Thursday, May 30, 2024

Bombshell: How Johnny Carson’s Rift with Joan Rivers Really Went Down


Now that I have the full manuscript of Henry Bushkin’s tell all about Johnny Carson, I thought we’d get some insight into brutal falling out between Carson and Joan Rivers. And we do. Bushkin essentially lays the blame for the 1986 war of the comics at the feet of Joan’s late husband Edgar Rosenberg.

Skipping to the end of the tale, Bushkin says that Rosenberg lied to Rivers about trying to reach Carson and discuss her offer of moving to Fox and starting her own show. Bushkin says he never received a call from Rosenberg to put Johnny and Joan on the phone. But Rosenberg swore that he’d called Bushkin and received no answer.

Carson never spoke to Rivers again after she left her Tonight show guest hosting spot for Fox. He banned her from being on any NBC show. Her Fox show was canceled, and Rosenberg, sadly, committed suicide.

Bushkin notes that if Rivers had only contacted Carson before the announcement of her Fox show was made, he would have congratulated her. Bushkin says that Carson always admired Rivers as a great comedian. But he did not “fear her.”

Ironically, Carson and Edgar and Joan had already had a history. In the spring of 1979, when Carson was declared a free agent and suddenly had no contract with NBC, it was Rosenberg who stepped in. He set up two meetings for Carson with ABC executives. One of the meetings, Bushkin writes, was held in “international waters” on a yacht in the Mediterranean.Carson, Bushkin writes, called Rosenberg “Inspector Clouseau” because everything he did was clouded in mystery.

At the time,, Carson was so angry with NBC and almost made the move. ABC offered to double his salary and let him own his show. He could also control the time period following the show.

But NBC intervened. In the spring of 1980 they gave Carson a $25 million a year contract for 3 days of work a week, 37 weeks a year. The rest was time off and vacation. And Joan Rivers was his guest host on Monday nights until she left for Fox.

Bushkin’s book, titled “Johnny Carson,” is published next Tuesday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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