Ok, first thing, before I forget: What, in your thinking, is the best thing you have ever seen on television? Ever?
I am no Platonist, so I will not hold you to any choice you make. To my thinking, I could ask you this question a dozen times and get at least a handful of answers that are all true. I could ask you in different contexts, and if you didn’t change your answer with context I’d have to worry about you.
I probably have at least a score of “best moment on TV ever, of all time” nominees, and any choice of just one among this population would be forced, artificial, and false at times, while true at others. Carol Burnett’s entrance in the “Gone With The Wind” skit, her dress made of curtains, “I saw it in the window and I just couldn’t resist it”. Walter Cronkite crying. The first time I heard Kermitt the Frog singing “It’s not easy being green”. I didn’t get to see the Beatles, or the moon landing, so those aren’t in my list.
One show has made that list countless times. I may have only seen it once, and it may be very different from how I remember it. It was the Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, July 21, 1978. The musical guests were Dave Brubeck and sons, which I don’t actually remember, but which actually makes the 90 minute show even better than I do remember. And here’s the meat of my post–I have not been able to locate any video of that show, and I really really *really* want to see it again.
The first guest was Richard Pryor. At this point in his career, he had made the switch to a rather … bluer sort of comedy. He was known (at least, I knew him, as a midwestern white kid) as a raunchy, dirty comic. Johnny Carson must have (and clearly did) know better. As I recall it, Pryor was hilarious, without coming close to overstepping any boundaries. I know now, the man was a genius; then, I was surprised.
The second guest was conservative journalist Dorothy Fuldheim. Well known in Cleveland, somewhat less well known nationally, she was the voice of the establishment. It is only in hindsight that I suspect Johnny Carson (and/or his staff) knew exactly what he (they) was (were) doing.
The expectation (yes, to me, as a high school kid) was that Pryor would either leave before Fuldheim was introduced, or that he would stay silent, or that he would explode. Frankly, the first two options were suckers bets; the assumption was that Pryor would unleash his formidable chops on this poor woman–swearing, cursing, blaspheming–until his fans were ashamed, and hers were vindicated in their views of those liberal black people.
And (as memory goes)… Richard Pryor was as polite as could possibly be. Fuldheim made outrageous claims about the absence of poverty, the absence of racism, the absence of pretty much anything bad in the perfect USA… and Pryor interjected “excuse me, ma’am…”, pointing out inequity, hunger, bias, and more. Fuldheim tried to brush him aside, but his politeness (so unexpected, so perfect) made her look like a monster.
It was… perfect.
I watched it, live. With my dad. I was in high school; he would have been in his late 40’s. I was astonished. So was he. I don’t know that he had heard of Pryor before; it didn’t matter. He knew Fuldheim. He knew Carson. I think this was the first time I saw my dad completely blown away by the same thing that blew me away. It was amazing.
And, near as I can tell, it doesn’t exist. I mean… *everything* has an afterlife on the web. But I have not been able to find this. I have found other people looking for this. But I have not found this.
It is entirely possible (likely, even) that my recollection is at serious odds with the actual video of the show. But damn, if that is the case, I want to know!
So… two things.
1) can we maybe find this tape? Anyone? Anyone know anyone know anyone?
2) What is the best thing you have ever seen on TV? Ever? Cos if it’s better than this, I *really* want to see it!
No verse today–this thing is eating away at my brain enough, I don’t need to feed it rhyme.
Also… no, I won’t tell you what brought on this post.