With David Letterman’s retirement, the face of late night has been forever changed, with a new crop of hosts in the network slots and Conan making his own way over at TBS. However, a new old face is coming to compete with the young bloods: Johnny Carson is returning to late night.
According to Variety, Antenna TV, a digital channel devoted to vintage TV shows, “has struck a multi-year deal with Carson Entertainment Group to license hundreds of hours of the NBC late night institution.” Antenna will run episodes that originally aired from 1972 until 1992, when Carson finally retired. The first ten years of the show, before it moved to Burbank, have been lost to time; only a handful remain intact. The network will begin airing episodes on January 1st, 2016, starting with an episode from New Years Day 1982 featuring Eddie Murphy and McLean Stevenson.
As NBC owns the rights to The Tonight Show, the episodes will simply air as Johnny Carson. (And really, everybody back in the day just called it Carson anyway.) Antenna TV plans on creating theme weeks, with episodes based around anniversaries and other milestones. There is certainly plenty of material to cull from: The Tonight Show featured the debut of many of the biggest stand-ups out there, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, and Ellen DeGeneres. However, the right to air the musical performances are more complicated. According to Variety, “The deal involved nearly six months of negotiations … The talks were complicated because there’s not much precedent for residual fees for full-length reruns of a vintage variety show.” Episodes will be kept intact as much as possible, with musical performances negotiated on an episode-by-episode basis.
“I think there’s a demographic out there that is really going to eat this up,” said Jeff Sotzing, the head of Carson Entertainment Group and Johnny’s nephew. “The show will now be able to be seen by so many people who haven’t seen it before.” While it would appear that Antenna TV is aiming for a younger audience who have never watched Carson, they will more than likely continue to air nothing but Colonial Penn ads and catheter commercials. Presumably, Jay Leno is already working on a deal to bring his big chin back to late night as well.