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'Carson on TCM' review: Heeere's Johnny

TCM will launch "Carson on TCM," a new

TCM will launch "Carson on TCM," a new showcase of memorable interviews collected from Carson's three decades as host of "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." Credit: TCM

SERIES "Carson on TCM"

WHEN | WHERE Monday at 8 on Turner Classic Movies

REASON TO WATCH Carson's back, and Conan's got him!

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Need more movie content? Why not mine the archives? TCM has pretty much exhausted even Turner's deep Hollywood library -- running those vintage Warner Bros. and MGM shorts to fill time between the features -- so they've looked outward to spot the Johnny Carson stash.

The legendary talk show host's 20 years in Burbank pay off here. Sadly, his 30 Rock-based first decade of "The Tonight Show" (1962-72) is mostly lost; NBC recycled/trashed the videotapes. But TCM cannily repurposes Carson's subsequent two decades from the West Coast.

The initial hourlong episodes each offer five extended interviews, and you can see the editors' minds at work: a mix of old stars, new(ish), TV actors, some quirky, too. TBS talker Conan O'Brien sets them up with smart intros to put each appearance in context. Then the master goes to work.

MY SAY Now kids can see why their elders consider Carson the king. As Conan notes, he was "the most charming man in America," filled with "playfulness and curiosity" and "a musician's ear for tempo." Carson and his show are much calmer than today's talkers. And that relaxation -- take note, current contenders -- is precisely what sucks you into his thrall.

Carson really listens, and reacts in the moment. Watch his masterful first interview, tonight, with 7-year-old Drew Barrymore. Imagine his successors in the same situation. No comparison. He lets Kirk Douglas weave a "Spartacus" storytelling spell, and a chat with Mary Tyler Moore takes a few delightful digressions. Also on tap: writer Neil Simon and ageless comic George Burns.

Carson's aim was eliciting greatness from guests, not setting up his own zingers to goad the next audience convulsion. He's not putting on a performance. He's having a conversation. Lucky us. We get to eavesdrop.

BOTTOM LINE Carson remains The Man.


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