It seems like Western New York just can't get away from the late-night jokes that a long line of television hosts have made famous. Whether it involves paralyzing snowstorms or a football team that lost four straight Super Bowls and has missed the playoffs for 15 years, Western New York is a can't miss joke.
Jimmy Fallon got in his licks last week as the host of the Tonight Show referred to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls as "lights and fun" and the American side "as almost like a Lemony Snicket book cover. Sad and trees with no leafs on it. And you go, 'what happened? Why is that side so much worse?'"
Fallons dissed the American side while interviewing actress Nicole Kidman after her husband Keith Urban had headlined the super New Year's Eve gala on the Canadian side which made the guitar drop on the American side look pretty chintzy. It took two sessions of the council to use $10,000 to help sponsor the guitar drop while hundreds of thousands of dollars went into the festivities across the border.
On the Canadian side, public and private resources were pooled to give folks a great New Year's Eve show while on the American side there was very little public or private money and while a few hundred people came out, it was a bit of joke for a so-called world class tourist city and it is unlikely very many people traveled more than a few miles to see it. I didn't see it on any of the local television coverage.
At this point, the American side of the falls is pretty much a joke. It is a city filled with poverty, blight, and not much to attract visitors beyond the mighty falls except a gambling casino run by the Seneca Nation of Indians.
There is great talk about coming downtown development, but so far not much has materialized. The transformational Hamister hotel project and the winter wonderland at the Rainbow Mall are still pipe dreams. Maybe they will happen, as the mayor hopes, or maybe they won't. In the meantime, lawmakers fight over how to use casino cash to keep the city from going under.
Like the snow that paralyzed much of the area in November and the four Super Bowl losses, Western New York has a bad image. And the city that allegedly boasts one of the World Wonders, Niagara Falls, can barely its bills and, despite promises from the state, there is very little visible development. Niagara Falls lives for a few months every summer when millions come to the Cataract City to see the falls. But they don't stay and they don't come back after Labor Day.
Fallon dissing Niagara Falls is only the latest shot that the area has taken from the talk show guys and it won't be the last. It sort of comes with the territory and probably not much will change until the area's image improves, and that could start with a football team that gets some national exposure for something other than missing the playoffs.
As for Niagara Falls, until the city learns how to maximize its potential and draw people for more than a few months a year, it will continue to fall short in comparison with the Canadian side where it seems like the lights are always on, as Fallon said, and there is excitement in the air that is noticeably absent on the New York side.
Downtown development should help Niagara Falls, if it ever happens, and maybe Rex Ryan can achieve the impossible and build a winner on the football field.
Inviting Fallon for a tour might generate some press, but if he does come and sees the city close up, it might be fodder for more late-night fun. It is not a pretty sight. And like New Year's Eve, it gets uglier when you look across the river and see all the excitement that the Canadians have created on their side of the World Wonder. Even Nik Wallenda's stunning wire walk almost didn't happen because the politicians on the American side couldn't work together even with the potential of a worldwide television audience on the horizon.