"Tonight Show w/Johnny Carson" & "Late Night w/David Letterman" Appreciation

I expect this to be a short-lived thread because apparently I am the only person around who remembers that there was a “Tonight Show” host before Leno, and that Dave had a show on another network before CBS (today’s equivalent of the “didja know McCartney was in a band before Wings” gag).

Did your late night viewing habits shrivel up like an old man’s penis the night Johnny said “so long,” the night Dave told his audience that he hoped that NBC was at least half as proud of his show as he was to do it, just before he went to CBS and became a national institution?

Can you remember the way Johnny would stare at the camera, like Jack Benny or Oliver Hardy, in the midst of a guests’ faux paux? The way he was quick with the double entendre, like an old west gunslinger on a dusty main street? His corny, groan-inducing sketches and characters, like Art Fern the late-night movie host(“Eewwwwwwww!”)? His bad monologue nights when he would start tap-dancing to “Tea for Two”?

How about Dave tossing stuff off the 4-story tower? Or running over a bowling ball with a steamroller? The night he let the studio audience choose how the show would go, from the set furniture to which guest would come out first? Remember when the screen slowly rotated 360 degrees during the show (at 45 degrees was when guest Peter Ustinov came out, miming “crawling up” the screen to his chair)? How about the show that was played back at a higher than normal speed or the one they had dubbed over in Spanish? Remember Dave interviewing Teri Garr in the shower?

Am I the only one? I’m feeling mighty lonely out here folks. Don’t leave me hanging.

Watching a Sprint commercial today, I realized that I hate Johnny Carson for making Charo’s “fame” a lasting one.

Question: Did they rehash the Cheers final episode TS?

No, you’re not the only one. I watched Letterman every night starting from his very first show, which I still have one tape. (The guest was a drunk Bill Murray and Don “Mr. Wizard” Herbert. Larry “Bud” Melman opened the show with a monologue in the dark with a light shining under his face.)

And Johnny was the master. Since I was a little kid, Johnny Carson was part of my evening routine. It’s been years and years, and I still miss him every night.

Remember Letterman asking “What’s up with the hair, Don?” to Don King?

The other night, Letterman did a Tribut-ish Stump The Band/Karnac bit. It was pretty funny.

Nowadays all the talk show hosts are pretty much the same, the early Letterman was completely different from anything else out there at the time.

It occurs to me now how those of us who watched Letterman back then ('82, '83) felt like we were getting in on the ground floor of something good, like we had a tasty secret that no one else knew about, or cared to know about. Like being in a great clique.

Letterman was okay, his early years had some good stuff. But nobody has what Carson had. You never knew what would happen, but anything could. It was a sad day when he finally left.

Other early Letterman memories:

  • Fish-skinning night
  • The big velcro board
  • The original stripped down band, with Will Lee (on the bass) bouncing up and down
  • Larry Bud Melman reading Christmas Carols
  • This was later, but when I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Letterman, I swear I thought they were going to break something. One of the best performances I’d seen.


Drew Barrymore, flashing Dave.
Stupid Pet Tricks, where the dog went to the refrigerator and got a beer.


Ed McMahon, laughing at everything.
“Go ye forth and multiply.”

Run a search of the archives and you’ll come up with a few Johnny Carson related threads I’ve started. No one will ever top him for class and charm. He was the king. I’ve never seen Jay Leno’s show and I’m not about to start now.

A group of teachers and students at my high school were all big Carson fans, and the first thing we’d talk about the next day was the show. “Did you see…blah, blah, blah…”

George Goebel: “Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?”

I’m only 29, but I remember Carson well. Nobody was better; he was the maestro, the artist of late night gab shows. The man had comedy in his blood. Probably still has it, too.

Having said that, I like Leno for his own charms, too, and for awhile there his show was better than Letterman’s. Dave spent a lot of 1999 and 2000 just mailing it in; for a span of at least a year he didn’t even seem to be trying. He’s improved lately, so now they’re neck-and-neck again.

Leno’s not Johnny, but nobody is Johnny.

I’m too young to have been staying up late enough to have memories about seeing them.

The one thing I remember about Dave is something my Dad taped for me. Dave had a camera set up in the Mets bullpen and a couple of pitchers were trying to hit the camera with their throws. One of the pitchers was Doc Gooden, but I can’t remember who the other guys were.
As a side note/question about the Letterman’s CBS: I really loved when Dave and Rupert would go out and harass people. Recently they’ve been replaying these “skits” from a couple years ago, and Dave has mentioned that Rupert had a knife pulled on him, so they stopped doing it. Did anyone see this?

Johnny was the best at recovering from bad material. A great Johnny moment was a Thanksgiving show where Doc filled in for Ed. Johnny was discussing holiday plans and forgot (?) that Doc had gone through an abviously bad divorce that year. Doc takes off on one of the best comedy bits ever. Poor ole Johnny is just along for the ride. It’s on the series of tapes of highlights put out a few years ago.

As for Dave: Crispin Glover’s first appearance (where he tries to kick Dave).

Madonna - oh boy, there’s a class act :rolleyes:

Drew giving Dave a birthday present. A rare “Dave is speechless” moment.

A veiwer mail about Paul’s “cheesy” organ playing. Paul responds that he’s playing the “Cheesemaster 2000”

Plenty more…

I also watched Dave’s NBC late night show from day one. But (and I’ve wondered this before) – does anyone else realize or remember that, even earlier, Dave had a morning show on NBC. It lasted only a few months, as I remember. In some ways it was even stranger than his night gig.

“Floyd Stiles Day” – anybody?

As for Carson, one of my most vivid memories is the way he used to smoke like a chimney on-camera . You don’t see that on TV anymore.

Back in the good old days, talk shows had invited people because they were interesting - now it is mainly people with a new movie/CD/book/political campaign to plug.
For instance Carson had this particular guest several times. He was an old football player - probably from the leather helmet days. He was a bit fowl mouthed, and I remember him talking about - and this was unbleeped - having to play football with “cow shit on the field” before the advent of miracle gro and astroturf.
Also you could see people who were certainly past their prime careerwise, but dead funny, like Buddy Hackett and his ‘frog on the golf course routine’. I still crack up at him sitting with Johnny and telling that one. I couldn’t tell you what Jay said last night, but I can remember silly jokes Johnny said when I was 10 years old.

Karnac: “Once in a blue moon”
(Opens Envelope)
Karnac: “How often do you see a naked Smurf?”

I miss Johnny too. I’m only 26 but I had a TV in my bedroom and headphones so I could watch it late. I remember absolutely cracking up 1 time in particular, which was covered on the NBC special recently.

A little old lady was on who collected potato chips that look things. When she turns away Johnny reaches back and grabs a regular potato chip from a hidden bowl and bites it really loudly. Oh the look on her face! heehee.

I still can’t believe that gave Leno the Tonight show.

One of my favorite bits from Carson was when Sally Field was on, I think around the time of Smokey and the Bandit. She put eggs down his pants and cracked them all. Johny kept a completely straight face and said, “Boy, that’s a silly feeling!” One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen!

I miss the old Letterman, who would do stupid stunts like drop a bowling ball off a 40 story building into a bathtub filled with chocolate pudding. The new Letterman seems to have lost the edge. The old Letterman would never be a suck-up to phony celebrities like he is now, those are the sorts of people he used to brutalize.

johnny was the best
how about charles grodin and johnny?
those were classics
jay leno is, in my opinion, pathetic

I remember on the NBC Letterman show, watching some off kilter young actor (Crispin Glover?), trying to kick Dave’s head in.
And of course Andy Kauffman got slapped pretty good by Jerry Lawler once.
The problem with the CBS show is there’s no threat of real bodily harm on the set. (They pretend to beat up that redheaded dweeb instead).

I also remember Chris Elliot appearing with his father, and the two being (or acting like they were being) total jerks to each other.