Fale Luis sits calmly at a sound board situated atop risers above and behind the live audience at the cozy Geoffrey studio. It’s a Monday evening inside the downtown Spreckels Theatre. Wearing headphones and embodying quiet confidence, Luis directs a taping of the labor of love he’s produced since January 2014: the late-night variety talk show Tonight in San Diego.
Then the set literally starts falling apart. An interview with a local beer home brewer is halted. Stage hands rush up to the stage with ladders and duct tape to re-hang a background photo of the downtown Hilton Bayfront suspension bridge. Audience members giggle—and nobody seems to mind the interruption. It’s funny when things go wrong, and all part of seeing behind the curtain of making television magic.
But this hasn’t been all magic for Luis. It’s been years of nose-to-the-grindstone work. In the beginning, he did chores in exchange for free time at Ocean West Studios in Kearny Mesa. Then he begged and borrowed the equipment he needed, reached into his contacts list to book guests, and somehow started producing a show on a wing and a prayer.
Tonight in San Diego was web-based at first. Luis was working in the corporate events field—overseeing productions for galas, conferences and business seminars. He also managed a band. Then, and now, he pays the rent doing freelance work for commercials, corporate videos and anyone who needs his technical expertise. Luis directs and produces the San Diego Film Awards, the San Diego Music Awards and is the show director for Tedx San Diego.
But Tonight in San Diego is his baby. In the spring of 2016, the show made it onto TV airwaves, but on tough-to-find cable channel 50 KSDY. In a minor coup, starting in January the show began airing on Saturdays at 11 p.m. on The CW6 Network. The elation of making it onto a bona fide network, however, is tempered by the fact that CW6 will end local programming as XETV on March 31. Channel 6 will officially get a facelift on May 31, the same day the San Diego CW affiliation moves to Channel 8 (KFMB).
“Our partnership with XETV and The CW6 has been amazing,” Luis says. “Obviously, with things changing there, we’ll work to align ourselves with the new CW affiliate and hopefully follow that over to KFMB.”
Fingers are crossed.
WHAT IS TONIGHT IN SAN DIEGO?
In broad terms, Tonight in San Diego is a regionalized version of the Tonight Show. Comparison to Jimmy Fallon’s national vehicle for comedy, celebrity interviews and musical acts, though, isn’t fair or warranted. This ain’t a LaLa Land production. It’s more like off-off-Broadway.
Tonight in San Diego is a shoestring operation powered by Luis’ sheer determination to keep it going. It’s bolstered by a dedicated volunteer staff of 30-plus writers, stage hands and extras who help create an hour-long show, week after week. To date they’ve put more than 100 episodes in the can.
“As far as a localized version of a late-night variety show, I’ve not seen anything better,” says CW6 Vice President and General Manager Chuck Dunning.
A quest to find unique programming initially led Dunning to pick it up.
“It’s a particular challenge in a local area to maintain an identity,” he says. “We license shows—Seinfeld, Mike & Molly, Two Broke Girls—that you can see on any station. One year ago, we started looking for ‘destination-exclusive’ programming. Tonight in San Diego was a great opportunity to meet that goal. Fale brought in the show and we were impressed. We liked his track record.”
The show follows the typical late-night model. Host and veteran comedian Jesse Egan opens each episode with some jokes, often aimed at regional topics like the departure of the Chargers. Egan is aided by bow-tie-adorned sidekick Keith Foster. The Mondaze band plays the show in and out of commercial breaks.
Guests have a decidedly local flavor. Nearly every San Diego radio DJ has been on the show. Same with TV news personalities, such as KUSI sports reporter Allie Wagner and NBC weathercaster Kimi Evans. State Assemblymember Todd Gloria has been on a couple times. Cher impersonator Chad Michaels was the featured guest for this year’s season-opener for a special on-location show shot at Music Box in Little Italy.
As is the case on the Tonight Show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or Conan, a musical guest caps each episode of Tonight in San Diego. Local artist who’ve guested include Hexa, Charlie Rae, Alyssa Jacey and scores of other up-and-coming bands, singers and instrumentalists.
BE OUR GUEST
David Moye says he’s been a guest on Tonight in San Diego four times—more than anybody else. A reporter for Huffington Post Weird News, Moye has twice done segments where he’s brought on Tasteless Halloween Costumes, and has also featured Gifts for Dad and Ugly Christmas Sweaters.
Luis acknowledges that several musical acts have been on more than once; and that singer/songwriter/radio host Cathryn Beeks has been on four times—as a guest host, featured guest, musical guest and has sat in with the Mondaze. But Moye has indeed been the most frequent guest.
“I saw Tonight in San Diego for the first time when I was surfing the Internet on a plane ride home from New York,” Moye says. “I saw the production values were pretty damn good and wanted to be a part of it.”
He believes there have been other locally based comedy shows that didn’t last because the people involved seemed to be worried about being nice rather than being funny. Those shows were lame, Moye says.
“[Tonight in San Diego] people realize a good joke is a good joke is a good joke and don’t have a candy-ass attitude,” he says. “The crew is really talented. When I’m on, I like to involve the writers and cast members because they always add something that makes my appearance better. When I did Tasteless Halloween Costumes, the cast members were my models and they all did visual stuff that made my appearance better.”
(Full disclosure: Moye allowed me to come on and make a fool of myself as part of last year’s Tasteless Halloween Costumes spot. I did not make his appearance better.)
“I enjoy the variety aspect of it—what we do changes weekly,” says Meryl Klemow, who’s been with the show for two years and is the publicity coordinator, talent booker and a sketch writer. “One day we’re filming behind the scenes of a polo tournament, and the next week learning how to feed a tiger.”
Klemow says the show seems to be a magnet for smart, hard-working, fun people. “Working hands-on with Jesse Egan, Fale Luis and Keith Foster, I feel like I get a crash course in comedy writing, TV production and community relations all in one,” she adds.
THE FUTURE OF TONIGHT IN SAN DIEGO
The show tapes on Monday nights at 7 p.m. at the Geoffrey studio, a formerly abandoned room in the Spreckels Theatre that was cleaned up and renovated by the Tonight crew. It’s $7 to see a taping—an off-the-beaten-path, chuckle-inducing, worthwhile night out.
After each Monday night is wrapped up, Luis spend the next few days frantically editing the show so he can deliver it to CW6 by Thursday so it’s ready to air on Saturday nights at 11 p.m.
But—cue the dramatic chords—there are only three March Saturdays left until CW6 goes dark for local programming. Soon it’ll be up to KFMB to decide if they’ll pick up Tonight. Luis is hopeful, but nothing is definite yet. He’s reached out to Channel 8 and traded voicemails, sent in demos, done everything he’s been asked so far.
For now, fans, and would-be fans, will need to stay tuned. And in this case, hope the show stays tuned in.