My Brush With 'Tonight Show' Greatness - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

From Phil Shuman

My Brush With 'Tonight Show' Greatness

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When I worked at Channel 4 News in the 80s and 90's Johnny Carson of course was "King." We were thrilled just to see him pull into his parking spot on the Midway and walk into the building. 

First a two seater Mercedes, then a white Corvette convertible. He had the first space, closest to the door. I think Paul Moyer, legendary news man was number two. We at the TV station were literally not allowed to try to approach or talk to Carson for any big news stories (there were always stories about show biz or celebrities or famous people dying that he would've been perfect for). 

He'd almost never do interviews for news stories, but one time I was able to get him on camera. In the late 80's,  Burbank, suffering years of  decline in the downtown area  made famous by Johnny and his ‘‘beautiful downtown Burbank'' line, was finally getting a new movie theatre complex. Perfect, I thought, I'll ask Johnny about that as part of my story on this new development.  After all, the self proclaimed ‘' media capital of the world'' hadn't even had a movie theatre in a generation, even though it was also home to Warner Brothers and Disney studios. So, I called his office, and asked for an interview and explained was I was doing. They said if I was backstage when the show was done taping that night, the king would give me a minute. I was excited. So, there I was in ‘' the wings'' with my camera person, at the moment the show finished taping.  He walks off,  an aide guides him towards me, a brief ‘' Hi  Mr Carson, Phil Shuman with Channel Four News. What do you think of the news that Burbank is finally getting a new movie theatre ? "  ( beat ) Then the trademark Carson.... "Mmmmmm next thing you know Taco Bell will be getting a drive-through ‘'. And he walked off.. Perfect. Made my story. To me, hilarious.    

Flash forward about five years, my (now) wife and I were able to be backstage for the last Carson show, 1992... we're in the NBC hallway outside the studio as the show ends. He comes out... hugs a few people, then climbs into a waiting car that had been driven right  into the building, it takes him out to the helipad, he climbs in the chopper, and flies off into the sunset, literally and figuratively. Perfect, again. 

 As for Jay Leno, I was always a fan and still am. Big time. I mean who doesn't like Jay Leno?  (apart from Letterman and Kimmel apparently). He was from the Boston area, so was I. I always watched his standup and his guest hosting. There are a million Leno stories, chronicled in books and magazine stories. Like Johnny, he wanted no part really of being bothered by local news types like me about whatever show biz or comedy or television story was in the news, but for different reasons. Johnny was just reclusive, and private and didn't want to be bothered.  Jay felt, and there's some logic to it, that he was ‘‘just a comedian'' and why would anyone want to put any weight behind anything he said. But when California passed legislation requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets, we figured that would be a natural for Jay since he is a big motorcycle rider as well as a car collector. 

So, I  surreptitiously got a camera person with me backstage, timed it to Jay's arrival, and tried to ask him a question about that, and to make sure we couldn't use it, he simply said ‘' F_ _ K  F __ _ K  F_ _K  ‘' about ten times into the camera. True story.  I'm sure he doesn't remember that, but as you might imagine, I do. Thank you very much Jay, it's been fun, goodnight , and good luck.  See you at the Comedy Store. Oh and by the way, there really was a Taco Bell in Burbank, it did not have a drive through, and now it never will, as I saw driving over here today that it is fenced off, abandoned, and  ''For Lease."

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