Sunday, March 15, 2015
In 1979, Johnny Carson was burned out. He had hosted The Tonight Show on NBC since 1962. His lawyer Henry Bushkin told the head of NBC, Fred Silverman, that he wanted out of his contract. A court case ensued and Carson was wooed by ABC. Eventually, Johnny reconciled with NBC and a new contract was signed. The deal turned out to be one of the most lucrative agreements in TV history. NBC knew that Carson's show was a cash cow for the network, so they would do whatever was necessary to keep him. The deal paid a staggering $25 million per year. Johnny had 15 weeks off per year and only had to work three shows per week. His show was trimmed from 90 minutes to 60 minutes. He also would have ownership of his show and the show following his which turned out to be Late Night with David Letterman. This turned out to be a lucrative part of the deal since Carson Productions would earn money from any airings of Johnny's show and Dave's show. Letterman secured a similar deal in 1993 when he signed with CBS. His production company, Worldwide Pants, owns the Letterman show and the show following his, The Late Late Show. That show has been hosted by Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn and Craig Ferguson. Later this month, the fourth host will take over, James Corden.
Information from the book Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin.