My chum Rich from Wide Screen World left me a link on my Facebook page two days ago, pointing me to this article at Mediaite that asks the musical question: “Remember When Late Night Talk Shows Were… Entertaining?”
What in the heck has happened to late night comedy? As a kid I remember Johnny Carson… He seemed to approach his show each night with one goal in mind: To entertain his audience. Look how far we’ve come!
The author, who answers to “Larry O’Connor” when he’s not running the cigar stand, complains about the “politicization” of the programs headlined by the likes of Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel considering recent telecasts featuring failed Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promoting her book of excuses, What Happened, and Kimmel’s calling out of GOP Senator Bill Cassidy’s (R-LA) draconian amendment to the kill Affordable Care Act in its crib. O’Connor whines:
Regardless of your position on Obamacare or on the 2016 election, the bigger picture here is how ponderous and self-reverential and sanctimonious our late night shows (and their hosts) have become. Can we get back to entertainment please? If I want political debates on candidates and issues, I’ve got plenty of cable channels to choose from.
|Stephen Colbert interviews Hillary Clinton|
Along with virtually every other American, I never knew Johnny Carson’s politics. I would not have been surprised if he was a liberal or surprised if he was a conservative, a Democrat, or a Republican. In his 30 years as host of The Tonight Show on NBC, he never so much as hinted as to how he identified politically. He poked fun at whoever was in power, Republican or Democrat.
The reason he didn’t let on where he stood politically is that he believed that he had a much greater responsibility—to offer Americans of all political persuasions an island of good-natured fun, a place where everyone could laugh together, every night.
As fond as I am of movies, TV, and radio past…I acknowledge that with each passing generation, standards in the broadcast industry get loosened, and there are now a few words from the classic George Carlin routine that you can say on television that no one (well, those folks without a stick wedged up their keister) will bat an eyelash about. Pundits like Praeger fall back on one reliable bit of shtick: the American discourse is coarsening, and it’s all the fault of “the Left,” godless Commie bastards that they are. (I’m ashamed to have linked to Dennis’ article, because in its online state you can’t even use it to scrape off whatever’s on the bottom of your shoe.)
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series. It’s due to be released tomorrow (September 26), on the heels of another hefty new-to-retail set of Carson reruns that came out last week (Sept. 19), Johnny and Friends: The Complete Collection. My good friend Michael Krause at Foundry Communications saw to it that I received copies of both these DVD compendiums, and I’ll have a review of Johnny and Friends ready for the TDOY faithful next week in this space (I’m still wading through the riches in that 10-DVD set).
Johnny Carson fans will naturally be curious to check out (and own, pending approval) each Time Life Tonight Show set that rolls off the assembly line…but in a hypothetical situation where you’re forced to divert your disposable income toward little luxuries like food, clothing, and shelter, The Vault Series is the one to get. The reason is simple (and this is purely a matter of my personal preference—your mileage, as always, may vary): excepting an October 23, 1984 telecast (guests Paul McCartney and Mary Gross help Johnny celebrate his birthday) and a lengthy clip from 1987 featuring Letterman and Joe Piscopo on the Tonight Show couch, the remaining content is culled from classic Carson shows from the 1970s. You even have the option of watching the original commercials for a real nostalgia wallow.
|Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson on the cusp of talk show immortality.|
The big thing for me is that most shows—James Corden is the obvious exception—don't do the "couch thing" anymore. A guest comes on, promotes his or her movie or book, and leaves. Then the next guest comes on, rinse and repeat. There's no interaction between guests the way there was with Carson and Cavett and Griffin, and the way there is on British "chat shows". Another thing is the shift from 90 to 60 minutes. That meant that either sketch material or guests for cut and depending on the host it is usually guests.
I think Br’er Brent makes a solid, salient point about the ninety-minute-to-sixty-minute shift, and the telecasts on The Vault Series from 1972-76 generously allot ample time to allow for lively, fascinating byplay between Johnny and the scheduled guests. (I need to point out in the interest of fairness that a few of the shows on this set feature the likes of Bob Hope and Dean Martin, who do come on and then beat a hasty retreat. Some things never change.) But nothing ever feels rushed, and there’s abundant time for Carson to squeeze in a “Tea Time Movie” sketch (as Art Fern) or Aunt Blabby (one of the shows on Vault features a “Blabby” skit, and it is falling-down hysterical).
|Johnny breaks Ed up during an "Aunt Blabby" sketch from March 23, 1976.|
|Bing and Ray perform...to the accompaniment of Marvin Hamlisch on piano. It just doesn't get any better than this.|
|"Like a rhinestone cowboy..."|