Here’s Johnny! Tonight’s the night for fans of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Antenna TV begins running full episodes, re-billed as Johnny Carson. NBC owns the rights to The Tonight Show moniker.
Antenna’s Johnny Carson TV series kicks off with the January 1, 1982 episode. Eddie Murphy and McLean Stevenson are featured. Other guests this coming week include: Foster Brooks, Bob Hope, Michael Landon, Freddie Prinze, Richard Pryor, Sean Penn, Oprah Winfrey, Christopher Reeve, Dana Carvey, and Jay Leno.
Listen to McMahon’s unforgettable introduction of the iconic late night host.
Stevenson’s last role in a regular TV series was as Max Kellerman. CBS cancelled its TV adaptation of Dirty Dancing after only 11 episodes.
Antenna’s Sunday, January 3rd episode of Johnny Carson, first aired on May 21, 1974. Guest Freddie Prinze, who got his big break with a 1973 Tonight Show appearance, was only months away from the series premiere of his Latino/Anglo inter-racial sitcom, Chico and the Man, on NBC.
Prinze died during the show’s third season. NBC tried to replace him, but eventually cancelled Chico and the Man, after season four.
Back in August, parent company Tribune Broadcasting announced its multi-year agreement with the Carson Entertainment Group, to broadcast Johnny Carson on Antenna TV. Here are the details, excerpted from a Tribune Media press release:
“During his Nebraskan boyhood, Johnny Carson dreamed of becoming a world-famous magician, and few would disagree that his three decade dominance of late-night television was anything short of magical. Along the way he pioneered the conversational presentation and generative comedic content that continues to inspire talent and entertainment programming to this very day. Thirty years later, Carson’s comedy and humor are just as relevant. We are thrilled to have acquired these programs to entertain existing fans and attract future followers,” said Sean Compton, President of Strategic Programming and Acquisitions, Tribune Media.
Twenty-three years after retiring from The Tonight Show — and a decade after his death — Johnny Carson remains TV’s most popular late-night talk show host*, the gold-standard for late-night television. In his three decades as host, he interviewed some 25,000 guests; celebrities like David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jim Carrey; and comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres and Drew Carey, all of whom got their start on Carson’s stage. Antenna TV will unlock the vaults to bring viewers the most popular full-length episodes from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, which have not aired on television since, including Jackie Gleason’s only appearance on the show, a joint appearance by Don Rickles and Frank Sinatra, Myrtle the Potato Chip Lady and Barney Odum and his tree-climbing dog.
“Johnny Carson was America’s night light for 30 years. The mantra of ‘we’ll watch the monologue and go to bed’ was the norm for millions of fans. The idea of running the show at the same time every night on Antenna TV will provide viewers with a feel for how the show was viewed originally. This is a fantastic opportunity for people to relive this wonderful piece of American history,” said Jeff Sotzing, President of Carson Entertainment.
Beginning January 1, 2016, “Carnac the Magnificent,” “Art Fern,” “Aunt Blabby” and all of Carson’s classic characters will return to late night television via Antenna TV.
* The Quinnipiac University Poll, 2015
While Johnny Carson took over The Tonight Show desk in 1962, Variety reports only few episode from his first decade remain:
Sadly, the first 10 years of Carson’s “Tonight Show” are lost to history, with only a handful of episodes that survive. When the “Tonight Show” made its historic move from New York to Burbank in 1972, Carson realized that NBC had no archive of his older episodes. From then on, Carson Entertainment invested in state-of-the-art archival technology to preserve his legacy — a focus that continues today.
The 1972-1992 episodes have been digitized and meticulously transcribed and catalogued. The master tapes are buried 600 feet below the earth in a salt mine in Hutchinson, Kan. There are multiple digital copies housed in safe locations as well, according to Sotzing.
“We continue to spend money to protect the library and make sure it’s a working library,” he said. With digital technology, “it’s amazing how we have gone from 50-pound two-inch videotapes to having hundreds of shows on a single (computer) drive.”
Carson was pleasantly surprised after his retirement that there was a home video market for older “Tonight Show” episodes. Sotzing said he has no doubt his uncle would be happy that his life’s work still had value to a modern TV network.
During the week, Johnny Carson airs on Antenna TV at 11:00pm ET/8:00pm PT, and reruns at 2:00am ET/11:00pm PT. On weekends, Antenna TV will run 90-minute episodes at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, with a rebroadcast at 1:30 a.m.ET/10:30 p.m. PT.
Tribune Media says, “This is the first time the Carson episodes will air in a strip since he went off the air in 1992.”
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Do you plan to watch Antenna’s Johnny Carson TV show? Who is your favorite late night TV host? Tell us, in the comments.