While The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was beloved by audiences for decades, the show had its fair share of scandals and controversies behind the scenes. These secrets serve as a reminder that even the most popular and successful shows can have a dark side. It is important to acknowledge and address these issues, as they reflect larger problems within the entertainment industry and society as a whole. Here are some of the most notable:
- Carson’s Feud with Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show, and her appearances often led to arguments with Carson. After Rivers was offered her own late-night talk show, Carson banned her from The Tonight Show and refused to speak to her for many years.
- Allegations of Racism
In the 1970s, The Tonight Show was accused of being racist due to its lack of diversity among guests and its use of racially insensitive jokes. Carson himself was accused of making derogatory comments about African Americans and other minority groups.
- Carson’s Alcoholism
Carson struggled with alcoholism throughout his life, and it was no secret among those who worked on The Tonight Show. His drinking sometimes caused him to be unprepared or unreliable for tapings.
- The Doc Severinsen Affair
Carson’s bandleader, Doc Severinsen, had an affair with one of the show’s producers, Barbara Ruick. When Carson found out about the affair, he was furious and fired Ruick. Severinsen was able to keep his job, but his relationship with Carson was strained for some time.
- The Show’s Ties to the Mob
It was rumored that The Tonight Show had ties to the Mafia, specifically through producer Freddie de Cordova. Some alleged that de Cordova used his connections to help the show book guests and secure ratings.
- Carson’s Control Over the Show
Carson was known for being a perfectionist and a control freak. He had complete control over the content of The Tonight Show, including which guests were booked and what jokes were told.
- Sexual Harassment Allegations
Several women who worked on The Tonight Show, including some of Carson’s former assistants, have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against him. Some have claimed that Carson made unwanted advances or inappropriate comments towards them.
- Carson’s Difficult Relationship with Ed McMahon
While Carson and McMahon were close friends on camera, their relationship off camera was often rocky. McMahon was known for his drinking and gambling habits, which sometimes caused him to be unreliable for tapings. This led to tension between him and Carson, who was known for his strict work ethic. Despite their difficulties, however, the two were able to maintain a working relationship for over 30 years.
- Mistreatment of guests
Another scandal that surrounded The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was the alleged mistreatment of some of his guests. One of the most infamous incidents involved Joan Collins, who was a guest on the show in 1983. During her interview, Carson repeatedly interrupted her and made jokes at her expense, causing her to become visibly upset.
- Carson’s retirement from the show
Another scandal that rocked The Tonight Show was the controversy surrounding Carson’s retirement. In 1991, Carson announced that he would be retiring from the show, which he had hosted for over 30 years. Carson had initially chosen David Letterman as his successor, but NBC executives decided to give the job to Jay Leno instead. The decision sparked a bitter feud between the two hosts and led to a rift in the late-night community.
Despite these scandals and controversies, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson remains one of the most beloved and influential talk shows in American television history. Carson’s wit, charm, and talent helped to shape the late-night landscape and paved the way for generations of talk show hosts to come. However, these scandals serve as a reminder that even the most iconic figures can have a dark side.