LOS ANGELES (AP) — Twenty-one years after the King of Late Night retired from NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Johnny Carson is back on television, thanks to Turner Classic Movies’ new weekly Monday series, “Carson on TCM.”
TCM will air selected interviews this month featuring some of the biggest stars who appeared during Carson’s 30 years behind the desk at “The Tonight Show.” Most of these interviews have not been seen in their entirety since they originally aired.
Unabashed Carson fan Conan O’Brien, the host of TBS’ late-night “Conan” series whose short-lived stint as the host of “The Tonight Show” ended in 2010, emcees the 25 interviews that will be shown. They include a debonair Fred Astaire in a 1979 chat, one of Henry Fonda’s last TV interviews from 1980, a wild 1981 encounter with Robin Williams, and a flirtatious Elizabeth Taylor, who made her only appearance on the show in 1992.
The highlights of the premiere episode feature Carson making 7-year-old Drew Barrymore feel so at home in a 1982 interview that she takes out her bridge to reveal her missing front teeth. Tough guy Kirk Douglas lets down his guard when Carson asks him about his affairs in a freewheeling 1988 interview.
Though there have been many successful late-night hosts since Carson’s era — including Jay Leno, who took over the reins from Carson and will be relinquishing them next year to Jimmy Fallon — nobody has really duplicated the magic that made Carson, who died in 2005 at age 79, so special.
“The thing about Carson is that he had all the exemplary skills needed for a late-night host,” said Ron Simon, curator of the Paley Center for Media in New York City. “Everyone who has followed has skills, but they don’t have every skill. Probably the most difficult skill is the ability to interview someone and be passionate about it and elicit responses you haven’t heard before. Carson was a master of that.”