Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Getting to write for Johnny Carson

Yesterday, I did a post about crossover shows.  Another FQ  centered on one example, and example I was a part of.    It's from kccross.

When Hope and Crosby filmed the Road Pictures, they supposedly had their radio writers beef up the script to the point where Hope said to the writer "If you come across a line that you wrote, shout 'Bingo!'".

Could this have happened in modern TV with modern protection for writers? For instance, Johnny Carson guest starred on Cheers. If he didn't think the script was funny enough and gave it to his people to completely re-write, would the show runner have to accept it?

Okay, I can easily answer this one because along with David Isaacs, I wrote the episode of CHEERS where Johnny Carson appeared.  

First off, we made it clear going in that no TONIGHT SHOW writers would be involved.  In actuality, it worked the other way.  In our episode, Johnny had to deliver a monologue, and David and I wrote that, not the TONIGHT SHOW writers.  

And as for his part...

The day we shot the episode I arrived early and knocked on Johnny's dressing room door. (David wasn't there that day).  I introduced myself and said I was happy to rewrite any of his lines and tailor it to his satisfaction.  Shockingly, he said it was great, and he was happy to do it just as written.

And sure enough, he did stick to the script word for word.  

Happy to say that our monologue got laughs, although I wonder what the actual TONIGHT SHOW writers thought.  


tavm said...

I'm glad Johnny allowed his line to cliff, "Get the Hell off my stage!" intact!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

On another topic, Ken, the Guardian has a review of two Jewish sitcoms that have been running on British TV:

I haven't seen either (hadn't heard of them), but if the review, which thinks they're hilarious, is any guide, you might like them.


DougG. said...

I know it's not Friday yet but I do have a Friday question based on today's post. Would you like to have been a writer for Johnny Carson on THE TONIGHT SHOW? I'm thinking not because he was a legend but would you want to write jokes based on the news of the day? On CHEERS, you could create your own reality [although the episode where the Cheers gang thinks the mafia bought Gary's Old Towne Tavern was stretching it] and write jokes based on that reality but writing a monologue- or even just contributing to it- means having to work within the real world. But on the other hand, you also would have the opportunity to write sketches as well. My personal favorite was Art Fern and the Tea Time Movie.

Unknown said...

What a pro Carson was professionally. I miss him. He was the last of the great unifiers in American entertainment.

sanford said...

I am guessing Carson in his professional life was not above it all just because he was a big star.

Jeff Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Bloodworth said...

That's because you have the ability to hear and write in other people's voices. I've noticed that with various sitcoms where a writer may have the form of the show, yet not reflect the substance. That's why "Dancin' Homer" was such a good "Simpsons" episode. Because you got the characters right.

Speaking of "The Simpsons," you and David wrote for Johnny Carson and now he's dead. But I don't blame you. He was just another victim of THE SIMPSONS CURSE!


Barry Traylor said...

Johnny Carson was great I always stayed up late to watch him and needed lots of coffee at work the next day.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Johnny: That is some wild stuff Ken. I did not know that. Is that really true, Ed?

Ed: You are correct sir!

Johnny: Are you day drinking again?

Ed: You are correct sir!

Colin Stratton said...

Don't know if you have commented about her before, but how was it like working with Francis Sternhagen? She was always my favorite guest actress on Cheers. She nailed Mother Clavin. Still makes me laugh.

Brian said...

Johnny was a class act. I remember staying up late with my grandmother and watching him after the news. The Carson and Jeopardy Cheers episodes are two of my favorites.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Colin Stratton :Don't know if you have commented about her before, but how was it like working with Francis Sternhagen? She was always my favorite guest actress on Cheers. She nailed Mother Clavin. Still makes me laugh.

Ma Clavin: "Norman, I remember when I threw Clifford that surprise birthday party, and you were the only one who showed up"

Norm: "Yeah.... Where were you anyway?"

Ma: "I forgot!"

Dana said...

Ken, Just curious to know if you have ever read any "Cheers" fan-fiction. A friend of mine sent me some samples. None of it is very good--and that's being generous, and given the lack of anything resembling a joke, anyone introduced to the series via fan-fic would be forgiven for thinking "Cheers" was a drama.

Oh, and would it surprise you that, according to my friend, a majority of these stories he's read are built around having Sam and Diane end up together and living the rest of their lives in eternal bliss?

RobW said...

As a Carson-worshipper ( I sat in on two tapings of his show over the years ) I find it interesting that he guest-starred on my two all-time favourite comedies - Cheers & The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

thomas tucker said...

I read an interesting biography of Carson a number of years ago written by his attorney. Like many entertainers, his public persona was different than his private one ( in other words, acting.) According to this bio, he was very reserved and relatively shy in his personal life, definitely not the life of the party. He was hard for people to get to know, even people like Ed McMahon.

Craig Gustafson said...

When I'm writing, I always cast the thing in my head because I can tailor the script to those voices; I just don't tell anybody the basis. Yesterday, a guy on the Jack Benny Fans Facebook group suggested that Stanley Kubrick could have cast "2001: A Space Odyssey" with Jack Benny as Dave and Frank Nelson as HAL. So I wrote a two page sketch of "2001" as a typical Benny/Nelson encounter from the late 1940s. It's probably inappropriate to post it here - so - it's on Facebook, the Jack Benny Fans group and the Old Time Radio Lovers group. The comments I've been getting from people say that they could *hear* the actors' voices doing that dialogue.
Tailoring material for actors (even dead ones) can be a lot of fun. Now I have to get back to the project I was supposed to be working on.

E. Yarber said...

There's a lot of fun playing around with classic comedy acts, especially when you've really absorbed the style. Inspired by Jackie Gleason's story of Nixon showing him alien cadavers, I once penned a HONEYMOONERS skit where the President escorts Kramden and Norton around Area 54 as the prize in a breakfast cereal sweepstakes. Hommina Hommina Hommina. And after hearing the story of Mel Blanc ambushing Jack Benny as he left a showing of DEEP THROAT, I did a Benny show with special guest Linda Lovelace. All I can remember of that one is Dennis Day's bit:

Jack: "Did you see DEEP THROAT, Dennis?"
"I went to the movie, but I didn't see it."
"You went to the movie, but didn't see it? How is that possible?"
"Mother held her hands over my eyes."

Yeah, you'd have to be there.