This last year, word was out that a movie about Johnny Carson would be in the works, despite many bristling over someone depicting Carson's life on "The Tonight Show." When it comes to depicting compelling history, the real thing is usually impossible to re-create, especially when much of it is on display through DVD as Carson is. Regardless, the history of "The Tonight Show" has an interesting arc of considerable network backstabbing that may look overly familiar in a biopic on the king of late-night TV.
With all the brouhaha going on now over Jimmy Fallon eventually taking over Jay Leno's hosting duties, a feature or cable movie on the 60-year history of "Tonight" would have to play fair. In that case, it couldn't be done just as a chance to stick it to NBC executives who meddled on the show much earlier than current generations think. It also has to depict that the hosts were equally to blame for egoism and arguably underestimating how networks think and act.
If that Carson biopic ever gets made, we'd only get part of the "Tonight" story where Carson rails against network executive control, leading him to later produce the show to his hosting end. Our movie about "The Tonight Show" should start at the very beginning when Steve Allen began hosting and where the irony of schedule shuffling happened long before Jay Leno. For those familiar with late-night history, you know Allen was ordered to quit "Tonight" in 1957 because NBC wanted him to focus on his more popular prime-time show.
Then there's the forgotten period in the show's history when NBC executives decided to make it a news-driven program called "Tonight! America After Dark." Any depiction of this brief low point in the show's history would give rise to the idea that network suits never know exactly what works and what doesn't. However, that's a good lead-in to the Jack Paar era where we find out the trust between host and executives is never completely there.
Having a re-creation of the time Paar walked off "The Tonight Show" due to a (water closet) joke that NBC censored would be a brief showcase for a good actor. But then, the era of Carson would take up most of the compelling content, which would have to be the last half of our movie. Most of the dramatic Carson content would come in the latter part of his hosting stint during the Joan Rivers fiasco and the once implied behind-the-scenes drive at NBC to retire Carson.
Of course, we've already had a cable movie adaptation called "The Late Shift" in 1996 about the transition to Jay Leno, with rumors of a sequel being bounced around for ages. But re-creating the Leno-Letterman feud would only be done in our movie for the sake of obtaining better actors than the ones they picked for both hosts. Also, it should be a short lead-in to the Conan O'Brien-Jay Leno debacle that tarnished "The Tonight Show" forever.
And, yes, someone with natural red hair should be used to portray O'Brien rather than forcing a hairpiece on a hapless actor (not necessarily Tilda Swinton).
Should our "Tonight" movie be done soon, it'll have to miss the Fallon turnover. It may mean a hold for several years, unless NBC bizarrely decides to repeat the Conan trajectory without a shred of conscious awareness.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Jay Leno
- The Tonight Show