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Some of my earliest television memories are staying up late and watching Johnny Carson without my parents’ knowledge. Sure, he was in his twilight years in terms of his late-night career, but he was still near the top of his game.
Was there a secret for his success? I suppose plenty. His timing was impeccable and he knew how to save a bad routine. He had a great eye for talent and he knew how to make the viewer feel welcome. Part of that last part, it could be argued, was the fact that he was about as ecumenical as a host could be.
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For all you knew, Johnny Carson could have secretly been a member of the John Birch Society or the Weather Underground. He’d never let on.
“Along with virtually every other American, I never knew Johnny Carson’s politics,” Dennis Prager wrote in a 2017 column. “I would not have been surprised if he was a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican. In his 30 years as host of ‘The Tonight Show’ on NBC, he never so much as hinted as to how he identified politically. He poked fun at whoever was in power.”
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Even back in the day, Serious People™ didn’t like this. CBS’ Mike Wallace took Carson to task over it when “60 Minutes” did a profile on Carson back in the 1970s.
“Do you get sensitive about the fact that people say, ‘He’ll never take a serious controversy?'” Wallace asked.
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“Well, I have an answer to that,” Carson said. “Now, tell me the last time that Jack Benny, Red Skelton, any comedian used his show to do serious issues.
“That’s not what I’m there for,” he continued, slightly piqued. “You see that?”
“But you’re not–” Wallace said.
“Why do they think since you have a ‘Tonight Show,’ you will deal with...
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