With a new host behind the desk, Joan Rivers has returned to “Tonight.”
After an exile of nearly 30 years, Joan Rivers appeared on NBC’s “Tonight Show” Monday night. The turn on the ‘Tonight’ stage marks the first time the veteran comedienne has surfaced on the program since Johnny Carson banned her after she left a stint as his permanent guest host to lead a competing program on a then-upstart Fox network. Jimmy Fallon, the new host, has apparently lifted an injunction that has been in place since the late 1980s.
Rivers was one of a parade of celebrities who greeted new host Jimmy Fallon during an early segment of the program, which was taped early Monday evening. Rivers walked on to the set just after Tracy Morgan, stopped for a moment to wish Fallon well and smile for the audience, and then left the stage, to be replaced by Seth Rogen.
Rivers’ appearance on Fallon’s debut was especially meaningful as it came 49 years to the day after her first appearance on Carson’s “Tonight Show.”
“It was a double thrill for me to help welcome Jimmy on his first night. The program brought me great luck, and I know it well do the same for him,” Rivers said. “He’s the consummate entertainer whose reign as host, I predict, will surpass any of his predecessors.
“Being in the studio brought back the most wonderful, wonderful memories of the night that jump-started my career,” Rivers says. “So when people ask me, ‘why was last night different from all other nights?’ I’ll tell them that it certainly beats Passover!”
Rivers once held more sway on the program. In September, 1983, she was named Johnny Carson’s permanent guest host. Riding a wave of popularity, she departed the program in 1986 after getting the offer from Fox. Carson at the time claimed she had never told him about the venture and had to learn of it elsewhere. Rivers never appeared again on “Tonight” during his tenure, or during that of Jay Leno, an NBC spokeswoman for “Tonight” confirmed Monday evening.
The Fox program Rivers would go on to helm, “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers,” led to tragedy for her family. When she and her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, proved to be at loggerheads with Fox executives over the direction of the new latenight series, the network fired them both. Rosenberg would commit suicide within months.
Since that time, Rivers has held forth as the host of a daytime talk show and enjoyed stints on E!, TV Guide Channel, We TV, “Hollywood Squares” and more. Nothing she did, however, got her back on the set of “Tonight.”
Fallon may be out to mend fences. The entertainer has espoused a hosting philosophy of having fun, celebrating and being a fan.
Of the end of her banishment, Rivers said: “It’s about time! I’ve been sitting in a taxi outside NBC with the meter running since 1987.”