TV history passes me by

Wayne MitchellWhen I was growing up, the ritual at our house was the same most nights. My sister and I would do our homework before supper, then the family would move to the living room to watch TV.

At 10 o’clock, my mother would wake up my father, who usually had drifted off in his recliner, to watch the late news. At 10:15, it was bedtime.

At least, it was supposed to be bedtime. But often we would whine and wheedle about being allowed to stay up an extra 15 minutes. Why? Because we wanted to see the opening monologue of “The Tonight Show.”

Sometimes it worked. My parents would go on to bed, and Donna and I would be allowed to stay up an extra few minutes before tiptoeing down the hall to our bedrooms. We couldn’t understand why our parents didn’t want to give up a few minutes of sleep to be entertained by Jack Paar, and a year or two later, Johnny Carson. The fact that they got up earlier than we did and worked hard factory jobs all day didn’t enter our thinking.
With Carson as the host, the show was almost always funny and he and Ed McMahon made a great team for 30 years.

I never tired of the Carnac the Magnificent segment, where Carson played a psychic who held a sealed envelope to his head and recited a punchline to a joke contained in the envelope. Or The Tea Time Movie segment with Art Fern, a sleazy huckster played by Carson, and the Matinee Lady.

When Carson retired in 1992, it took a while for me to warm up to Jay Leno. His comedy tended to be a bit more strident and loud.

But I soon found myself tuning in on Monday nights for the “Headlines,” fouled-up print items send in by viewers. And “Jaywalking” was another favorite, where Leno asked people on the street for answers to easy questions about history, geography or other topics and got sometimes ridiculously incorrect answers.

When David Letterman became a competitor to Leno, I stayed with Leno because, among other things, he didn’t laugh at his own jokes.

But I don’t watch as often as I used to. When Jay Leno did his last of more than 4,000 episodes Feb. 6, I was in bed by the time it came on. The same was true Feb. 17 when Jimmy Fallon did his first show.

It was an historic moment in television, I guess. He’s only the sixth host (not counting a couple of short-term fill-ins) in the program’s 60 years.

I only sort of missed them though. I recorded both shows on my DVR and watched them Sunday afternoon.

Maybe that doesn’t count as witnessing a piece of television history. But as I’ve gotten older, I find that I, like my parents, value that extra few minutes of sleep.
T. Wayne Mitchell, publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or by email at

About Wayne Mitchell

Publisher of the New Albany Gazette