Paging Art Fern! Carson and Classic Hollywood Together Again on TCM

CarsonFrom 1962 until his retirement in 1992, Johnny Carson ruled the late night airwaves with wit, grace, and the occasional feathered turban. He wasn’t the first emcee of NBC’s The Tonight Show, nor the last, but he is universally considered the best. And now, two decades after his final sign-off and eight years after his death at age 79, some of Carson’s most memorable interviews are returning to television to entertain a new generation of viewers – with one of his successors serving as host.

Each Monday in July at 8 PM (EDT), Turner Classic Movies will present Carson on TCM, a 60-minute compilation of Johnny’s breezy, often hilarious conversations with contemporary stars of the era and classic film icons. Conan O’Brien, who followed Carson replacement Jay Leno to Johnny’s desk in 2009 before jumping to TBS when Leno returned, will serve as host for the broadcasts. Each episode will include five un-cut conversations of 10-12 minutes in duration, culled from a package of 5o interviews TCM has licensed from the Carson Entertainment Group. Many of these chats have not been seen in any form since their initial airing.

Although the network is promoting Carson on TCM as “interviews from three decades of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” that is not entirely accurate. Sadly, most of Carson’s first ten years of programs are no longer extant and are not included in this series. Although the shows broadcast during that decade were recorded on videotape, those tapes were erased and reused as a cost saving measure (common practice in the early days of videotape). Only when the show moved from 30 Rockefeller Center in New York to NBC’s studio in Burbank in 1972 were daily broadcasts retained. The earliest airdate for the initial Carson on TCM series is February 18, 1972 (with guest Burt Reynolds), just weeks before the move to the West Coast. Subsequent releases are not expected to include older interviews saved on kinescope – a 16 mm film recording of a TV screen used for archival and distribution purposes – but a few black and white kinescopes are available on You Tube. Here’s Johnny interviewing a lion tamer from a 1964 broadcast. And here’s Johnny with Dick Cavett in 1966.

CoThe remaining 25 Carson on TCM interviews are expected to air next year, though the network has not indicated if Conan O’Brien will be providing wrap-arounds. They have indicated that, after these initial primetime airings, some (or all) of the segments will air as “single-interview interstitials highlighting stars whose films are featured on the network.” In non-public-relations-speak that means you can expect to see the Carson interviews added to the repertoire of short subjects that air between films throughout the day (without Conan’s intros).

Imagine, Johnny’s 1988 interview with Kirk Douglas running after a broadcast of SPARTACUS. Or his chats with Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, Doris Day, Charlton Heston, and tons of other stars airing regularly on the channel. For fans who remember Carson, it’s like be like visiting with an old friend. For those who don’t, it’s a rare opportunity to see a long-gone master of an ephemeral art form at his best.

For this first series of primetime broadcasts in July, the film that airs immediately after Carson on TCM at 9 PM (ET) will feature the work of the 8 PM hour’s final guest. In some cases, subsequent films that night may also relate, and may feature additional interviewees. For example, the post-Carson lineup on July 1 includes three films written by guest Neil Simon, one – THE SUNSHINE BOYS – also including guest George Burns. July 22 features five films from interviewee Fred Astaire (all with Ginger Rogers). And July 29 features films from Goldie Hawn and Henry Fonda, both guests during the 8 PM hour.

The lineup for the five weekly broadcasts of Carson on TCM with host Conan O’Brien and the related films that follow is below. I’ve also done some hypothesizing as to why the guest was booked on that date, and what they might have been promoting.

But first, here’s a picture of Johnny and future TCM Essentials co-host Drew Barrymore from 1982. Isn’t she adorable?

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Monday July 1, 2013
8 PM – Carson on TCM 
• Drew Barrymore (original airdate: 7/28/82 – while E.T. was in theaters)
• Kirk Douglas (8/31/88 – promoting his made-for-TV Inherit the Wind?)
• Mary Tyler Moore (11/3/78 – promoting her new variety series feating David Letterman?)
• Neil Simon (6/26/80 – SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES came out later that year)
• George Burns (11/10/89 – his book All My Best Friends was out)

9 PMTHE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975) Director: Herbert Ross, Writer: Neil Simon
w/ George Burns, Walter Matthau, Richard Benjamin
11 PM – THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977) Director: Herbert Ross, Writer: Neil Simon
w/ Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings
1 AM – CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978) Director: Herbert Ross, Writer: Neil Simon
w/ Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine


Monday July 8, 2013
8 PM – Carson on TCM
• Doris Day (1/6/76 – THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT II was out?)
• Charlton Heston (3/2/76 – MIDWAY was released a few weeks later)
• Chevy Chase (12/12/86 – the day THREE AMIGOS was released)
• Steve Martin (1/15/79 – maybe promoting his album Comedy is Not Pretty?)
• Tony Curtis (1/10/73 – probably just kibitzing)

9 PM – SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) Director: Billy Wilder
w/ Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe.


Monday July 15, 2013
8 PM – Carson on TCM
• Shelley Winters (1/26/75 – she was on NBC’s Chico and the Man that year)
• Ronald Reagan (3/13/75 – post-California governor, pre-1976 presidential candidate)
• Robin Williams (10/14/81 – promoting final season premiere of Mork & Mindy?)
• Jonathan Winters (12/8/88 – he was working on the animated Ed Grimley)
• Michael Caine (9/21/83 – the day EDUCATING RITA was released)

9 PM – THE WRONG BOX (1966) Director: Brian Forbes
w/ John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Michael Caine


Monday July 22, 2013
8 PM – Carson on TCM
• Mel Brooks (1975 – probably just kibitzing)
• Dom Deluise (4/16/76 – a few weeks before SILENT MOVIE came out)
• Bette Davis (2/9/83 – possibly promoting her guest spot on ABC’s Hotel)
• Burt Reynolds (2/18/72 – promoting FUZZ or DELIVERANCE?)
• Fred Astaire (12/21/79 – 2 days before The Man in the Santa Claus Suit aired on NBC)

9 PM – THE GAY DIVORCE (1934) Director: Mark Sandrich
w/ Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton
11 PM – TOP HAT (1935) Director: Mark Sandrich
w/ Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton
1 AM – FOLLOW THE FLEET (1936) Director: Mark Sandrich
w/ Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott
3 AM – SWING TIME (1936) Director: Mark Sandrich
w/ Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore
5 AM – THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE (1939) Director: H.C. Potter
w/ Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edna Mae Oliver

Elizabeth Taylor | 1932-2011

Monday July 29, 2013
8 PM – Carson on TCM
• Henry Fonda (3/26/80 – promoting Gideon’s Trumpet on Hallmark Hall of Fame?)
• Elizabeth Taylor (2/21/92 – probably about perfume or some such)
• Susan Sarandon (5/9/74 – TV movie F. Scott Fitzgerald and ‘The Last of the Belles’?)
• William Holden (12/1/76 – NETWORK came out that week)
• Goldie Hawn (10/15/80 – PRIVATE BENJAMIN came out that week)

9 PM – CACTUS FLOWER (1969) Director: Gene Saks
w/ Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, Goldie Hawn
3:30 AM – FAIL-SAFE (1964) Director: Sydney Lumet
w/ Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Dan O’Herlihy
5:30 AM – Carson on TCM: Henry Fonda (re-broadcast)

Finally, here’s a list of the other 25 classic Carson on TCM interviews that are still to come: Don Adams, Julie Andrews, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Candice Bergen, Carol Burnett, Truman Capote, Sean Connery, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., Angie Dickinson, Sally Field, Bob Hope, Diane Keaton, Gene Kelly, Jack Lemmon, Dudley Moore, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, George C. Scott, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Red Skelton, Sylvester Stallone, and James Stewart.


For more information on Carson on TCM, visit the micro-site.


About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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17 Responses to Paging Art Fern! Carson and Classic Hollywood Together Again on TCM

  1. le0pard13 says:

    This sounds so damn great! But why is the one I really want to see at 3:30 AM Eastern? ARGH! But thanks for the heads up, Will.

  2. Thanks for the write-up, Will! I’m happy that they’re airing these on TCM. Though, after the initial group airs it’s going to be a challenge to hunt them down if they’re going to air in the spots where the ‘shorts’ are currently happening. (especially since TCM’s ‘search’ function on their schedule is often not very … functional.) Oh, well, have to take what we can get. 🙂

    • willmckinley says:

      Thanks Kristen. I didn’t speculate about this in the piece, but I suspect there will be another series of primetime shows featuring the other 25 interviews. There’s no way they’re going to the trouble of having Conan do this, and not having him do wrap-arounds for everything. Thankfully, the on-line program guide lists short interstitial programming as well as movies, so a regular review of that can help track these down. One bad thing: the shorts are typically not broken out as separate programs in your DVR listings, so you will have to likely record the preceding movie if you want to DVR it.

  3. Awesome write-up. Beth loves Carson interviews. He was such a great interviewer. Thanks Will.

  4. Great piece, Will! I am such a Carson devotee that I named my first son Carson after him. My intro to Jimmy Stewart was watching him read poems on The Tonight Show, and I’m guessing that wasn’t the only Classic Hollywood star I learned to love before I even saw their movies. You’ve definitely whetted my appetite to see some great conversations! Thanks for the schedule and the writeup!

  5. John says:

    I am really looking forward to these interviews, I wish they would package a bunch of them in a special DVD set.

  6. Michelle Facey says:

    Hi Will, I have been looking at your blog regularly for the last few months & find it very entertaining & insightful & I really appreciate your attention to detail! I have launched myself on a self-guided programme of study of film, particularly Silent Film currently & have been attending the wonderful Cinema Museum here in London (regularly) & the wonderful Phoenix Cinema (even more regularly) where I’m a member, plus many other venues besides. I laughed at your blog about being an ‘old movie weirdo’ going here & there to see things cos I feel like I’m one of those sometimes! Especially when I find myself holed up somewhere on a sunny day watching films, which I have been doing a lot more of (although not quite on your scale of works) in the last couple of years, since my mum died, when I decided to really throw myself into my love of film more seriously. I have been on a bit of a journey with it since then, having joined the Cinema Theatre Association (I’m 40, & I’m pretty sure I’m the youngest in the Association, by far…), joined the BFI, met Kevin Brownlow twice this year & got him to sign my books, become friends with Joel Waldo Finler (who’s told me HE is jealous of MY film attendances!), spent hours chatting to Ronald Grant, spent a WHOLE day (my mum’s birthday) watching British Silent Film in a hot venue on a beautiful Spring Day, had a wonderful tour of the BFI archive while they were working on the Hithcock 9 (& had a can of film shown to us that had been salvaged from The Lusitania), gone to a theatre organ museum to see ‘The Sheik’ accompanied by the Wurlitzer, been to see ‘The Eagle’ also with Valentino, introduced by Mr. Brownlow with a fantastic supporting programme of Clarence Brown rarities accompanied by Stephen Horne (my favourite accompanist whose work I have been admiring for many years), seen ‘Modern Times’ with Carl Davis & orchestra, seen ‘La Belle Et La Bete’ at a special charity evening, seen the amazing London silent film, ‘Underground’, introduced by a stuttering London Transport Museum employee who was being heckled by the audience, seen the earliest depictions of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at the BFI & of ‘Peter Pan’ at the Cinema Museum, at last seen some of my favourite films on the big screen (‘Paris, Texas’ , ‘Victim’, ‘The Servant’, ‘The Shining’, ‘The American Friend’, Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’, ‘The Cabinet of Dr.Calagari’), met Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s producer at the beautiful Rex in Berkhamsted at a showing of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ introduced by Vivian Kubrick (told Jan how my schoolfriend’s family bought Kubrick’s Elstree house from him when I was 7 – must’ve been when he’d just finished ‘The Shining’ – & I spent much time in the house – they received a Christmas card from him for the rest of Kubrick’s life & they still live there now. It’s also the house in which Simon Cowell grew up & sat on Bette Davis’ knee in the kitchen while she read him stories, but that’s by-the-by…), met Alan Bennett at the BFI, seen Clara Bow’s ‘It’ also introduced by Mr.Brownlow, watched ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ in a function room at the back of a pub in N.London supported by a country-folk duo providing intermission entertainment, and, well, you get the idea…plus, of course, all the film books I’ve been devouring like Lotte Eisner’s ‘The Haunted Screen’ & Gloria Swanson’s ‘Swanson On Swanson’ & Kevin Brownlow’s ‘The Parade’s Gone By’. Oh yes, & I’m going to see ‘The Last Laugh’ with live accompaniment in a boys’ school hall in Enfield where I live on Tuesday!!! Of course I am. You understand all these things, don’t you?!!

    Thing is, I’ve told you all this & I’m sure you above all people won’t have been bored by it, you may even have been a little envious of some things I’ve mentioned, but it is nothing compared to the envy I feel for all the great things you have on offer to you in the States, I assure you!! Apart form all the great DVD releases that are available to you, the thing that prompted this outpouring on this blog entry in particular, is the fact that, once-upon-a-time, TCM in the U.K. used to be quite watchable, but now it IS NOT. Unless, that is, you are a dedicated Western movie/serial nut & alas, I may be many things, but that, I am not. I got excited, momentarily, when they introduced here a TCM 2 Channel. My imagination went into overdrive. “Now”, I thought, “they will show classic movies, not of the Western genre. They must surely now have realised their mistake at only catering to one crowd, and the rest of us old-movie lovers’ heads will be reeling within days at the wonders on offer…” (cue needle-coming swiftly off the record-noise). No, it was more of what was on offer on the main TCM Channel, just at a later time, a kind of catch-up channel for the Western-heads who were out busily practising their lasso-technique for one of those random cattle drives that ploughs through here every now & then. Here, you have a look & I know it’s misleading cos it says that July is Western Season, but I assure you, EVERY MONTH is Western Season on TCM UK. ‘Gunsmoke’ runs on there constantly for example, flanked by, yup, ping (sound of spittoon hit), Western films. Now, Will, you’re CONNECTED, aren’t’cha? Can you find out for me why that is the situation here in the ol’ country, when you, as evidenced by your saliva-inducing rundown of what’s to come in the U.S. in it’s, gulp, Carson-related season (I know, I can & have watched clips of some of these on YouTube, you know that isn’t the point tho) get to see, & I quote from your good self ” Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, Doris Day, Charlton Heston, and tons of other stars airing regularly on the channel.” What’s up with that, Will? This English ‘Cinematically Insane’ gal wants to know. Thanks.

    Plus, I love the fact that you’re possibly the only person who may know what film my email address refers to…

    • willmckinley says:

      Michelle – Wow. Thanks for the comment. If you are an Old Movie Weirdo, you are among friends here. And it sure sounds like you are. I am extremely envious of your filmgoing C.V. This is a very impressive list.

      It sounds like you’re engaging in your own, self-directed course of study for a degree in Cinema Studies. I think this is a great idea, and I’m surprised more people don’t do it. If you live in a major city, with one or two diversely programmed rep houses and film societies/museums, you can learn as much (or more) on your own than you would in a class. Of course most people may not get the opportunity to hobnob with Kevin Brownlow, but still!

      It’s interesting that you mentioned the death of your mother in part inspiring you to pursue your love of old movies. A similar thing happened to me. My mother died in 2007, followed by my father in 2009, and my film viewing has increased exponentially since then. I think it’s because my parents inspired my love of old movies, and fostered it by letting me get up in the middle of the night to watch The Late Show when I was a kid, or buying me books, driving me to screenings, etc. When I watch an old movie now I definitely feel their presence.

      As for TCM in the UK, I don’t know all the particulars. But somebody did ask about it at the press event I attended at the TCM Classic Film Festival in April. Here is the reply from Charlie Tabesh, the Senior VP of Programming:

      “Each region is programmed differently, partly because rights are different. The same library that we may be able to license here may be sold to other channels in other territories, so there’s no real way to have an exact match between the two. The other thing is, the business models are different. Some are ad-supported. The ones that are ad-supported are going to play movies that are a little more, maybe, have youth appeal. I think some regions just have a different sensibility.”

      It’s not much of an answer, but he has to be diplomatic. Most classic film buffs would prefer the programming of the U.S. version of TCM to any of the international iterations, but Tabesh is certainly not going to say anything negative about his sister networks. Also, I’m not sure if Turner Broadcasting wholly owns all of the international versions of TCM, like they do here. I think in some cases they may just partner with other companies, or license the brand.

      Maybe some day I’ll write about this. Would you be willing to be interviewed?

      Thanks again for the great comment and all the kind words. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to share your thoughts.


  7. Michelle Facey says:

    Hi Will,

    Thanks for such a full response to my essay of a comment!! I’m not actually trying for a degree in Cinema Studies, just enjoying learning & of course I am indeed lucky to live in a city with some great film viewing (and some hobnobbing!) opportunities, although I am still aware of being a little cinematically weird in relation to the general public! I went to see ‘Blancanieves’ last weekend (which I loved) & saw on The Guardian newspaper’s video review they were pleading with people to be able to bear the idea of going to see yet another silent film after ‘The Artist’….!!!! Erm. I’ve been to see DOZENS of silent films since ‘The Artist’ came out…these are the WMD of the OMW in my world….

    Thanks for sharing about your parents & their influence on your movie interest. It’s nice that they were your accomplices & enablers in this & remain close to your heart in it now! For myself, there used to be a great amount of classic movies on T.V. when I was a kid (or is that the cineaste’s rose-tinted equivalent of the idea of the sun always shining in the past for other people who liked to go outside more as children?) & I’m an only child whose parents were very busy running their own business so I was riveted by movies whether it was ‘The Wizard of Oz’ or Marilyn Monroe movies or Bette Davis. Plus, in those days, even with only three or four T.V. channels available to us as I was growing up, they showed Harold Lloyd & Laurel & Hardy & Chaplin regularly (artists that NEVER crop up these days on U.K. T.V. in the multi-channel world we live in now) so I feel I got a good start in this area! I used to get to go to this great cinema when I was a kid (it’s the European HQ for the Zoroastrian religion now!) & we had a shop nearby, so I persuaded my dad to advertise in their pamphlet when I was about 8 as there was a special deal with free tickets if he did so & I thought it meant more cinema-trips for me, the flaw in the plan being that a parent still had to find some spare time to take me….

    Thank you for letting me know Mr. Tabesh’s comments on TCM regional programming. There is no rival equivalent to that channel here in the U.K. although there was until Sky got rid of their Sky Classics channel a few months ago, which I didn’t have anyway as I didn’t want to pay out for a host of unwatchable Sky movie choices on the channel bundle. It would be interesting to find out more about this situation for international TCM viewers & for U.K. classic movie lovers in particular, so, yes of course, if it’s of any use to you I’ll be happy to be interviewed!

    Many thanks, Will. Best wishes, Michelle.

    P.S. I didn’t get to see ‘The Last Laugh’ the other night after all as it was more like ‘The Electrician Cometh & Has The Last Laugh’ as I’d lost all electrics at home & had to stay in after calling him in order to rejoin the 21st Century & hand over a good stack of cash for the pleasure… Oh well, double bill of ‘Scarecrow’ & ‘The King Of Marvin Gardens’ tomorrow to make up for it, oh yes, and apologies for leaving you another essay here!!

  8. Anthony Care says:

    Doris Day – it’s too bad they don’t show the entire show because following her – Doris sat on the couch – was a man who claimed to have discovered a cure for baldness. Then a bald man came out. Completely serious about his discovery. You have to see it.

    Elizabeth Taylor – her ’92 appearance was her ONLY appearance on the Tonight show, and she showed up for the farewell week of Carson. The last 5 days his showed aired all of his favorite guests and fans (Liz was a fan) showed up. Liz looked adorable, and if I remember right, Michael Douglas was also there and couldn’t keep his eyes of her to the point where she asked him if he wanted to go out with her, and he completely fell apart and started stuttering.

  9. Pingback: July 2013 TCM Preview – A Look Inside My Now Playing Guide — Immortal Ephemera

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