Friday, February 26, 2016

Johnny Carson on Antenna TV -- A Master In Full Episodes

I was watching old Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” reruns the other night on Antenna TV, a marvelous channel that airs many older offerings. Every evening Antenna TV shows an entire episode of the Tonight Show, and lately I have found myself ending my evening while watching Johnny, Ed, Doc, and their guests entertaining America once more.

Suffice it to say, I enjoy these shows so much that they have become a highlight of my day. Now, I am 65 years-old, and I realize that puts me in the “Old Geezer” demographic; however, I feel the quality of television in the 21st century is spiraling in a steep nosedive that reflects a significant, constant “dumbing down” of America.

As I was watching the old Tonight Show, I had a minor revelation the other night that spoke directly to my age and to my opinion of most modern television entertainment. It was a very simple understanding. Here it is: I “get” the pace, humor, content, and style of the Johnny Carson Show – things I often find missing in Colbert, Fallon, Kimmel, and others. Carson was simply a master of his craft – he remains an unparalleled late night host.

Please, let me elaborate how I believe Johnny Carson achieved his fame (and still does (at least, for me) in the rerun episodes) ...

First of all, Carson made me feel comfortable, at home, and relaxed. In this respect, he used a relatively slow pace to develop human interest in his monologue, his guests, and his routines. I felt as if I could trust Johnny, his opinions and his tastes, and his impeccable timing – in that respect, to me, Carson was the Walter Cronkite of late night.

In addition, I loved how Carson guided a dialogue without monopolizing the conversation. He was always cordial yet in control with his guests – whether the guests were ordinary people or celebrities. At the same time, he often assumed a very non-threatening background role. He was an excellent listener who skillfully stimulated interesting interactions while seamlessly setting up opportunities for spontaneous humor. Gifted with intellect and “quiet” communication skills, Carson stands above new late night hosts.

Of course, the Tonight Show had a great supporting cast. Ed McMahon was the consummate sidekick and Johnny's essential “straight man.” I loved Ed for never trying to overextend his role and for his timely, offhand remarks and his ever-present chuckles. The best “second-banana” in the business, Ed began each episode with his booming, "Heeere's Johnny!" followed by the Paul Anka penned “Tonight Show Theme.” Classic television, to say the least.

Then, there was the band. Doc Severinsen, the fantastic bandleader, had a musical presence that was peerless. Doc was a great trumpeter whose band was tight and versatile – they played older or new music that appealed to everyone. Johnny always ripped Doc about his flashy attire. The hip fashionista seemingly always had a hilarious deadpan comment in reply. And sometimes Carson would jest about band member's Tommy's Newsome's bland nature and Tommy played along to get a laugh. And, it would be ashamed to shortchange drummer Ed Shaughnessy, who first found a place playing alongside big names like Billie Holiday, Bennie Goodman and Count Basie. Ed was quite a performer in his own right.

The guest list for the Tonight Show was a who's who of celebrities. Recently, I have seen episodes featuring Jonathan Winters, Jimmy Stewart, Robin Williams, Michael Landon, Charlton Heston, Joan Collins, Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin and countless others who literally lit up the set.
It seemed no one was willing to miss an opportunity to sit down with Johnny. Here is just one evening episode's guest list (first aired on July 20, 1973): comic Jack Benny, football player Joe Namath, and actress Elke Sommer.

Invariably, Carson would also host common folks of human interest on his show. The lady who had the potato chip collection, the woman who won the hollering contest, the young girl who was invited to Moscow – all were among guests with interesting interviews conducted by Johnny. Perhaps it was his Midwest upbringing or his humble roots that made for his genuine fondness of people. Whatever it was, Carson's kind demeanor seems sorely lacking in late night these days.

Accolades? Johnny Carson received six Emmy Awards, the Governor's Award, and a 1985 Peabody Award. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.

Johnny Carson became an American icon and remained so even after his retirement in 1992. He earned the title of “King of Late Night TV" by dominating the medium's later hours for three decades.

In my book, thanks to Antenna TV, Carson remains the king. I suggest if you, too, would like to end your day with a “feel good” dose of great American television, watch these full episodes of the Tonight Show featuring Johnny Carson.

Schedules list the following: Weeknights 11p & 2a ET / 8p & 11p PT

Weekends 10p & 1:30a ET / 7p & 10:30p PT

Click here for some very entertaining conversations with Johnny Carson:

No comments: