performing movie theaters, jammed on Friday nights and--this indeed is miraculous in Los Angeles--with free parking.   Walking up the stairs to the AMC 16, Golonski remarked, "This is our version of the Spanish Steps in Rome." 

It was, apparently, a joke.  Along the lines, perhaps, of "Beautiful Downtown Burbank." 


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