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His tremendous appeal famously escaped the British, but for lots of kids in those days of a three-channel universe, Johnny Carson was the chuckling white-haired guy you snuck downstairs to peek at when you got too old for Santa. Maybe we didn’t get all the jokes, but his show threw off toxic doses of glowing, grown-up glamor we longed to absorb.
These days, as Gavin McInnes pointed out last week, narrowcasting is the new broadcasting. Media is multifaceted and on demand. We swallowed the concept of “two Americas”—one “red,” the other “blue”—with shocking aplomb. So the idea seems as archaic as the divine right of kings: one man reigning for generations as the nation’s tastemaker.
(Especially someone as cold and enigmatic as Carson, who ruthlessly banished “disloyal” favorites in a heartbeat. Prickly and private, the story goes that when Madonna and Sean Penn got married next door, “Carson was so annoyed by paparazzi helicopters, he went out and spelled FUCK OFF on his front lawn with rocks.”)