How ‘There’s… Johnny’ Series’ Cast and Creators Treated Johnny Carson’s Legacy With Reverence

Tribeca audiences were transported back to the 1970s on Thursday night when Seeso’s “There’s… Johnny!” had its premiere screening.

Audiences got to see episodes one and four of the series about Andy, a young man from Nebraska, and Joy, a talent coordinator on the show, as
they work behind the scenes on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.”

After the screening, stars Tony Danza, Ian Nelson and Jane Levy, creators Paul Reiser and David Steven Simon, and executive producer David Gordon Green spoke about bringing the seven episode series to life 17 years after it was conjured up by Reiser and Simon. The show, which is set in Los Angeles in 1972 and 1973, will premiere later this year.

Here are nine things we learned from the conversation about the series that, according to Simon, is not “That ’70s Show” with wacky Johnny
Carson clips.

1. Johnny Carson is played by Johnny Carson. Reiser and Simon worked in collaboration with the Carson Estate and chose to weave live-action with archival footage of the host and his guests. “From the beginning we were clear about using historical footage to depict Johnny and Ed (McMahon),” said Reiser. “(If we used real actors) all people would think is — ‘That doesn’t look like Ed or Johnny.’”

2. Simon and Reiser wanted Tribeca audiences to see episodes one and four together because they “represented the polar exchange of what the show can do and what we do for all seven,” Reiser said.

3. Reiser appeared on “The Tonight Show” multiple times, which came in handy when he approached the Carson Estate about “There’s… Johnny!.” Carson’s nephew, Jeff Sotzing, runs the estate and also serves as the show’s exec producer. “I think he trusted us in part because he knew that (Simon and I) would treat Johnny’s legacy with the reverence that we all have for him,” Reiser said.

4. The second episode of the series focuses on one of Carson’s daily demands. “Johnny liked his monologue to be delivered to his house at noon,” Reiser said. “Not 11:59 and not 12:01. In the second episode, it’s Andy’s assignment to deliver it and it does not go well.”

5. Nelson, who plays Andy, is 22. The actor didn’t know “much at all” about Carson before auditioning for the role. “I read Ed McMahon’s “Here’s Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, the Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship” for research. It helped a lot.”

6. Nostalgia drew executive producer and pilot director, Gordon Green, to the show. “My grandfather was a stand-up comic in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Amarillo, Texas. I grew up bouncing around that region hanging out with him and watching “The Tonight Show.” (“There’s… Johnny!”) is a cool reference to the world that he lived in and was passionate about.”

7. The 1970s are not a starring role in the show. Green said he treated the decade the same way he treats the 1980s on “Red Oaks” — subtly. “We didn’t want a cartoonish interpretation of the time period.”

8. Danza plays the only real person — Fred de Cordova, the legendary exec producer of “The Tonight Show.” “I knew Freddy,” Danza said. “The one thing that I remember about him was that he would come up after each “Tonight Show” segment and he’d be smoking and he’d say, ‘Just like that, kid.’ Then he would walk away.”

9. It’s a drama. It’s a comedy. It’s homage. Whatever the show is, it’s not what you think it is, according to Simon. “It was important for us to come to Tribeca and diffuse people’s perceptions and get the word out on what the show (really is). We are a whole different kind of animal.”

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