I’ve been watching YouTube tonight. That’s probably a bad thing to say, since watching YouTube means I’m not watching television.
It’s interesting how, in many ways, YouTube (or one of its wannabe sister sites) has become the conduit for many of our shared mutual experiences. That used to be the province of TV. Now, if you missed it when it happened, you can catch up online.
Tonight on YouTube I was watching airchecks of a few comedians first appearances with Johnny Carson. I remembered seeing Rosanne Barr’s first set as it aired on The Tonight Show. Others I may have seen, but they didn’t leave an impression at the time.
When I was going to college and long into my working life, Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show was the only thing on nationally after the late news. There was no Letterman or Leno or Conan or Jon Stewart. Yeah – there was cable, but cable had few additional channels and fewer original productions.
A comedian making his/her debut appearance on the Tonight Show could expect their life to change forever instantly. I’ve heard more than one comic say that.
There were three responses you could get from Johnny. He could politely applaud. That was bad news. He could give you the ‘hi’ sign. That was approval.
If you were really good, Johnny would call you over to the couch for a minute or two. Ellen DeGeneres was called over on her first night. You could see in her eyes she totally understood what was happening.
That era, where one program could have such an impact, is gone. It will never come back. In a multichannel universe, no one show can dominate.
As much as the rights holders are probably upset, having these moments of television history available is yet another luxury of the Internet.