A biopic is in the works for Johnny Carson, the long-running host of The Tonight Show who became an American Institution of television during his reign. CNN reports that the project, which is currently untitled, has been given the go ahead by the Carson Estate to be adapted into a screenplay from the upcoming biography by journalist Bill Zemhe, entitled Carson the Magnificent: An Intimate Portrait.
There is still no studio, director or actors attached to the project, but producer Tom Thayer, who just finished a biopic of the Master of Suspense, director Alfred Hitchcock (entitled simply Hitchcock) which stars Anthony Hopkins and will be released shortly, is secure that a project like this will attract the right team of people to bring it up from standard pedestrian typical biopic fare.
Before there were so many pretenders to the coveted throne, there was a time when late night television wasn’t so choked with hundreds and hundreds of channels, filled with a low ball spectrum of reruns, reality fare, sports, endless news cycles, and scores of movie channels blaring endless recycled airings of a (supposed) wide selection of choices. Instead, there was one King of Late Night, the irrepressible Johnny Carson, who pretty much created the schematic for late night talk show/variety TV programming that while may not sport the brand of humor that was Carson’s pedigree, the deadpan, highly witty, and extremely quick manner, it certainly sports the look and the feel of Carson’s programs.
Carson was a true original in the medium; he had a passion for his craft and program that was held to the highest possible standards and he was able to maintain that and a large volume of success, even attaining superstardom in the 30 years that he was the host of The Tonight Show (1962-1992). Although there had been Steve Allen and Jack Parr as the hosts of The Tonight Show before him and Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien for a spell after him, Johnny Carson still remains the nucleus and axis in which that standard was set.
Carson died in 2005 from emphysema, but his presence and aura and influential memory still hovers over late night television, all television, comedy in general actually. Like Lucille Ball or Jackie Gleason, like Art Carney or Milton Berle, like Jack Benny, Phil Silvers, Steve Allen and Red Skelton, Johnny Carson was a titan of his craft, a master of his own devices, a classy perfectionist in every sense of the word. Hopefully the forthcoming biography and the biopic based on it will push all the right buttons and hit all the high notes. For it to succeed, considering its subject matter, it can’t be any other way.