Once upon a time, there was an undisputed king of late night television. While the crowd of late night television host has become significantly larger in the 21st century, there was a time where the idea of late night TV was synonymous with Johnny Carson. The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson aired for 30 years, and the new series on Hulu There's Johnny is taking a look at the people behind the scenes of the show that weren't Johnny Carson. But, comedy historians, take note — There's Johnny will be taking some creative liberties. The Tonight Show was real part of Americans' lives for the latter half of the 20th century, but There's Johnny isn't a true story. It is, however, rooted in some reality.
Instead of focusing on Carson himself, There's Johnny shows the world of The Tonight Show as it's experienced by 19-year-old Andy Klavin, who is hired as a gofer on the series. The show uses archival footage of Johnny Carson and his sidekick Ed McMahon, but Andy Klavin and most of the other characters on There's Johnny are entirely fictional. The only real person who is adapted for the show is Tonight Show producer Freddie de Cordova, played in the show by Tony Danza. While most of the characters are fictional, the show's creators went to great lengths to ensure that the show itself was true to life.
Show creator Paul Reiser explained to Indiewire that "[There's Johnny is] not a documentary, so we definitely merged fact with fiction, but we did try really hard to represent the world that was true and the flavor behind the show." There's Johnny is set in 1972, a decade into the show's 30-year run. The show is peppered with details from what Los Angeles was really like in the 1970s, as well as what the day-to-day reality of working in television was like. The show's creators attempted their best to ensure that the scenery of The Tonight Show stayed true, and even brought in members of the original Tonight Show team for confirmation. As Reiser recalled, "We had people come by, including the woman who had been Johnny’s right-hand assistant for years, and she went, ‘Oh my gosh, this is exactly it.'"
While the setting was true to real-life, so are the details of working culture at The Tonight Show. An early episode shows Andy having to deliver that night's monologue to Carson's house, which was a real responsibility for workers at The Tonight Show. As Variety reported, Reiser claimed that "Johnny liked his monologue to be delivered to his house at noon ... not 11:59 and not 12:01."
Andy Klavin may have never been a real gofer, but There's Johnny is interested in using these characters as a way to explore the details of what working under Carson was like. Even when working on The Tonight Show, it seems few people on There's Johnny ever directly interact with the titular host. Instead, he's kept at a distance — only seen when he's hosting the show. Though, perhaps that was done to save having to cast a Carson, it also serves to root the series in the real Tonight Show but also get to explore fictional people on set.
The series seemingly fully intends to honor the real people behind the scenes of The Tonight Show, or other late night shows. While the characters are made up, There's Johnny may end up educating people into just how much works goes into crafting a late night show every single day of the week. There's Johnny may not be telling a true story or talking about real people besides Carson and de Cordova, but it's celebrating a very real late night TV legacy.