“The King of Late Night TV” Johnny Carson doesn’t need any help in cementing his legacy as one of television’s all-time greats, but for producer Paul Reiser, honoring the iconic host through the very medium he commanded so well has been a lifelong dream.
“There’s… Johnny!” debuted in November on Hulu and follows the story of a 19-year-old boy named Andy who stumbles upon a job working behind the scenes for “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1972.
Reiser spoke to Fox News and revealed that he wanted to produce and co-write the show to honor Carson.
“In ’72 I was 15 (and) 16, so I was watching Johnny Carson every night, or at least most nights where I could stay up,” he said. “It just seemed like the coolest place in the world… I usually tuned in mainly to see my favorite comedians. So that time always fascinated me.
“(And) it just always seemed like they were smoking and drinking and people would then casually walk by… So once we started playing with this idea, we wanted (a character) who would be as wide-eye as possible… And then there was no shortage of ideas.”
Reiser, who actually appeared on “The Tonight Show” while working as an aspiring comedian, highlighted Carson’s importance and influence on pop culture.
“If you’re a young comedian, but someone has never heard of you, if you’ve done the ‘Tonight Show,’ then people think you must be good. That was the only currency people understood,” the Emmy nominated producer recalled. “Certainly my parents did. For them, it was like, ‘All right, he spent all those years staying up late in clubs and making $7 a week, but now he must be OK because he was on ‘The Tonight Show.’
Reiser added that “There was no other show that had that stamp of approval.”
The electrifying presence of Carson and the allure of his late-night television show have not transitioned well to the current stable of hosts lighting up the midnight airwaves.
While Carson would draw 9 million viewers nightly on average, CBS’ Late Show with Stephen Colbert, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live and NBC’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon only pull 2 million viewers nightly on average, The Washington Times reported.
“Late-night shows are in a much fiercer competition for eyeballs than ever before, and I suspect the politicization is a response to that — a desperate way of getting in the news, of getting noticed, of securing the loyalty of a particular demographic,” said Robert Tracinski, senior writer for The Federalist.
He added: “This is also my theory about the big entertainment awards shows like the Oscars and the Emmys. If the big, broad, general audience you used to have is gone, and deep down you think it’s never coming back, then why not make a harder bid for the loyalty of the smaller audience you’ve got left?
“This is a good reason not to be to (sic) concerned over late-night hosts pushing us away with political diatribes when we just want too (sic) be entertained. The fact is that we were already drifting away, and they’re just making a desperate bid for attention in a fading medium,” Tracinski concluded.
Carson’s content was drastically different to the approach employed by current late-night TV hosts that bombard viewers with a heavy dose of politics nightly.
As highlighted by The Atlantic, politicization and anti-Trump rhetoric occupy the majority of content put out by present-day late-night hosts.
Shows such as “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” put an extraordinary amount of focus on President Donald Trump and his administration, potentially leaving a sour taste in the mouth of viewers who tune in to see something other than politics.
However, Stephen Colbert’s late-night show rife with anti-Trump rhetoric appears to oppose this theory as it has been gaining ground on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night program that has been accused by some of not being political enough.
Regardless of which show dominates the ratings war in the present day, the numbers pale in comparison to what Carson was able to accomplish, and as noted by Reiser, there was something special about the iconic host that no one can replicate.
“You felt like you knew him. He was your favorite uncle,” he said. “He was your father’s cool friend. But you didn’t hang out with him.”
“Johnny was a mythical figure,” he concluded.
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