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'Dateline NBC,' TV Land set Joan Rivers tributes

Joan Rivers announces her syndicated talk show, "The

(Credit: AP / Nick Ut)

NBC just announced a Joan Rivers tribute to air Friday at 9 p.m. 

The details, from a statement: 

“In a special edition of NBC’s Dateline, “Celebrating Joan Rivers” will look back at the extraordinary life and legacy of Joan Rivers, airing tonight at 9pm/8c. Friends and fellow comics will pay tribute to the legendary comedienne and television host, including Kathy Griffin,...

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Was Johnny Carson right, or was Joan Rivers right? Let's settle this!

Joan Rivers and host Johnny Carson during "The

(Credit: AP)

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.

Emmys ratings: The risky move to a Monday telecast draws solid 15.6 million

Sofia Vergara and Television Academy CEO Bruce Rosenblum

(Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Well, it does appear as though we have a final national number for the 66th annual Primetime Emmys ... and it's not an ugly one at all: 15.6 million.

That's only about two points below last year's football-fed telecast on CBS, so NBC has to be thrilled with this. Fact is, the move to Monday was a risk: Viewers could have ignored the big show, but there was certainly a groundswell of interest in the Robin Williams tribute. (NBC even promoted Billy Crystal's tribute with in-program teases -- highly unusual, but a key indicator that millions were coming for that, and the network knew it). That alone may have made the difference.

On the negative side of the ledger, this is only about two million more viewers than the middling averages the Emmys had been posting in prior years, or before last year's CBS telecast. The hard fact remains: While many of us love the Emmys -- and I certainly count myself among the devotees -- the vast majority of us don't. They remain an awards show without the enormous appeal of the Grammys or the Oscars. And for an industry that is in the midst of a golden age, that is a strange paradox indeed. 

PHOTOS: The winners | Red carpet, ceremony highlights | Verne Gay's Ultimate Emmys

MORE: Emmys fashion overview | Fall TV preview

But 15.6 million is nothing to sneeze at; how about a Monday in the dead of August next year, too?


TV Critics Tour: Christopher Walken to star in NBC's 'Peter Pan Live'

Actor Christopher Walken at the premiere of "Seven

(Credit: AP / Matt Sayles)

Christopher Walken as Captain Hook in "Peter Pan?" There is something deliciously obvious about this -- so obvious that it will in fact happen.

Walken-as-Hook was arguably the big TCA news Sunday -- and a surprise, too. (As a sidebar, NBC confirmed it had approached Kristen Bell for the role of Peter Pan; she demurred due apparently to work conflicts...) NBC's live telecast of 1954 musical...

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TV Critics Tour: Bill Cosby's return to NBC

Bill Cosby performs at the Funny or Die

(Credit: Getty Images / Jonathan Leibson)

Beverly Hills -- Bill Cosby, or should I say, THE Bill Cosby, will be returning to NBC, possibly as early as next summer, in a still-untitled multigenerational family comedy, NBC Entertainment chief Jennifer Salke told reporters at the biannual "critics tour" here Sunday. Cosby's return to NBC had been reported months ago, but it was unclear at the time whether he would actually star in the series.

Unclear no more: He will play the patriarch of a large clan which doesn't sound a whole lot different from that famous Huxtable clan, in fact. NBC execs said there was no rush to get the series on the air, while the 2015 season could be just as likely a starting place. Meanwhile, Mike O'Malley -- of "Glee" -- has joined the series as a writer along with Mike Sikowitz, formerly a show-runner on "Rules of Engagement." O'Malley could have a starring role as well.

The idea of a "writer" on any Cosby-starring show, by the way, is an interesting concept: He went through many of them during the "Cosby" years in part because he ad-libbed a lot of material, and disdained the sitcom beat that was and is endemic to multi-cam comedies. He drove some of his writers batty and batty writers tend to leave ... (Not making this up, not that I would: It was well known during the show's run that he was a tough boss, and Mark Whitaker, in his forthcoming bio of the star, adds more detail.)

'Community' gets a sixth season, courtesy of Yahoo

Jonathan Banks as Hickey, left, and Joel McHale

(Credit: NBC)

Yahoo, which has lately been in the business of rebooting TV careers (Katie Couric), has now gone to series, and an especially good one: "Community."  

The company Monday announced, via a handful of websites, including its own, that the classic will return for a sixth season -- and thirteen episodes. For "Community" fans, this has to be one of those darkest -- before-the-dawn (or timeline) pieces of news, for Hulu had essentially passed on the revival a week ago. 

"I am very pleased that Community will be returning for its predestined sixth season on Yahoo," "Community" creator Dan Harmon said in a statement. "I look forward to bringing our beloved NBC sitcom to a larger audience by moving it online. I vow to dominate our new competition. Rest easy, Big Bang Theory. Look out, BangBus!"

 ("BangBus," as you might imagine, is a puckish Harmon reference to a porn series.)

Community's finale  -- or final scene -- kinda hinted the show just couldn't be taken out back and shot like any other NBC sitcom. Before long -- wouldn't you know it! -- there were those all-knowing reports to the online trades and other well-sourced places (which is to say agents talking to Sony or vice versa via the trades) that a revival was possible.

 But of course this is all very good news for fans of great TV and those true believers who never lost faith in the ability of Dan Harmon to pull one more rabbit out of whatever hat he actually wears. 

Will the entire cast return? Will most of the cast return? Details, mere details. We'll get back to you with some answers as soon as Yahoo figures out who else besides EW actually covers the TV business. May take a while...

NBC orders Bear Grylls series -- with celebrities

The British-born survival expert Bear Grylls will star

(Credit: NBC )

If the idea of a series called "Running Wild" featuring Zac Efron sounds both interesting as well as slightly felonious, then NBC has got the forthcoming summer trifle for you — a new Bear Grylls series in which he'll bring along celebrities for the ride.

The stars:  Zac Efron, Ben Stiller, Channing Tatum, Deion Sanders, Tom Arnold and “Today” co-anchor Tamron Hall.

The idea: Each will go out with Grylls for 48 hours on various adventures: "From skydiving into the Catskill Mountains, to rappelling down the cliffs of Utah and battling torrential wind and rain in Scotland ..."  (The obvious solution to his latter adventure is to get an umbrella, but apparently that's not an option.)

 "Running Wild With Bear Grylls" begins July 28. 

Brian Williams interviews Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower

Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee

(Credit: AP)

"Nightly News" last night said Brian Williams was "on assignment" -- and some assignment, indeed: He has scored the first American media interview with Edward Snowden, who is essentially under protective custody in Russia.

NBC just confirmed this massive scoop and offered more details -- a full hour interview will air at 10 next Wednesday.

Williams' in-person conversation with Snowden was conducted over the course of several hours and was shrouded in secrecy due to Snowden's life in exile since leaking classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs a year ago. Williams also jointly interviewed Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has reported stories based on the documents in media outlets around the world, about how they came to work together and the global debate sparked by their revelations.

Snowden released a vast trove of NSA "metadata" -- some of which revealed the NSA collection of phone and Internet traffic of U.S. citizens and the tapping into of personal phone communications of foreign leaders.  


NBC schedule and trailers

Actress Katherine Heigl attends the Reem Acra Fall

(Credit: Getty Images)

Happy Mother's Day.

Oh, right. Almost forgot. NBC announced some new shows today.

First, the schedule, then -- of much greater importance -- the trailers. Keep an eye on these three newcomers, "State of Affairs,"  "Marry Me," and "Bad Judge." NBC's placed them in the strongest possible positions on the fall schedule. 

Clips below. YOU be the judge. And a quick reminder, NBC does have a full slate of backups and midseason series. I'll get to those tomorrow. 


8-10 p.m. — “The Voice”

10-11 p.m. — “The Blacklist” / “State of Affairs” (NEW, beginning Nov. 17)


8-9 p.m. — “The Voice”

9-9:30 p.m. — “Marry Me” (NEW)

9:30-10 p.m. — “About a Boy”

10-11 p.m. — “Chicago Fire”


8-9 p.m. — “The Mysteries of Laura" (NEW)

9-10 p.m. — “Law & Order: SVU”

10-11 p.m. — “Chicago P.D.”


8-9 p.m. — “The Biggest Loser”

9-9:30 p.m. — “Bad Judge” (“The Blacklist” beginning Feb. 5)

9:30-10 p.m. — “A to Z” (NEW)

10-11 p.m. — “Parenthood”


8-9 p.m. — “Dateline NBC”

9-10 p.m. — “Grimm”

10-11 p.m. — “Constantine” (NEW)


8-11 p.m. — Encore programming


7-8:20 p.m. — “Football Night in America”

8:20-11:30 p.m. — “NBC Sunday Night Football”


Bad Judge

Marry Me Constantine The Mysteries of Laura State of Affairs

ESPN star producer named 'Today' chief

This Feb. 24, 2014 photo released by NBC

(Credit: AP / Peter Kramer)

In a move almost certain to set off renewed speculation about where the "Today" show is going (and who's going there with it), the network just named Jamie Horowtiz senior vice president and general manager of the franchise. Horowitz is -- or was -- a very big deal at ESPN, probably the most successful TV brand in the world, where he launched many shows, and was a lion-tamer as well: He brought back Keith Olbermann, who presumably has been happy with the boss, now making the big move from Bristol, Connecticut to Manhattan.

The speculation? Oh, the usual stuff: Who will replace Matt Lauer, likely to leave at the end of his current contract? ("Likely" - but one never knows until one knows, and the ratings do appear to have stabilized, and with them, Matt...) Josh Elliott of course began his career at ESPN, and the advent of the Horowitz era is certain to set off some thinking that he might be here to bridge some sort of gap between sports - where Elliott is based now - and "Today." Of course, that may be "baseless" thinking... Elliott continues to dash any idea that he is destined for "Today."

 But there's really one and only one job here -- to get "Today" back on top, and push "GMA" back to the place from whence it came (second). Horowitz certainly arrives on an interesting day, when NBCUniversal announced a $7-billion-plus multi-decade deal to air the Olympics; "Today" has long had a happy and symbiotic relationship with this enormous franchise...

 Here's the top of the release: 

Horowitz will lead the TODAY brand and drive greater integration and growth among all parts of the brand,...also explore new formats, such as extensions in digital, e-commerce, events and other opportunities to serve the audience beyond the day-to-day execution of the existing broadcast and digital platforms... "I am honored to join Deborah [Turness,NBC News president]'s team and help guide TODAY into the future," said Horowitz. "This is an exciting and invigorating opportunity, and I am humbled to work with one of the most indelible brands in television. I am also grateful to John Skipper and ESPN for the opportunities and support they have given me over the past eight years."

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