NBC Has a Johnny Carson Miniseries in the Works - Who Should Play the King of Late Night?

Johnny Carson Miniseries NBCHeeeere’s Johnny…’s biopic!

NBC is in the process of creating a miniseries based on the life of longtime Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, the network announced Thursday.

Based on Bill Zehme’s forthcoming biography Carson the Magnificent: An Intimate Portrait, the project will encompass the comedian’s three decades as NBC’s king of late night, his upbringing in Nebraska and his personal life away from the television cameras.

Carson, of course, emceed Tonight from 1962 until 1992, when he handed the show over to current host Jay Leno.

RELATED | Jay Leno to Depart The Tonight Show in February

No word yet on when the Carson miniseries may air.

Who would you like to see play Carnac the Magnificent? Sound off in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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52 Comments
  1. Bender says:

    this is an odd ball choice, but Steve Martin came to mind

  2. Gregg says:

    Jim Carrey

  3. Robert in Jersey City says:

    dana carvey

  4. KidsDrDave says:

    Neil Patrick Harris would knock it out of the park.

    • The more I think about this, the more sense it makes. You need someone comparatively young, with serious comic acting skills. It would be a good next step after HIMYM finished.

      • jukeofurl says:

        I was about to name somebody else – then I saw you nom NPH. I agree. He needs to have something major coming off that TV series. But for Leno? I suggest Adolf Hitler… ;-)

    • The Beach says:

      I agree. He’s the right age and make-up could do the rest plus he has that sly smile and twinkle in his eye that Carson had…that “I’m putting you on” look.

  5. wmjindsm says:

    Jason Sudeikis

  6. Hamish says:

    The American Masters documentary “Johnny Carson: King of Late Night” is a must see for any Carson fan.

  7. Chris says:

    Kevin Spacey does an AMAZING Johnny Carson. YouTube it.

  8. Tom Murnane says:

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the acting chops to pull it off & actually bears a striking physical resemblance to a young Johnny Carson:

    Photo of Joseph Gordon-Levitt:

    http://sciencefiction.com/2013/01/03/joseph-gordon-levitt-as-quill-in-guardians-of-the-galaxy/

    Photo of a young Johnny Carson:

    http://www.insideedition.com/entertainment/5159-lost-footage-of-johnny-carson-uncovered

  9. Brian says:

    Tracy Morgan

  10. Buddy says:

    Steve Carell would be a great choice. Bears a passing resemblance to Carson and he’s more than proven himself capable of serious yet comic performances (Little Miss Sunshine, The Way Way Back, “The Office”). Plus, he has ties to Universal and a history as a TV star. And maybe this will give Emmy voters a chance to apologize for snubbing him!

  11. Ben says:

    Martin Freeman

    • DC says:

      After watching Martin Freeman in the mini-series Fargo, which concluded on FX last night, I could not agree more. About halfway through the series, it struck me how much Freeman’s verbal and physical tics reminded me of Johnny Carson. I think he could do an awesome job!

  12. Jo says:

    Shouldn’t the GOP be deciding this? After all, they run the NBC miniseries division.

  13. Renee says:

    John Slattery!

  14. Kim C says:

    John Slattery could play him….assuming he’s funny too

  15. DCTodd says:

    Greg Kinnear

  16. Patricia says:

    Dana Carvey

  17. Elf says:

    They’ll need someone younger than the obvious choices above (Carvey, etc.) if it’s going to cover his career at NBC. It’s much easier to make someone young look old than the other way around.

  18. Philly In DC says:

    Kevin Spacey – watch him on Inside The Actor’s Studio

  19. Rob says:

    Jim Parsons

  20. Jscott says:

    Is it going to be an honest, warts-and-all biopic, or is it going to completely gloss over Carson’s personal problems? This, after all, is a man who allegedly beat one of his ex-wives in front of shocked partigoers. Not to mention how he “shamed” comedians on his talk show (after they did their act, he only let them sit on the couch next to him if he thought they were funny). And how he had Joan Rivers blacklisted from the Tonight Show (that weasel Leno still won’t have her on, in deference to Johnny). Carson was undoubtedly a television legend, but not a good man.

    • maggie says:

      The strange thing is that Carson was close friends with Letterman, not Leno. Yet Letterman has Joan Rivers on his show.

      I don’t know if Carson wasn’t a good man, but I do think he was a complicated man. The mini-series will only work if they show the real Carson.

    • rowan77 says:

      Carson banned Joan Rivers from the show because he made her a star and behind his back she and her husband set up a show to air opposite his on Fox. She never told him and he found out by reading the trades. That was a major screw-up on her part. She was a coward for not going to Carson and telling him what she wanted to do. By all accounts, if she had been up front with him he would have supported her. He felt betrayed that she went behind his back.

  21. Chris G. says:

    an unknown

  22. Steven says:

    Neil Patrick Harris would be great. Bill Hader does excellent impressions so I’m sure he could pull it off as well.

  23. If its his whole life, I would say Joseph Gordon Levitt to play younger and Kevin Spacey to play older. Why Kevin Spacey you ask, just watch this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xc4GSuOdH0E

  24. Bobbi says:

    Neil Patrick Harris! I don’t want someone to do a caricature of Johnny as I think Dana Carvey might. NPH would do an outstanding job.

  25. Kirti Patel says:

    Ben Afleck

    • Drew says:

      I was just going to make that joke!

      But seriously, Affleck should never be allowed to act again… not that he ever has before.

  26. JCK says:

    Sean Hayes, quick with a double take, sly snide, charming and hilarious.

  27. Jess says:

    Bill Heder

  28. Tom Murnane says:

    Interesting idea, Scooter…While Joseph Gordon-Levitt is clearly the most obvious choice to play Carson based on close physical resemblance, overall acting ability & age (I believe he’s only about 5 years younger than Carson was when he took over the Tonight Show), I’d also be interested in seeing what someone like Colin Hanks could do with it. Still, in the end, JGL seems to be the best fit.

  29. lora mclendon says:

    I think Clark Gregg would be a good choice, he can do comedy and drama.

  30. dj says:

    It would have to be a young person that they can “age” over 30 years. You can’t start with someone who is 50 or 60 years old. Aging them is a lot easier than making them look thirty years younger

  31. wi says:

    Jeffrey Donovan

  32. He did not hand the show over to Jay Leno, it was ripped away from him and given to Jay Leno

  33. .... Oh boy, NBC is behind this effort. says:

    Who should play Johnny? Remember, NBC is behind this production … that means here comes Lorne Michaels. I guess Michaels will select someone from SNL to play Carson. Here we go again. Maybe Jimmy Fallon or Seth Meyers? I guess we’ll need to wait to see who Michaels selects.