NBC Developing Miniseries Based on Life of 'Tonight Show' Host Johnny Carson

Categories: Network TV Press Releases

Written By

September 19th, 2013

johnny Carson

via press release:


Adapted From Bill Zehme’s Upcoming Bio ‘Carson the Magnificent,’ Project Will Examine the Revered TV Icon

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Sept. 19, 2013 — NBC is in development on a miniseries about the life of legendary late-night talk show host Johnny Carson.

Based on the upcoming biography “Carson the Magnificent: An Intimate Portrait” (Simon and Schuster) by Bill Zehme, the project will cover Carson’s legendary 30-year run (1962-92) as host of “The Tonight Show,” as well as his childhood growing up in Nebraska, his often secluded off-camera life and friendships he made throughout his career as one of the most beloved TV personalities of all time.

Casting for the iconic star will be named at a later date.

Carson, who interviewed more than 22,000 guests from the show’s home in both New York City and Burbank, Calif., is revered by today’s talk show hosts as a huge inspiration in their respective careers. Comedians often cite their first appearance on the Carson-hosted “Tonight Show” as their big break into show business.

Zehme, long regarded for his colorful chronicling of the late-night TV landscape, is one of the few journalists to have had access to Carson, and wrote an extensive profile of him, “The Man Who Retired,” in the May 2002 edition of Esquire. He also served as production consultant on PBS’ 2012 “American Masters” documentary “Johnny Carson: King of Late Night.”

The project will be executive produced by Zehme and John Davies. Emmy Award-nominated for the NBC Special “A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman,” Davies 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.”

  • AllOfHerTw!st

    Have Kevin Spacey play Johnny?

  • Claire

    Johnny Carson, despite his jokes about his marriages/divorces, was an intensely private person. Just because NBC owns the rights to The Tonight Show, it doesn’t give them the right to exploit Carson’s private life. And really, how many people 18-49 will even know who Carson was? It doesn’t seem to fit the demographic they’re trying to hit…but then again, It strikes me as odd, the timing of this show. Just in time to promote Jimmy Fallon’s version of the Tonight Show? I wonder…..I think smell desperation surrounding Jay’s departure.

  • Gary Middleton

    “it doesn’t give them the right to exploit Carson’s private life.”

    Have no fear. Zehme is a massive Carson sycophant. The private stuff, much of which was intensely dark, will be completely whitewashed.

  • Joseph

    Most of Johnny’s “private stuff” has been made public anyway.

    Besides, viewers in the 35-49 portion of the 18-49 demographic probably do recall watching Johnny’s later years on “Tonight” while they were in their teens and early twenties, especially the Friday-night shows (many teens and young adults would come home from Friday-night dates in-time to see all of some of Johnny Carson).

  • Chris L

    That is wild.

  • Ravenrei

    To those wondering about how this fits the demo, I’m on the mid-range of it (late-twenties) and I remember Carson vividly. My parents and grandparents both watched his Tonight Show every night, so you better believe I knew all about it growing up, even if I was still in elementary school when he retired.

    That said, I have pretty much zero interest in seeing a mini-series on his life. The American Masters done on him recently was a masterpiece. I’d much rather see them put out something more in that vein to reach the larger NBC audience than a dramatic portrayal.

  • Ralph Hahn

    NBC must have more than one actor playing Johnny over a 30-year period. Rich Little has played Johnny before (“The Late Shift”). Both Spacey and the other Kevin, Pollock, each do Carson well. I’ll get 6″ “elevator shoes” and audition for Ed. lol

  • Ralph Hahn

    Claire: Carson Productions owns Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” while NBC may have some rights. Sometime in the 80s, Johnny’s new contract gave him complete ownership of his show. Letterman, through his “Worldwide Pants” production company, owns “Late Show.” After all of his years at NBC, Jay Leno never had a controlling interest in “Tonight.” It is Carson Productions who are putting out all of those DVD’s you see advertised on TV.

  • Ralph Hahn

    Claire: You are on to something about a Carson/Fallon connection. During the first ten years, Johnny’s show and Jack Paar’s before him, were taped in Studio 6B at NBC’s 30 Rock HQ. Fallon’s “Late Night” is taping in Letterman and Conan’s old studio 6A across the hall. But, NBC is spending big bucks on revamping 6B when Fallon begins his “Tonight” gig at 11:35pm.

    Since this is an NBC production airing on NBC, you can be sure that they’ll have no problem filming in the actual facilities in New York and Burbank.

  • Ralph Hahn

    Just thought: George Clooney could do it.

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