For nearly three decades, Johnny Carson blazed a trail in the art of the television chat show. His The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson is now recognized by some as one of TV’s greatest. But there are a few things that you might not know about Carson and the show that he fronted for so long. So… Here’s Johnny!
4. He never forgave Joan Rivers
By 1986 Joan Rivers had been guest hosting The Tonight Show for four years. But when she left for her own show, she didn’t tell Carson in person – and he didn’t take it well, to say the least. He refused every approach that she made afterwards, never speaking to her again, and even sending back a floral tribute that she had proffered when his son was killed in a car crash.
3. He had loyal sidekicks
From day one, Ed McMahon would introduce Carson with the famous cry of “Here’s Johnny.” But even he wasn’t the longest-serving member of the show’s team. Saxophonist Tommy Newsom featured on The Tonight Show before Carson even took the host’s chair and would remain there throughout his tenure. In the end, Newsom beat Carson’s time on the show by three months.
2. Industrial action reaped huge rewards
In 1980 Carson had a raging contract dispute with NBC. He offered the network a choice: pay him more, or lose him. In the meantime, ABC dangled a lucrative offer if the host did want to jump ship. NBC caved, and Carson didn’t only get a massive pay rise, but going forward he also owned the show. On top of that, the network shaved half an hour off the show’s running time. Nice work if you can get it!
1. Any questions?
When Carson first got the gig with The Tonight Show, the press went wild. Fed up with demands for interviews, Carson sent journalists a list of answers that they could just use with any questions they like. It included gems such as, “Toads and tarantulas,” “Turkestan, Denmark, Chile, and the Komandorskie Islands” and “As often as possible, but I’m not very good at it yet,” so we’ll leave suitable questions to the reader’s imagination.