A CARSON ANNIVERSARY DEBACLE

The tenth anniversary of Johnny Carson’s reign as ‘The Tonight Show’ host was celebrated in 1972 on perhaps the ugliest and most awkward set ever designed for a TV show. The overwhelming green-ness of the carpet, walls etc. makes it look like a bottle of Mountain Dew. Johnny is seated dead center on his own chair (throne?) while the guests are off to one side on an angle, crowded together on a too-small couch. Jerry Lewis, Joey Bishop, Jack Benny and Ed McMahon gamely sit on each others laps while for some reason George Burns is given his own empty couch across from them. The camera is never able to comfortably frame any of the foursome together–you mostly can’t see anyone but Jerry who is actually in fine form–he immediately disses the set (even Jerry’s own famous tastelessness can’t fathom the depths of the tackiness he’s been plunged into). Jerry engages in some rough humor with Johnny who simply cuts to the chase and posits that maybe nobody really likes Jerry. Things have already become tense thanks to Joey Bishop telling Jack Benny to put his cigar out, but Bishop takes it upon himself to stick up for Jerry by dragging the MDA telethon into the picture and getting the usual round of applause for Jerry and his kids. The whole thing is far more ‘Sammy Maudlin’ show than ‘Tonight Show’. Add to that the dreadful 70s Tux stylings–Johnny’s tie is ridiculously crooked–and you have a delightful descent into an adult white male sinkhole of celebrity self-satisfaction. Not one of these guys like each other and it’s delightful to see it played out so brazenly.

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