News, scoops, reviews and more from TV land.
Here's, briefly, who I am: I've been with Newsday since 1989, and have written about virtually every show, personality, development, controversy, and network over those years. Most of this has been sheer joy. Some of it has been sheer torture. And all of it, for better or worse, adds up to one thing: I know a lot more about the wonderful business of television entertainment than even I care to admit.
Bruce Morton, one of the star correspondents of the Walter Cronkite/Dan Rather era at “The CBS Evening News” and long considered one of the news division's most elegant writers, has died. He was 83 and had been battling cancer.
Morton, a superb reporter, was not one to suffer fools gladly nor news organizations that no longer valued his long service or deep institutional knowledge, and...Read more »
AMC announced a short while ago that it has formally given a pilot order to “The Walking Dead” spinoff, scheduled to go before the cameras later this year. But that would hardly be the big news. That would be: The spinoff, also with Robert Kirkman, Gale Ann Hurd, David Alpert et al at the helm, will likely be based overseas.
You may add your own "!" or maybe "!!" to this post now.
Here's...Read more »
And let the on-air tributes begin: E! has one on the runway now -- "Joan Rivers: Celebrating an Icon" that arrives Friday at 9.
All the details here:
"Through her quick wit and no-holds-barred style, Joan Rivers revolutionized comedy, broke through barriers as no woman before or since, and sustained a successful career spanning more than five decades. Joan found humor in everything,...Read more »
It was the gaffe that launched a thousand jokes -- at least 500 of them funny: Gwen Stefani's pronunciation of Stephen Colbert's name during the telecast of the 66th annual Primetime Emmys telecast. Stefani, a good sport, took the jokes in stride, and laughed it off the other night on "Late Night with Seth Meyers." Colbert, who changed the name on his show to Colbore, laughed too.
And now...Read more »
Let's settle this fight once and for all, shall we? Who was right, or wrong: Joan Rivers or Johnny Carson? It's the solution — if we somehow achieve it right here in this modest little space — to the most famous spat in late-night TV history.
Rivers, the stand-in host for “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” goes to Fox to launch a late-night show there, in 1986.
Johnny finds out late in the process — very late. He's furious. Never speaks to Joan again ... She is cast into the wilderness after the Fox show implodes in 1987. Never again to appear on Johnny (or Jay's) “Tonight,” and forced to reinvent herself over and over and over.
PHOTOS: Celebs honor Rivers at funeral | Classic Rivers pictures
SOCIAL: Celeb, fan reactions
MORE: Video of Rivers' great TV moments | Rivers cartoons
OPINION: Rivers wasn't PC, and that's what we need
She is bitter about it essentially, well, forever.
Carson — as best I can tell — never spoke of it again. (He left no memoir and Bill Zehme's biography is still in the works.)
So who was right? Who was wrong? Come on kids, we can do this — at the very least, as our final tribute to the great and enduringly funny comedian who died Thursday at the age of 81.
First the facts. Fox, launched then by maverick Barry Diller, needed to start with a bang, but a small bang: Not a full slate of programs, but just one, on one of the key parts of the entire day. Succeed there — opposite Carson — and you can sell the rest of the network to the still-unborn network, a collection of “independent” stations and Fox-owned ones that were still very wary of the crazy notion that another network could actually succeed.
Next, the landscape: In 1986, there were three networks. Three. Not four. There were a couple dozen cable networks, of course, but the idea of “cable” still remained wedded to some notion of pole-climbing mom-and-pop operations that knew how to string wire, but had no idea how to mount competition to the major networks. (It was a bias and wrong, of course — as Ted Turner and others were proving.)
But just three, and at the top of that triumvirate, one man. Johnny Carson. He was a legend in his own lifetime — television's greatest star, period.
No one — not Walter Cronkite or Lucille Ball, or pick your iconic name — was in his firmament. Carson commanded the attention of the nation, defined modern humor for the masses, established a way of speaking about politics and pop culture and even (when he was of a mind to) high culture. ABC had once tried to shake his hegemony with Dick Cavett. Nice try.
CBS didn't even bother.(As the estimable Joe Adalian of New York's "Vulture" points out, not quite! "The Pat Sajak Show.")
Next, Joan. Indisputably a dazzling talent upon whom Johnny had conferred his own special blessing — as host in his absence. She appeared over the years 72 times. He seemed to adore her, but, perhaps more to the point, seemed to trust her as well. Carson, in a long-fraught relationship with NBC, had sought more time off, but you just don't take time off in late night. Letterman doesn't. Jay didn't. The perils are enormous, foremost: What if the audience starts to love the fill-in more than they love the regular host?
Joan — hot, abrasive, funny, “urban" — did not appear to pose a threat at all. Johnny — cool, controlled, nonabrasive, unthreatening and absolutely everyone's idea of the what a late-night host should be — was the exact opposite. They complemented one another without actually subverting one another.
Want a different flavor some nights? There was Joan ... but don't worry, Johnny would be back soon.
Fox — or rather Diller — did what Diller did best back in those days: He ran the table. He figured out who was holding what cards, and played his own. He also quickly knew that contractually NBC had yet to nail down Rivers, knew that she was not on its short list of Carson replacements, knew she would never be on its short list of Carson replacements.
And he made his move. Joan to late night.
This would accomplish a few things. First, get press. An enormous amount.
Second, it would break up the Carson “team.” She was a major part of “Tonight.” Johnny would have to replace that part.
Third, it would convince those affiliates that it had real skin in the game.
But, stealth was essential. No one could learn of the deal. No one could announce it,of course, until much, much later. Rivers — not one to remain silent — had to break character. She had to remain silent.
Why the stealth? Partly because an announcement would force NBC to the bargaining table: Joan would get her deal there (money!) and Johnny's team would remain in place.
There may have been something else going on then, too: Diller and Rupert Murdoch were going after a vital NBC artery. If this was to be war (and it was), best to get your troops in order first.
There was another factor in all this: Edgar Rosenberg, Joan's husband and manager. After all these years, it's difficult to parse the exact nature of this union, but it was complicated: He was to be the producer on this new show, and he handled negotiations with Diller and Fox. It was highly unusual — a husband in charge of the terms and ultimately the show, too. Diller would come to loathe Rosenberg, who was intensely controlling on the “The Late Show with Joan Rivers.” He wanted the control.
Rosenberg, according to some later accounts — or one in particular, Henry Bushkin's — was directly responsible for the rift between Johnny and Joan. Bushkin, Carson's longtime lawyer who also had a falling out with Johnny, wrote in his own memoir that Rosenberg had lied to her about trying to reach out to Carson before the Fox show was announced.
Per Bushkin, Rosenberg — who was doubling as Rivers' executive producer at Fox — had said he had tried repeatedly to call the lawyer, while Bushkin insists that no calls had ever come in.
He writes: “To me, it's entirely plausible Edgar feared that if Johnny talked to Joan and offered her an inducement in any way — a free oil change at Jiffy Lube, say — she would have rejected Fox and stayed with 'The Tonight Show.'"
Bushkin insists Carson would have not stood in her way. Rosenberg committed suicide late in 1987, some months after the cancellation of “Late Show.”
OK, those are the basics. So let's settle this: Who was wrong?
First, should Joan have called Johnny long before the announcement, even at the point Diller first approached her?
Well, that's complicated, but upon reflection — mine, not hers — the answer is yes.
Trust is important. Johnny trusted Joan. Presumably she trusted Johnny. He may well have given his blessing.
Retribution? That could have happened as well, but not to the degree that it would after many months of Rivers still appearing on his show, as if nothing had happened.
And remember one other thing: Carson prized loyalty. He prized it greatly, even when he no longer had much use for those who demonstrated their tireless loyalty (Fred de Cordova, as an example).
And one more thing: Rivers wasn't just taking “another job.” She was going straight for his jugular. She was attacking his base, and his bastion. For all he knew, for all NBC knew, she would take viewers from “Tonight.”
She would certainly take guests. Fox was out to hurt Carson, and by association, Joan was out to hurt Johnny.
He had trusted her. She had betrayed his trust.
She finally called him the day before the announcement — which was the biggest open secret in television, anyway. He hung up on her.
Now, Joan. I'm going to give this over to Joan. Here's what she wrote about the battle in a Hollywood Reporter piece a few years ago:
“I was brought up seven times to the Carson show — interviewed and auditioned seven times by seven different people, and they rejected me, each time, over a period of three years. Then Bill Cosby was filling in, and the comedian that night bombed. Bill said to the booking producer, Shelly Schultz: “Joan Rivers couldn’t be any worse than this guy. Why don’t you use her?”
And that’s when they put me on the show. But they didn’t bring me on as a stand-up comic. They brought me on as a funny girl writer. I’m the only stand-up that never did a stand-up routine on the Carson show.
I adored Johnny. In the ’70s, I did opening monologues, I was hosting. The turning point was when I left the show. Everybody left the show to go to do their own shows. Bill Cosby. David Brenner. George Carlin. Everybody. I stuck around for 18 years. And they finally offered me my own late-night show.
The first person I called was Johnny, and he hung up on me — and never, ever spoke to me again. And then denied that I called him. I couldn’t figure it out. I would see him in a restaurant and go over and say hello. He wouldn’t talk to me.
I kept saying, “I don’t understand, why is he mad?” He was not angry at anybody else. I think he really felt because I was a woman that I just was his. That I wouldn’t leave him. I know this sounds very warped. But I don’t understand otherwise what was going on. For years, I thought that maybe he liked me better than the others. But I think it was a question of, “I found you, and you’re my property.” He didn’t like that as a woman, I went up against him.”
Finally, we come to the wrap: Who was right? Who was wrong?
Joan was wrong. She should have consulted with Carson, should have reached out early in the process, should have listened to what he had to say, and should have taken that under advisement. She should not have done what Diller told her to do, or Rosenberg. She should have listened to her own heart — what was right, what was wrong, what was fair.
She should have read that table a little better. She should have seen she was being manipulated. She started from a negative position at Fox as a result — at war with Carson, NBC and many, many handlers in Hollywood who would decline to allow their clients to go on the new “Late Show,” for fear of antagonizing him.
That's a lot of “shoulds,” and admittedly some of them debatable. Hindsight is easy, no?
But this final point: Johnny was ultimately wrong, too.
He should have seen that NBC — as it had with him — was dragging its feet on her, treating her unfairly, not giving her some sense of the future. He should have known there were others out there who would come after her — after all, he had created a big star. He should have offered her some sense of clarity about what he might ultimately do and how that might (ultimately) affect her. He should have also known NBC had no intention of handing over “The Tonight Show” to a woman.
Foremost, he should have forgiven her. Bygones really should be bygones. She really had been a valuable part of “Tonight.” She should have been accorded the respect valued stars deserve.
So, in the end, the day after Joan River's death, maybe we finally have our answer. They were both wrong.
Well, it does appear we have something else to thank "True Detective" for -- it's gotten HBO and David Chase to put a little mustard in their efforts to get that long-aborning project, "A Ribbon of Dreams," back in the production pipeline. He just confirmed that he is actively writing a treatment for a series.
In a good interview just posted on the Daily Beast (and brought to my and maybe...Read more »
Bruuuuuuce Springsteen will make his TV acting debut in "Lilyhammer," the Netflix series starring Steve Van Zandt, per a nice little scoop in Deadline earlier Thursday.
The report also notes that Tony "Paulie Walnuts" Sirico will join in a recurring role as a priest (har). Springsteen will be the owner of a mortuary. (Har, har.) As fans know, "Lilyhammer" has been a nice under-the-radar success for Netflix -- a mobster fish out of water tale, set in Lillehammer, about a wiseguy in the witness protection program in the cold Nordic north. This is not quite the acting debut for Bruce, but close: He also starred in his short film, seen here, "Hunter of Invisible Game," from "High Hopes," which came out in July. Meanwhile, can we already predict a guest Emmy win for The Boss?
If you may have missed Wednesday night's announcement: Rosie Perez and novelist and former adviser to President George W. Bush Nicolle Wallace will join "The View."
In other words: No more silly speculation in various magazines and websites about who is going to join "The View" as it attempts to remake itself and make itself relevant and interesting and noisy and newsy again.
So...Read more »
In the spirit of ... well, in the spirit of Al Roker, who immediately comes to mind ... Robin Roberts announced on "GMA" a little while ago that she too will take the plunge into the independent production world, as a producer — even noting that she will create a reality pilot with her fashion stylist, Diandre.
(Finding out which shows — other than "In the Game with Robin Roberts," which...Read more »
"Pioneers of Television" offers next Tuesday, Sept. 9, what does appear to be a must-see hour tribute to Robin Williams, titled "Robin Williams: A Pioneers of Television Special," airing at 9 p.m. on PBS. Not many other details, other than this program note:
This tribute to actor and comedian Robin Williams features one of his last full-length interviews for the PIONEERS OF TELEVISION...Read more »