Rivers, Carson, Leno 1986

Looking up on comments on Joan Rivers’s career in 1986, because I guess I like to know things about things, I tapped the conemporanious news accounts of the feuding between Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson, and the “Late night talk show” battle that ensued from… one late night talk show host on the oldest television network availabe to 100 percent of the public versus against the host of a talk show available to 80 percent of the public on stations under a sprinking wall of static, by definition the fourth most financially lucrative television station in each market, floating in a programming island.

A review in the Los Angeles Times:

Rivers quit as permanent substitute host for “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” on NBC to head her own hour talk show with the new Fox Broadcasting Co.  Johnny got mad. Joan pouted. It was all over the papers and TV, with the media building this late-night clash between Carson and Rivers into a Godzilla grrrrrrudge match. In Los Angeles and most cities, though, she airs at 11 where her only talk show competition is David Brenner’s new half-hour “Nightlife” (on KCOP), and she overlaps only the first 30 minutes of Carson. […]

The ever-mugging David Lee, Cher, Elton and Pee-wee Herman, a sort of third- rate Ed Grimley who’s become this season’s tiptoeing Tiny Tim, had nothing much to say, but said it anyway. They were there to be stars, not make sense, and they fulfilled their roles.

This was routine who-needs-it? TV, occasionally lifted above the ordinary when Elton John went to the piano and sang.

If nothing else, though, “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” jumped with Joan and her guests often projecting the kind of enormous energy that made Thursday night’s Carson show seem like a wake. He blew in like a breath of stale air.

As Rivers was talking to Cher, Carson was trapped in a bottomless hole, doing an awful chicken bit that grew worse by the second.  Yes, Carson had Pryor, who explained why he was so thin and how he felt about reaching 45.  And he had Penn, painfully getting through an interview that Carson had to draw from him practically by Caesarean.

It seemed as if we were watching a meeting of retired accountants. There was just nothing happening.

I guess that’s a point to Joan Rivers… I guess?

Joan Rivers’s replacement for “Permanent Tonight Show Guest Host” was, of course, Jay Leno.  And here it is, an explanation from NBC upon signing him for “Future Projects” on what they intended on doing with him… from back in 1986.

NBC had good news and bad news Wednesday.

The good was that comedian Jay Leno has signed a long-term contract with the network and may have his own prime-time comedy-variety series in the fall of 1987.

The bad was that “Miami Vice” co-star Don Johnson, seeking more money in his new contract, has missed several days of filming this week on the first episode of the hit series’ third season on NBC. […]

Later, John Agoglia, NBC’s executive vice president for business affairs, said that Johnson’s dispute actually is with Universal Studios, which produces the series for NBC, and said he hoped that it would be “resolved before the end of this week.”

Tartikoff seemed visibly more comfortable announcing the exclusive signing of Leno, who has been almost a regular on NBC’s “Late Night With David Letterman” and also has appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and was acclaimed for his cable-TV special “Jay Leno and the American Dream.”

He said that NBC, taking a leaf from the old Hollywood studio days, will do all it can to build Leno up as a major NBC personality “for possibly (starring in) a comedy-variety series” in prime time next year.

In doing this, Tartikoff said, NBC hopes “we can once and for all crack that void that seems to exist in the field of comedy-variety,”* a reference to the lack of that once-popular form in today’s prime-time television.

The lantern-jawed Leno, introduced to the visiting TV writers, said, “I’m going to, hopefully, use tried-and-true premises and jokes and ideas that have worked on the road and put ’em on TV.”

That is the worst programming idea ever.  It’s a good thing NBC nixed it.

( * Any particular reason why?)

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