‘I’ll be right back’

‘I’ll be right back’

: Johnny Carson has died at age 79.

Once, many years ago, while I was a TV critic, I happened to be on a plane with Lucille Ball. She was in first class, of course; I was in business. I wouldn’t have presumed to bother her but I sent her a note via a stewardess. I said that I believed she and Johnny Carson had given my parents’ generation their sense of humor and comic timing. My mother (this will probably be a surprise to her) treated punchlines like Lucy; my father and his friends told jokes like Johnny.

Carson represented more. He was, of course, the original Jon Stewart, who showed so much of news to be what it was: a joke. He and other, edgier comics of the day made comedy relevant.

He was the best barometer of trends. By the time Johnny did it, it took over America. When I was a kid, I wanted a Nehru jacket (shhh… I can hear you snickering… be nice) and my parents would let me — until Johnny wore one. But when Johnny wore it, that meant it was no longer cool; the meme had gone mainstream.

Carson also represented the golden age of America’s shared experience in media. That era lasted about three decades, from the late ’50s to the late ’80s, when the three networks turned most cities into one-newspaper towns and we all watched the same thing. I don’t regret that era dying; it means we now have more choice and choice equals control. But it was a unique time in our culture, when popular culture became a common platform, a common touchstone for Americans. We all got Johnny’s jokes. [via Lost Remote]

: Michael Ventre says at MSNBC.com: “The day that television died was May 22, 1992. The day it was buried was today.” Well, that prose is a bit toooo purple. But then he signs off with a joke from Johnny: