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Johnny Carson
by James H. Burns

I wonder if in recent years we may have lost track of the connection Johnny Carson had with those of his immediate age-group. For my father--who was exactly Carson's age and also served in World War II--as with many others, Carson's TONIGHT SHOW was almost a BAROMETER of what was going on in the country and what was, in fact, now acceptably funny...

 

My Dad was no rube: a high-IQ, a mechanical engineering professor, and someone who studied and learned foreign languages for fun!

But Carson connected with EVERYONE, for many years there, in a way that seemed impossible even before the proliferation of cable and the internet splintered the audience. (People watched LETTERMAN and ARSENIO, but never ACROSS demographics like THE TONIGHT SHOW.)

When Johnny Carson died, I did a short piece for one of the local papers which mentioned the shared relationship some of us enjoyed via the show, and our parents. To my absolute amazement, a few readers looked up my address, to MAIL ME thank-yous, for reminding them of their own fathers or mothers.

That was a tribute to Carson not to anything I wrote.

 

Carson also did something many entertainers would just not be capable of. I fall into a group that believes that, for too many nights, THE TONIGHT SHOW had begun coasting, at some point in the 1980s. But in that last Carson season he turned it back up a notch and was able to be, to a large extent, the Johnny Carson so many different generations remembered so fondly.

James BurnsJames H. (Jim) Burns has written for such magazines as GENTLEMAN'S QUARTERLY, ESQUIRE, HEAVY METAL and TWILIGHT ZONE; and more recently, Op-Eds or features for THE VILLAGE VOICE, THE SPORTING NEWS, CBS-NY.COM, and THE NEW YORK TIMES. He has also made several contributions to Off-Broadway, and Broadway productions, and become active in radio.

Thirty-seven years ago (!) this Thanksgiving week Jim was fortunate enough to attend a TONIGHT SHOW taping in Burbank, guest-starring Burt Reynolds and Jane Seymour and highlighted by Johnny Mathis singing "Ave Maria"!

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Johnny Carson Hosted the Oscar Telecasts
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