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Never Mind the Bollocks, H-e-e-e-e-e-re’s Johnny!

Johnny Carson image

I’m not one to embrace new technology too quickly. Although I play CDs, vinyl is still the heart of my record collection, and I’ve never streamed anything. I record my songs not with Pro Tools but a cassette player.

One reason I’ve put off signing up for Cable TV is that I’ve gone for years at a time without a boob tube.

Last year, though, someone called to tell me that I could add cable to my Internet and phone package and actually pay less money, so for the first time I bit. By that point I had somehow amassed not one but two TVs.

In some ways the experiment has been successful. More than anything, Turner Classic Movies has helped satisfy my need for grainy black-and-white movies.

A couple months after I enrolled, however, I discovered that starting on January 1 Antenna TV—Channel 64.2 if you’re in Cinci—was going to show Johnny Carson episodes every night of the week. In some cities Antenna TV is available on cable, but with my cable provider you can only watch it with an antenna.

Somehow that just seems right.

So, I dug out an antenna and started watching Johnny Carson for the first time since his final week in 1992. At 11pm on weekends they show episodes from the 1980s and 1990s, and at 10 pm on weekend nights it’s shows from the 1970s. The weekend shows are 90 minutes long, a tradition that lasted until 1980.

No TV stations have rerun Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show since it ended. Even if you’ve watched clips on YouTube, returning to full episodes will spark a reappraisal.

Was it as great as you remember it being?

Absolutely. Carson is a master, and you can see it in the earliest 1970s clips through the episode that ran the other night with Elizabeth Taylor just three months before he called it quits.

Why was Johnny Carson such a natural as a talk-show host? In part it has something to do with his upbringing. Born in the Midwest, he was a down-to-earth guy who could have been your neighbor down the street.

Yet on the East and West Coasts—his shows took place New York and after that Hollywood—he exhibited a sophistication that was understated rather than flashy. Even the most famous entertainers Carson approached as an equal, and the interviews seem like real conversations as opposed to Hollywood glitz. We all know talk show hosts who are deferential or condescending, but that was never Carson’s style.

Something that becomes clear when you watch the show again is just how weird Carson’s humor could be. Obviously that’s a trait we associate with Letterman, but Carson got there first – somehow, though, with him that type of humor called less attention to itself.

So, the cable viewers whose providers don’t carry Antenna TV need to figure out how to hook their TV sets up the old-school way for an old-school show. And for those people who don’t watch cable, take note: the best show on TV is pure antenna.

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A quick note: Antenna TV DOES show up these stations on cable in Cincinnati:

  • Comcast Ch. 253
  • Limestone/Bracken Cablevision Ch. 131
  • Limestone/Bracken Cablevision Ch. 18 (Mount Olivet)
  • Time Warner Cable Ch. 996

And they’re working on adding it to other cable providers.