(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)
from June 3, 2009
Conan O'Brien started his new gig last night as the latest host of "The Tonight Show."
I missed it, and, truthfully, I'll probably miss a whole lot more.
I don't watch "Tonight" anymore. Of course, I don't watch much TV, period, anymore, but "Tonight" was a favorite of mine.
This isn't to disrespect Conan--who I actually like--or Jay Leno (who I kinda like, too).
But come on--is "Tonight" really "Tonight" if Johnny Carson isn't hosting it?
On October 1, 1962, some folks were asking much the same question, only substituting Jack Paar's name where I placed Johnny's. Or Steve Allen's, depending on your preference.
Johnny stayed some 30 years, and I'd say he pretty much silenced his critics.
Johnny didn't walk off the show, like Paar did, for example.
Jack was upset at the network's censoring of him, and decided he'd had enough. On the set. Live, while the show was going on.
A stupefied Hugh Downs, Paar's announcer, finished the show, no doubt horrified.
Paar returned several months later, with the famous opening line: "As I was saying..."
It ended up being the title of Paar's autobiography.
A short while ago, I wrote about how much I miss the comedic actor Peter Sellers.
I miss Johnny Carson even more.
But Jay Leno carried the torch for 17 years, and that's not bad.
If it doesn't seem that long to you, I understand. Time does fly. But it's true.
Perhaps nothing was more cringe-inducing in television history than when Chevy Chase gave late night TV a go on Fox in 1993.
Almost from the get-go--and I'm talking the opening minutes--you knew that ole Chevy was out of his element.
He had no discernible interview skills. He didn't seem comfortable sitting behind a desk, period--except to do his knock-off of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update."
They tried to help Chevy out, Fox did, by parading some of his old movie co-stars out as guests on opening week.
Goldie Hawn, for one.
Bless her heart. You could tell that she wanted Chevy--with whom she starred in two movies--to succeed in the worst way. But it just wasn't happening.
It reminds me of a twist on an old joke.
"I wanted to host a late night TV show in the worst way--and I did!"
The Hawn "interview" was nothing more than Chevy reminiscing with Goldie, as if they were sitting alone having a drink.
He seemed to forget that tens of millions of eyeballs were watching.
It was painful to watch.
Chevy's show got the broom after only a few weeks. Fox had spent most of the summer hyping the show, actually believing that Chase could put a dent into Dave Letterman's numbers over at CBS.
But the experiment was a total, unmitigated disaster. A complete failure.
Fox's ad campaign aimed to mock Letterman's gap-toothed grin, but Dave had the last laugh--by far
Chase, I remember, wasn't totally humbled. In fact, he was a little ticked off at the Fox network folks.
"They put me in a theater," Chase said about the show's set being in Los Angeles's Aquarius Theater, which was renamed the Chevy Chase Theater not long before the show debuted. "I'm not a 'theater' kind of performer. So that was uncomfortable, from the beginning.'"
I hear you, Chevy, but I think no matter where they put you, I think you would have failed.
Not that it was totally his fault. The Fox people tried putting a square peg in a round hole, and in that instance, you don't blame the peg.
Then there was Magic Johnson's try, which is a whole other blog post.
Johnny Carson was hardly a household name when he took over "Tonight" in 1962. Chase and Magic, however, were, when they tried their hands at late night TV hosting.
Just goes to show you, eh?
As Paar would have said, "I kid you not."