With “The Tonight Show” doing a group of shows from Orlando, Florida this June, it brings back a lost part of the late-night TV landscape: Travel shows. Out of all late-night shows managing to keep this alive recently, only Craig Ferguson managed to take his show overseas and still manage to be hilarious. Prior to that, and now Fallon, we haven’t seen any late-night shows do many travel shows like you saw in past decades up until the early 2000s. Perhaps it’s been due to budget concerns and also the risk of whether the same feel of the show can be done when moving outside the familiar environs of the home studio.
But all the late-night shows that took the risk with travel shows proved that it kept the show fresh and lively with the unexpected. With David Letterman seemingly being the most-traveled late-night host with his memorable travel shows in the 1980s and ’90s, it more or less started with the bi-coastal Johnny Carson.
The Early Days of Late-Night Show Travels
Already in the 1960s, Carson would take “The Tonight Show” from Studio 6B in New York City out to the Burbank, California NBC studio at least several times a year. That famous Burbank studio they moved to permanently in the early 1970s is already seen in the rare surviving clips of Carson in L.A. during the ’60s. Unfortunately, it’s the only place he ever traveled with the show, perhaps because his studio was almost conducive to the atmosphere the show created.
Vice versa, when Carson moved permanently to Burbank, he took the show back to Studio 6B in NYC a few times until the Burbank studio became studio central through to Caron’s 1992 retirement. You have to wonder what the show would have been like had they taken on shows in other cities once in a while. Was Carson too uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments? That’s possible, though Jay Leno realized the potential and took “The Tonight Show” to some interesting places.
Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” Travel Shows
You probably remember Jay Leno taking “The Tonight Show” on the road a number of times throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s. He went to 30 Rock in New York City, Chicago, plus various other cities that brought a fresh appeal since Jay Leno was already a well-traveled standup comic. It was the audiences, also, that made those travel shows full of more energy, especially since many of them were larger and more exuberant than ones seen in the chilly studio environment.
Even more so, Leno’s real brilliance in interacting with the public added a special appeal to the travel shows in connecting with the locals. His Person on the Street interviews in those cities were highlights that were only matched by Conan O’ Brien who also took on the travel show concept.
Conan O’ Brien Taking “Late Night” on the Road
Conan O’ Brien still goes on the road once in a blue moon with his “Conan” on TBS. He should do it more often considering his travel shows have been funnier than any travel show attempts by other hosts. In fact, O’Brien seems perfectly suited to it and seems to bring out a creative energy the home studio doesn’t always bring. Out of all of Conan’s travel shows, his Chicago show from not long ago is probably the funniest. The video taken at a Chicago hotdog stand with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog may be the most uproarious bit ever done in a late-night travel show.
Regardless, let’s not forget O’Brien’s show in Sweden when realizing the female Prime Minister there (Tarja Halonen) seemed to eerily resemble him. When he did shows there in the mid 2000s through “Late Night”, it brought cultural misunderstanding to the best imaginable comedic heights.
Craig Ferguson’s Travels and Jimmy Fallon’s Possible Future Travels
You’d think Ferguson taking his very studio-fed late-night show to Europe would have been a major dud. It turns out, they made it so different that it brought a fresh edge to the show. Rather than using a studio audience like all other travel shows, Ferguson just taped in advance and utilized bits out on location while synonymously interviewing celebrities. Ferguson and Geoff the Robot managed to be hilarious moving and interacting around Paris, France, plus Scotland in the last several years.
It’s probably the last time you’ll see a late-night franchise travel overseas due to the expense. Everyone has stopped the traveling recently, including Conan O’Brien, plus Jimmy Kimmel who never seems to want to travel with his show. Jimmy Fallon, however, seems to have enough energy to do a national tour with “The Tonight Show.” With Orlando, Florida being picked first just to celebrate summer vacation, there’s also been talk of the show visiting Los Angeles eventually.
While in L.A., you have to hope they’ll do the show in Johnny Carson’s old Burbank studio to keep the full circle history they’ve already achieved. Or, it could be a closed, no-vacancy travel destination considering NBC’s Burbank studio is now shut down for TV production.