NBC is developing a scripted mini-series based on Chicago writer Bill Zehme’s Carson the Magnificent: An Intimate Portrait, a biography of Johnny Carson, legendary host of The Tonight Show from 1962-92.
“There’s a new generation running Hollywood and they’re already starting to forget about the real ‘King of Late Night,’” says John Davies, who is executive producer of the mini-series with Zehme.
“What Letterman, Leno, Kimmel, Conan and Arsenio already know is that Johnny Carson was, is and will continue to be the most important late night entertainer in the history of American television, and that story needs to be told to a broader audience before too much time passes.
“Carson’s nightly average audience exceeded the combined nightly audience of each of the aforementioned late night talents.” Carson died in 2005 at age 79.
Davies, who started his career as a producer for Siskel & Ebert’s Sneak Previews, brought the book to NBC execs Pearlena Igbokwe and Quinn Taylor, who greenlit the project.
Initial plans are for a six-hour mini-series, premiering in 2015 to coincide with Simon and Schuster’s publication of the book. “Bill didn’t want just a two-hour movie,” Davies says. “Carson’s legacy deserved more than that. We knew NBC would immediately get that, and they did.”
Davies and Zehme are working with the network to find writer, director, and cast, as well as supplying research “to make the project as authentic as possible,” Davies says.
Davies and Zehme have collaborated on a long string of TV projects. Zehme hosted Second City Presents on Bravo, which Davis developed and executive produced.
Davies was EP of A&E’s Biography episode on Mary Tyler Moore, for which Zehme interviewed Moore. Davies wrote and produced NBC’s A Comedy Salute to Andy Kaufman, with Zehme acting as consulting producer and supplying research from his book on Kaufman.
Also for NBC, Davies was executive producer of The Rerun Show, A Comedy Salute to Michael Jordan, and Jonathan Brandmeier from Chicago.
He was also the co-producer with Filmworkers Club’s Reid Brody and the director of “Phunny Business: A Black Comedy,” about Chicago’s first black-owned comedy club.