NBC developing Carson biopic

Project based on upcoming 'Carson the Magnificent' biography by Bill Zehme

NBC is developing a miniseries biopic of Johnny Carson, based on the upcoming book “Carson the Magnificent: An Intimate Portrait” by Bill Zehme, the network announced Thursday.

Although Carson remained intensely private after leaving “The Tonight Show” in 1992, Zehme had extensive access to the host in his later years, profiling him for Esquire in 2002.

NBC has optioned Zehme’s book. The project is not yet affiliated, however, with Johnny Carson Entertainment Group, the enterprise responsible for all things related to the latenight host, run by his nephew and former “Tonight” producer, Jeff Sotzing.

Contacted about the project, Sotzing told Variety, “It’s a little early in the game” to talk about doing such a movie or miniseries, given that the book has yet to be published. He declined further comment.

The intent is for the mini to cover Carson’s 30-year run (from 1962-92) as host of “The Tonight Show,” as well as his childhood in Nebraska and famously private life off camera.

Zehme and John Davies will exec produce.

Although NBC has taken steps to move back into the TV movie business, the sledding hasn’t exactly been smooth. Plans unveiled during the summer for a Hillary Rodham Clinton miniseries, to star Diane Lane, produced howls of protest from the Republican National Committee — which threatened to boycott presidential debates on NBC — and have clouded that project’s future.

Sotzing has been aggressive about mining “The Tonight Show” library, first digitizing the thousands of hours of episodes and recently signing a deal to make Carson’s extensive body of work available via iTunes.

No casting was announced for the miniseries, and the timetable for the project remains uncertain. The situation could be further complicated without Sotzing’s participation or at least blessing, which NBC will undoubtedly work to secure in order to smooth the production process and ensure a warm reception in comedy circles.

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