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TV Yesterdays

Finally, my Johnny Carson post

I realized I didn’t have a lot to say on the topic of Johnny’s passing that wasn’t just rehashing all of the stories from people who were a lot closer to the subject. My personal experience was of creeping out of bed around the age of 9, and creeping to the grated hole in the floor of our upstairs hallway to listen while my folks watched the "Tonight" show. I distinctly remember the many visits from Joan Embry of the San Diego Zoo, including the monkey that urinated on Johnny’s head (yep, a Golden Age of TV). But beyond that, what?

In the larger picture I can say that it’s because of Johnny that we have TV talk shows in their present format. And why every TV network thought they needed a talk show after their late news. At the time Johnny took over "Tonight," most stations were perfectly content to run old movies. By the mid 60s, CBS and ABC were trying to duplicate the Carson-style talk show with only limited success. CBS usually went back to a schedule of movies, and ABC finally staked out an alternative when its nightly coverage of the Iran hostage crisies turned into "Nightline."

So now, every season there’s a new talk show by some celebrity or TV psychiatrist or Oprah wannabe that misses the mark entirely. I think most of it is because they come the series with the baggage of familiarity, or some agenda. When Johnny started the job, he was known only as a TV presenter, not as a character from a movie. And as far as I know, he never aired his personal views or bore grudges on his show. the few details of his personal life that he shared (his many wives, for instance), were only details that were already part of the public record. His talent of putting interesting people in the guest chair.

And checking the usual string of editorial cartoons, thanks to Daryl Cagle’s cartoon index on Slate, I am glad to see more cartoonists opt for a nice portrait of Johnny than for the same old "St. Peter/Pearly Gates" saw. Regrettably, Cagle himself falls for the cheap gag, but at least scores points for having St. Peter say "Every cartoonist who draws me saying ‘Here’s Johnny’ will be going straight to Hell." Wish that could be applied to the 100% of cartoonists whose Rodney Dangerfield memorial involved St. Peter, the gown and angel wings, and "No Respect!"

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