Procrastination Nation

Things that Robert is thinking about that keep him from accomplishing anything.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Johnny Bye-Bye
I didn't get to post on Johnny Carson. I taped Leno last week and Letterman last night. I'm taping Conan tonight. While I'm no longer a Leno fan (I admit I liked him before he took over the show), I thought he did a really nice job with his opening speech. Delivery was a bit awkward, but it was a difficult speech to give and was clearly sincere.

I was irritated with Letterman initially because I thought, "Is that bastard off this week, too!" because I recognized all the jokes. Then I realized he was doing a "best of" of jokes Johnny had been submitting to the show. They were good jokes.

I gave up on Leno's show about half way through (I had only set the tape for 30 minutes not knowing he'd do the whole show on him), but I thought it was a nice touch to have Newhart and Rickles tell stories, and Ed was a sensible choice. The thing that really burned into my mind watching Leno's Carson clips was how much it was like "The Larry Sanders Show" (or rather, how much TLSS was so spot-on about Carson). I kept mentally filling in what it was like backstage after the show.

Letterman's tribute though epitomized the difference between their two shows and reinforced why Carson seemed to love Letterman more. While Leno chose stock footage (great footage, but footage we've seen a bazillion times) and showed Carson mugging for a joke (e.g., dealing with the lost moustache, jumping in to lap up the Alpo when a dog walked off during the commercial), Letterman's approach captured the dignity of Carson while also showing his humor. Getting Doc and Tommy together was really nice. Even though I liked having Rickles and Newhart, it felt like it was about them, and not so much about Johnny. I guess Fred DeCordova is dead now, but I thought Peter Lasally was wonderfully sweet and respectful as the primary guest, and that just underlines the difference.

It also showed the relationship between the two men and what Carson meant to Letterman, which is a big part of what I came looking for: it was his love letter to his fallen hero. Leno was the adopted foster child, Letterman the first-born. Perhaps Leno could never win the contest with me: I mean, if he had showed clips of himself with Carson, would I have thought it tacky or self-serving? I would like to think I could be fair about it, but maybe not.

I remember thinking in the early '90s that Carson should hit the road, not because I never found him funny but because I didn't find him as funny as often. He had long since stopped using his characters, but more importantly he was on only 3 days a week at times (a Monday repeat, a Leno guest host, and 3 nights of new Carson). Also, he didn't seem particularly engaged with the guests much anymore, and at the time I thought Leno was doing better monologues. Then again, Leno was at the top of his monologue game back in the late-80s, and it's easy to look great 1 night a week.

Still, I loved Carson. It got me thinking about what his wake or funeral must have been like. Perhaps because he was so private, it might not have been as great as I would expect. But, in my imagination Dave and Leno and just a revolving door of about 10 people would get to speak, and it would be the funniest sad day in the world. If ever a funeral called for C-SPAN coverage, this would be it.

It also got me thinking about whose funeral I would like to attend, assuming I had to let a celebrity I admired and loved die. I still miss Phil Hartman, but I think his funeral was such a shock that it would have been tough to be pleasant. I think about the stories from public funerals (e.g., Dick Schaap's as told by Kornheiser), and I wonder if there isn't a market for it on t.v.

Anyway, thank you, Johnny, for being so funny.

I suspect that a wake/remembrance/funeral for Johnny Carson wouldn't have anything to which us fans could relate, due to Carson's private nature. Letterman, and perhaps even Lasally, might not even be invited. The attendees might be his wife and some tennis buddies that we had never heard of. The celebrities might be Chevy Chase and Steve Martin; I don't know if Letterman ever relaxed in Carson's presence.

The ONLY time that we even saw a glimpse of the private Carson was in his tributes to his deceased son.

I missed all of the tributes, but I think that the ones that would be most meaningful would be from Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett, and some of his other competitors from the 60s and 70s.
Yeah, that's a potential problem in choice of stars. The reality may never match the fantasy. Still, I like to imagine how great it would be to hear Steve Martin's (and others') eulogy for Johnny. Since we'll never have the Celebrity Funeral Network (CFN), I suppose the fantasy will have to do.
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