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A blue Joan Rivers returns to 'The Tonight Show'

Joan Rivers visits "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy

(Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo)

Joan Rivers returned to "The Tonight Show" last night after a 28-year absence marked by recriminations, ill feelings, and insidery show biz back-biting.

And of course she was late to the set.

In fact, Rivers had a very brief cameo on Jimmy Fallon's very first show last month, but let's call last night the first real return.

But no matter. History of sorts was made and even if the return of the former late night queen was a bit blue, a little bit muddled -- and utterly devoid of truth -- so be it. Joan returned to the set that made her famous.

The best part: A nice gracious nod to Johnny -- no last name needed, right? -- which I suppose means no hard feelings anymore.

The interview pointed up the weakest aspect of the new host who otherwise -- as my few readers well know -- I have praised to the Studio 6B rafters. He is in fact doing a bang-up job, except his interviews tend to be exercises in non-information, as last night revealed in abundance.

Why did you not get invited back, he asked her?

He knows why, of course. Everybody knows why. But I also suspected the question was basically just a set-up for one of her oldest jokes.

The reason (if you actually don't know, by the way) is the second to last clip here. While Rivers was chief stand-in at  Carson's "Tonight" -- one of TV's greatest gigs because Johnny did take quite a few days off in the latter years as you'll recall -- she took a job at Fox to host a late night show and direct competitor to Carson. She never told Johnny; he saw her move as a betrayal (and it was certainly that) and he never spoke to her again. Rivers has made all sorts of excuses over the years -- oh, Edgar made her do it! (Edgar Rosenberg, her husband and agent, now deceased.) She couldn't tell Johnny because that would scuttle the deal. And so on.

But the fact remains. Joan betrayed Johnny.

Jay Leno, out of respect to Carson, kept her off his show. Jimmy, who's had her on "Late Night," certainly felt no compunction to do the same. In fact, he's right -- there is no reason. It's all ancient history. (Her "Late Show" essentially launched Fox back in October of '86, and the network fired her the following May.)

Another odd sidebar: David Letterman, who revered Johnny, buried the hatchet with her about four years ago.   

Clips. The second one is from her "Tonight" days, and is fascinating because Johnny holds up the photo from Joan's first date on "Tonight," 21 years earlier. Jimmy did the same last night. 

Meanwhile, I've put up the Letterman interview, too. Dave lays it all out very well. Infinitely better than last night's somewhat sad return.

She was often funny during her long association at "Tonight," and could've -- just possibly, maybe, who knows! -- even been the next "Tonight" host. But alas.

Johnny Carson, Jimmy Kimmel, Kevin Spacey...who knows?

Kevin Spacey speaks during the Oscars at the

(Credit: AP / John Shearer)

Rare is the Oscars TV moment that forces you out of a state of non-wakefulness to laugh at something surprising or unusual - but not so rare is the post-Oscars TV moment, or in last night's case, Jimmy Kimmel's post-Oscars chat with Kevin Spacey.  Spacey is always good on talk shows, and invariably the host asks him to reprise his Johnny Carson, which is very nearly perfect. Check out this portion of the interview (two minutes in) then go here to see a young Jimmy Kimmel perform on "The Tonight Show." Where, oh where have the years gone?

 

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