Joan Rivers will be on “The Tonight Show” tonight as guest. It’s her first real appearance since 1986, when she left Johnny Carson to have her own show on what was then the new Fox network. Carson never spoke to her again, and she was banned from “Tonight” for the rest of his run and all the way through Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and Leno again.
Last month she was one of a parade of stars who helped Jimmy Fallon inaugurate his run on “Tonight.” But this appearance will constitute her real return.
Since 28 years is a long time ago, let me fill you in: Joan was Johnny’s permanent guest host on Monday nights for years. She was a huge hit, hysterically funny always, and on top of her game. But Joan’s mistake was not asking Carson’s permission to leave, or even telling him about it at all. When Carson heard Joan was going to Fox, he never spoke to her again. He refused to take her phone calls even.
But everything about Jimmy Fallon’s run has been astute, clever, and fresh. Tonight’s installment should be historic– and a riot. The ratings will be great, too. But then again, as Fallon has settled down from his debut, he maintains a healthy lead over David Letterman, and a big lead over Jimmy Kimmel.