Antenna TV Makes Deal to Air Vintage Johnny Carson Episodes

Posted by at 9:30 am on August 12, 2015

carsontrioTribune Media’s Antenna TV, the multicast digital channel devoted to vintage television shows, will run full-length episodes of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” nightly at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT starting Jan. 1.

Antenna TV has struck a multi-year deal with Carson Entertainment Group to license hundreds of hours of the NBC late-night institution. Antenna will run episodes that aired from 1972 through the end of Carson’s 30-year reign in in 1992. Because NBC owns the rights to “The Tonight Show” moniker, Antenna TV’s episodes will be billed simply as “Johnny Carson.”

“This is not a clip show. This is full episodes of Johnny Carson, the man that everyone in late-night agrees was the greatest host of all time, airing in real time as he did back in the day,” Sean Compton, Tribune’s president of strategic programming and acquisitions, told Variety. “Tuning in to ‘The Tonight Show’ is like taking a walk down Main Street in Disneyland. The minute you step in there, you feel good and you know it’s a place you want to stay. We cannot wait to bring this show to fans who remember Carson and to a new generation of viewers who have never had the chance to see Johnny in his prime.”

Antenna’s showcase will mark the first time Carson-era “Tonight Show” episodes have aired on a nightly basis since the host signed off in May 1992. Carson stayed out of the spotlight after his retirement until his death at age 79 on Jan. 23, 2005.

“The Tonight Show” ran in a 90-minute format from the start of Carson’s run in 1962 until 1980, when it was trimmed to an hour. Antenna will air hourlong episodes on weeknights and 90-minute installments on Saturday and Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

The scheduling of episodes will be carefully curated to run as themed weeks or months, as well as episodes that coincide with notable anniversaries, holidays and other milestones. Those could include everything from a week’s worth of “Tonight Show” debuts by future comedy superstars such as Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres, Richard Pryor, David Letterman, Jim Carrey and Tim Allen to a month of Christmas episodes in December. Antenna’s

With all the hubbub over changes in late-night TV during the past two years, Compton had the idea to revive Carson’s “Tonight Show” in a big way. Carson Entertainment Group, headed by Jeff Sotzing, Carson’s nephew, was immediately receptive.

“I think there’s a demographic out there that is really going to eat this up,” Sotzing told Variety. “The show will now be able to be seen by so many people who haven’t seen it before.”

The deal involved nearly six months of negotiations with Hollywood’s talent guilds and the American Federation of Musicians. The talks were complicated because there’s not much precedent for residual fees for full-length reruns of a vintage variety show re-airing on a digital broadcast channel. A few weeks ago the deal almost fell apart over cost issues that seemed insurmountable, but Compton and his team kept hammering away until compromises were reached.

Tribune execs are determined to keep each episode as intact as possible — which means negotiating new agreements for the show’s many musical performances on an episode-by-episode basis, in most cases.

The full-length segs will re-introduce viewers to the show that cemented the template for the late-night talk-variety format, from the monologue to goofy banter with sidekicks to showcasing promising comedians. Carson also invented a host of characters over the years, including Carnac the Magnificent, Art Fern and Aunt Blabby, as well the leading the “Mighty Carson Art Players” sketches. Carson, Ed McMahon and bandleader Doc Severinsen were also famous for doing in-program commericals. Tribune’s sales department is looking to set up creative sponsorship deals piggybacking on those now-priceless integrations, Compton said.

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