I remember well Johnny Carson’s final show on The Tonight Show. I fondly recall the show having a mellow yet spontaneous vibe to it. I happen to have been watching it with a pal of mine and he said that Johnny should have been doing more casual and “unplugged” type of shows all along. In fact, I believe he actually did let loose more often than some may think. Of course, all in all, Johnny kept to the brand he created and it came natural to him. He was definitely the cool cat for a cool medium.
I notice a lot of mention being made today of this farewell show, May 22, 1992, but the first-ever show, October 1, 1962, is just as worthy of celebrating. It was mentioned on the final show and for good reason. It was still the dawn of television. We went in laughing only to wake up a few days later to the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 16-29, 1962). There was no particular reverence placed on this new show as demonstrated by the fact there is no preserved video of the first few years. For the first few years, the network was still relying on recording on kinescope which was of poor quality and not particularly archival. That’s why you only have photo stills in the above example to document the first broadcast.
On that first broadcast, Johnny quipped that he had already been knighted as the new king of late-night television (a nod to the out-going Jack Parr) but he was okay with settling for the title of prince. After a monumental 30-year run on the show, it was undisputed that Johnny was king. It is reported that he conducted around 22,000 interviews and was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone else in U.S. television history. It is no mistake to say that Johnny Carson ruled TV, set the gold standard for late-night, and, oddly enough, remains something of an enigma. Such is the life of a king. Set the gold standard, he did. You see the influence everywhere on late-night.
The Larry Sanders Show
It was Garry Shandling’s The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998), his satirical version of The Tonight Show, that best articulates the delicate balance, the lonely existence, of being known by all while also being understood by few. Garry Shandling would have known as he was set to take over The Tonight Show when the time came but he turned it down. He preferred to do his take on the show for HBO. I can’t help but think of both men when I see the work of each and maybe that’s a testament to the uncanny quality of what both men had to bring to television.
Editor’s Note: Vote for me on the Laugh Your Way to Sweden contest! I’m at the bottom row wearing a striped shirt. My skit is called, “People Don’t Stop Anymore.” Just go here.
“Welcome to Sweden,” NBC’s comedy about a NYC accountant who falls in love with a Swedish tourist (Sundays 8/7c) has a very funny challenge. Sweden is not known for being funny. Now, England, there’s a funny country. But Sweden, not so much. It’s this dichotomy of unfunny versus funny that makes this comedy so appealing.
There’s a great mix of deadpan and absurd humor to be found here. And you’d expect that from Amy Poehler. And now we come to also appreciate the comedic talents of her brother, Greg Poehler. After 12 years as a lawyer, in 2012, Greg Poehler started doing stand-up comedy in Sweden. At the same time, he began writing the script for what became his first TV series, Welcome to Sweden, in which he plays the lead part, in addition to his roles as head writer and producer. His sister, Amy Poehler, decided to produce the show after proofreading the script.
The first episode sets the tone for this quirky romantic comedy. While most of the characters choose to hide behind a Scandinavian reserve, they are also quite crafty and/or blunt when pushed. We begin with what should be a mild, if not pleasant, exchange between a young man asking for the blessing from the father of the woman he loves. Bruce Evans (played by Greg Poehler) starts out hoping for some goodwill from Birger Wiik (played by Claes Månsson). Instead, he gets a tidal wave of passive-aggressive shyness and resistance. And it turns out that Bruce did want more than just a handshake or a pat on the back. If it were left up to him, he would have gotten full-on validation and the longest and warmest of hugs. No such luck with Papa Wiik. Then, to really floor him, Bruce gets an unequivocal answer. Viveka Börjesson (played by Lena Olin), the woman that Bruce thinks he wants as his mother-in-law, simply says no.
The premise of the show is that one person in this equation is clearly a fish out of water. Bruce has uprooted himself to Sweden to be with the woman he loves. However, the woman he loves, Emma Wiik (played by Josephine Bornebusch) is not totally in her own element even though she has home court advantage. Emma is a bank executive. She’s the boss. People call her the “chairman of the board.” But Emma has met her match when a marketing expert seems to take over operations as she devises how to best give the bank a much needed image makeover. Diane (played by Neve Campbell) is a social media genius. Emma doesn’t even know what a meme is. Each time Diane attempts to take a flattering photo of Emma, it’s the same pained expression over and over. Diane, in frustration, tells Emma it should be impossible to maintain that same expression. This problem, like a meme, takes on a life of its own with very funny results.
I’m so glad this show popped up on my radar. It’s definitely something different. With an appealing self-deprecating charm, Greg Poehler makes a great fish out of water. It will be fun to see him at least try to overcome his situation.
To check out the show and watch free episodes, got to NBC right here.
And there’s a contest underway, that’s in its final days, where you can vote on your favorite fan tributes to the show. I couldn’t help entering. I feel that I tapped into some of that quirk factor working so well on the show. Whoever wins the most votes gets to go see the show on location in Sweden. Show your support and vote for my entry, People Don’t Stop Anymore, on the contest page right here.