NBC is developing a project on “The Tonight Show” legend Johnny Carson, and it’s a good thing the fiercely private late-night legend is not around to see it.
Adapted from “Carson the Magnificent,” Bill Zehme’s upcoming biography from Simon and Schuster, the project will cover the icon’s 30-year run as host of the late-night talk show.
If Carson were still with us, that’d be enough to make him dash behind the curtain — he was so fiercely averse to personal inquiry that his colleagues described him as “painfully shy” and “socially uncomfortable.” Friends who he suspected of talking about him were disowned, and though he conducted interviews by the thousands, he almost never gave one himself.
Imagine what Johnny would think if he heard the project also plans to delve into his childhood in Nebraska and his personal relationships off-camera.
The network didn’t announce who might play Carson.
The project will be executive produced by Zehme and John Davies. Zehme, who has reported on the late-night TV landscape for decades, is one of the few journalists to have had access to Carson. Previously, he wrote an extensive profile of him, “The Man Who Retired,” in the May 2002 edition of Esquire. His television credits include serving as the production consultant on PBS’ 2012 “American Masters” documentary “Johnny Carson: King of Late Night.”
Davies, an Emmy Award nominee for the NBC Special “A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman,” has executive produced multiple series and specials, including the NBC summer comedy series “The Rerun Show,” the Bravo comedy interview series “Second City Presents … with Bill Zehme,” the NBC Special “A Comedy Salute to Michael Jordan” and the MTV series “Run’s House.”
During Carson’s tenure as “The Tonight Show’s” host from 1962-1992, he interviewed more than 22,000 guests, hosted from both the New York City and Burbank studios and introduced America to several up and coming comedic talents such as Roseanne, Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling and Robin Williams.
Carson retired from “The Tonight Show” on May 22, 1992, and was replaced by Jay Leno. A controversy brewed behind the decision as David Letterman not only wanted to move into that earlier time slot from his late night spot after “The Tonight Show,” but was reportedly considered by Carson and others as the natural replacement, although Leno served as Carson’s permanent guest host for several years. Letterman ended up leaving NBC for CBS.