Posted by

Mike Dow Mike Dow
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

edge staff writer


Paul Reiser talks new Hulu series ‘There’s…Johnny!’

Rate this item
(1 Vote)
Paul Reiser talks new Hulu series ‘There’s…Johnny!’ (photo courtesy of Hulu)

Comedian, actor and writer Paul Reiser jokes that his endgame is to eventually appear on every channel on your television.   

Reiser - the star of sitcoms “Mad About You” and “My Two Dads” and acclaimed films including “Diner” and “Aliens” – can currently be seen in three period series, each appearing on a different digital platform.

On Amazon’s “Red Oaks” (the third and final season is available now), Reiser is Doug Getty, a corrupt Wall Street bigwig who oversees a New Jersey country club during the mid-1980s.

On season two of Netflix’s pop culture smash “Stranger Things,” also set in the ‘80s, Reiser appears as Sam Owens, a government scientist who may or may not be evil.

Meanwhile on Hulu, Reiser is co-creator and co-writer of “There’s…Johnny!” – a wildly entertaining behind the scenes comedy-drama centered around “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” - specifically, the period just after the program moved to Burbank in 1972.

“You can’t plan these things,” Reiser remarked when I recounted his expanding territory. “It’s been a long journey for ‘There’s…Johnny!’ and we’re very excited to be on Hulu because they’re doing great things.”

“There’s…Johnny!” was originally produced for streaming service Seeso, but when that provider announced its pending demise in August, Hulu snapped up the series.

Reiser says the idea for “There’s…Johnny!” has been with him and co-creator David Steven Simon for many years.

“Periodically, we come up with an idea that sticks and this idea has always stuck with me,” Reiser said.

Innocent small-town 19-year-old Andy Klavin (Ian Nelson) loves watching “The Tonight Show” with his parents at their home in Valentine, Nebraska (Carson’s home state). When the lad stumbles into a gofer position on the show, his world is forever rocked.

The show’s seven-episode first season seamlessly blends fact and fiction, incorporating actual 1972 scenes from “The Tonight Show” into the narrative.

“That’s one of the reasons why this has taken a long time,” Reiser explained. “We really wanted the cooperation of the Johnny Carson estate. Naturally, they are very protective of the material. They know how highly I regard Johnny and when they finally said yes, this show really took off.”

According to Reiser, one of the show’s partners is Carson’s real-life nephew, Jeff Sotzing.

“He’s in his 60s now,” said Reiser. “When I told him the story of our show, he said ‘That was my life. I got a job out of college from my Uncle John. I was supposed to be there for a few months and the next thing you know I was there for 30 years.’”

“There’s…Johnny!” incorporates factual elements of “Tonight Show” history into the script, including the significant role played by the show’s producer Fred De Cordova (deftly portrayed by a heavily disguised Tony Danza), adding key touches to the show’s realism.

“Having been on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Johnny many times, Tony and I walk around the set saying ‘This is exactly what it was like,’” Reiser said. “Johnny’s longtime secretary came down to the set and her jaw dropped. She said ‘You guys got it exactly right.’ Every detail – down to the layout of Johnny’s office – is exactly how it was.”

The little-known story of a 1972 extortion attempt, which threatened Carson’s life and actually culminated with the legendary entertainer delivering a briefcase full of bills to a predetermined drop-off, plays out in the series’ fifth episode, titled “The Drop.”

“We incorporate actual parts of the show into our story,” said Reiser. “But just as important are the stories of the kids who worked on the show.”

Jane Levy plays assistant talent coordinator Joy Greenfield. In a key plot-point, Joy petitions De Cordova to receive pay equal to that of her male counterpart. 

“These people are in a very tumultuous period of their lives,” said Reiser. “And the backdrop is Johnny. It feels very authentic because you see the actual Johnny Carson. The guests on his show are in the background on our show.”

Carson’s writers on “The Tonight Show” were forever fearful of losing their jobs; Reiser succeeded in capturing that tension in the scripts he crafted for “There’s…Johnny!”

“The writers were always on a knife’s edge because they only had 13-week contracts,” Reiser said. “They never knew if they were going to be fired. If a joke died, they were scared to death. You see that on our show.”

Having made 25 appearances with Carson on “The Tonight Show,” Reiser had plenty of time to study the behind the scenes drama, laughter and tears which went into delivering the show on a nightly basis. He also vividly recalls the magic and charisma of the real Johnny.

“Because he was in our living rooms for 30 years, we all felt like we knew Johnny,” Reiser said. “But I think it’s true when they say that very few people really knew him. I only did stand-up on his show one time. The rest of my appearances were on the couch. You’d basically be playing with Johnny. He’d do (comedy) with you. He would set you up and he knew when to lay back. He was so gracious.”

Even though “There’s…Johnny” has only recently premiered, Reiser says the wheels have begun turning for a second season.

“In my head, they have,” he said. “When you write for the actors on this show, you see what they can do. I’m really excited for season two because there are so many stories to tell and I know these actors can handle it.” 


Website CMS and Development by Links Online Marketing, LLC, Bangor Maine