Tuesday, January 2, 2007



It was two years ago this month that Johnny Carson passed away, and it's in his memory that we kick off the Crossover Hall of Fame roster for 2007. In doing so, we combine the categories of Classic TV and the League of Themselves.

For over thirty years, Johnny Carson WAS late night television. He lorded over that 11:30 pm to 1 am timeslot (which was then cut back to 11:30 pm to 12:30 am) with little resistance from the other networks. (And at the time there was only CBS and ABC as competition in those "BC" years - "before cable".)

His title of King of Late Night held true in Toobworld as well. In fact, so pervasive was his power that his show would be cited by a character in an episode of 'Columbo' to not only establish an alibi but it served to determine a time frame for the murder ("Forgotten Lady"). And he would figure in a Chicago psychologist's bizarre dream caused by Japanese food in which Carson was the powerful friend of three "creatures" who plagued the doctor's dream: Larry and his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl. (Obviously, Dr. Hartley had been watching the 'Tonight' show just before nodding off.) ('Newhart'/'The Bob Newhart Show')

As a host, Johnny Carson's resume included more than just the 'Tonight' show:

'Carson's Cellar' (1953)
'Earn Your Vacation' (1954)
'The Morning Show' (1954)
'The Johnny Carson Show' (1955-56)
'Who Do You Trust?' (1957-1962)

But it is because of his stature as the late night king that provided the inspiration for his appearances as himself in sitcoms as well as in at least two other TV dimensions.

During his second year of hosting the 'Tonight' show, (having taken over from Jack Paar on October 1, 1962), Jack Benny appeared on the program and his "secret" for how he keeps going was revealed. ('The Jack Benny Show' - "Johnny Carson Guests")

Seven years later, Lucille Carter conned her brother-in-law Harrison Carter to go to the 'Tonight' show with her and her two children, Kim and Craig, even though they didn't have any tickets. ('Here's Lucy' - "Lucy And Johnny Carson")

During the taping, Johnny entered the audience for a favorite routine, "Stump the Band", and Lucy won, thanks to her childhood lullaby, "Snoops The Lawyer". (There's a song that should one day be included in any Toobworld songbook - along with "Bupkiss" and "I Fell In Love With Attila The Hun".) Her prize? Dinner at the Brown Derby Restaurant, where she proceeded to interrupt and demolish Carson's own meal there.

In 1977, Johnny Carson was in Minneapolis on business, and he went to a small party at Mary Richards' apartment with his host, Congresswoman Geddys. Unfortunately, he and the representative were trapped in the building's elevator for most of the evening due to a blackout and so could only stay a minute at "Mary's Big Party". But it was long enough to get his face licked by the Happy Homemaker, Sue Ann Nivens. ('The Mary Tyler Moore Show')

Carson wound up in 'Night Court' in New York City in March of 1988, when immigrant Yakov Korolenko needed help in getting a visa to return to Russia to visit his mother. ("Russkie Business" - which happened to be the 100th episode of 'Night Court'.)

Finally, a mailman from Boston named Cliff Clavin had been sending in jokes to the 'Tonight' show for years, but none of them were ever used by Johnny Carson in his monologue. As a practical joke, Cliff's buddy Norm Peterson told him that one of his jokes would be used, but the joke backfired when Cliff bought plane tickets to LA for himself, Norm, and Cliff's mother so that they could all be in the audience when Johnny told the joke.

It took some quick thinking and a bit of brewed bribery for Norm to get the joke added in on the cue cards, but even so, the joke bombed.

Luckily, Mrs. Clavin was there to save the day and she boldly instructed Carson on the proper way to tell that joke - he had hit the wrong key word in his delivery.

Later after the taping, Cliff stood on the stage triumphant and basked in his daydreams about being the host of the show. ("Heeeeere's.... Cliffy!") Carson came out and observed him go through his own version of the monologue's closing movements.

Johnny: Feels pretty good, doesn't it?
Cliff: Yeah.
Johnny: Now get the hell off my stage before I call security.

(Although this episode of 'Cheers' aired in May of 1992, just a few days before Johnny Carson retired, it should be placed in October, 1991, on the Toobworld Timeline. It is mentioned in the episode that Carson's birthday was approaching, which was October 23rd. It could be that this encounter with the Clavins led the televersion of Johnny Carson's decision to retire!)

It would have been nice to see Johnny backstage at 'The Larry Sanders Show', and I know Garry Shandling tried hard to land him for a guest star spot, especially for the very last episode. But Carson's influence could be felt throughout the run of that series, from the design of the set to Larry Sanders' concerns over how his inspiration might handle the various situations that occurred.

Have you ever seen those bumper stickers that read "WWJD?" or "WWJCD?"? Larry Sanders could have used either one of those, but for him the "JC" would stand for "Johnny Carson", not "Jesus Christ".

Johnny also has doppelgangers in several of the alternate TV universes. In the Tooniverse, Johnny is practically superhuman as he was able to juggle an automobile. In Bart Simpson's eyes, his idol Krusty the Clown was second only to Carson as the greatest entertainer in the world, which means Carson had to be truly the best. And considering he could tap dance while playing the accordion and balancing Abe Simpson and Jasper on his head, it's hard to believe anybody could be better in the cartoon universe. ('The Simpsons' - "Krusty Gets Kancelled")

Over in Skitlandia, the dimension based on TV sketch comedy, Johnny Carson helped welcome Lucille Ball to NBC back in 1980. ("Lucy Moves To NBC") But it's hard to believe he'd still be welcome at the network himself after he murdered most of the comedians in the business back in 1976. ("The Bob Hope Special: Bob Hope in Joys")

There's one other incarnation of Johnny Carson in an alternate TV dimension, but he wasn't portrayed by Carson. Rich Little played the talk show host in "Late Shift", a TV movie about Carson's retirement from hosting 'Tonight' and the battle between David Letterman and Jay Leno to succeed him.

I think a good place for this tele-flick would be in Earth Prime-Time/MOW, which is the alternate dimension where the succession of US Presidents for the last forty years can be found in various movies of the week ("Vanished", "First Shot", "Washington: Behind Closed Doors", etc.)

This acknowledgment of Johnny Carson as the King of Late Night doesn't even stray into universes of little concern to Toobworld, like the "Cineverse" of movies. And I didn't even need to mention any of the game shows, award shows, many other TV specials, and other talk shows on which he appeared. But these examples have been proof enough as to why Johnny Carson is a deserving candidate for membership in the TV Crossover Hall of Fame.


"And so it has come to this.
I am one of the lucky people in the world.
I found something that I always wanted to do,
And I have enjoyed every single minute of it
Johnny Carson

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