I recently saw a documentary where Joan Rivers called Johnny Carson “mean” for refusing to talk to her and banning her from the “Tonight Show” some 26 years-ago.
Let’s back up a little… Rivers is no victim here.
Carson not only gave Rivers her start on the “Tonight Show,” he made her his permanent guest host, which at the time was as high of an honor as anyone in entertainment could hope for.
Rivers then repaid Carson by going behind his back to sign a deal with another network that would put her in direct competition with Carson. And…
Only after the deal was done did she tell Carson — and did so by phone.
To THR, Rivers recently played sleight-of-hand with history:
Everybody left the show to go to do their own shows. Bill Cosby. David Brenner. George Carlin. Everybody. I stuck around for 18 years. And they finally offered me my own late-night show. The first person I called was Johnny, and he hung up on me — and never, ever spoke to me again.
Talk about apples and oranges.
Cosby and Carlin did their own shows, but they did not compete directly with “The Tonight Show.” Brenner had a short-lived syndicated late night show but he was not working for Johnny Carson at the time (1986). I’m not sure Brenner ever officially worked for the “Tonight Show” — Rivers did.
Rivers claims she told Carson in advance she was pursuing this. Carson claims she didn’t. Doesn’t the fact that Carson didn’t hold a similar grudge against Brenner tell you something? Doesn’t the fact that out of respect for Carson, Leno continued the ban tell you something?
Show business is a blood sport. I get that. And I also get that Rivers is not the first and won’t be the last in the business of show to betray the person she owes her career to with a brutal stab in the back.
But cut-throating cuts both ways. Carson wasn’t “mean,” he was justifiably furious and hurt.
Betrayal does that to a person.
Anyway, I am fine with Fallon bringing Rivers back. It is his show now. Carson being dead, though, does not mean Rivers should go unchallenged playing the victim.
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