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Five on Friday: Throw an Emmys Dinner Party

Five on Friday: Throw an Emmys Dinner Party

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There’s no denying it’s been quite a year for television. We begrudgingly said goodbye to Breaking Bad, shamelessly binge-watched Orange is the New Black, and traveled back to the post-Edwardian era with Downton Abbey. We sat stunned at the plot twists in House of Cards and are counting down the days until Scandal returns. Needless to say, we’ll be tuning into the 2014 Primetime Emmy Awards, red carpet pre-show and all, Monday night.

But let’s face it — we’re not here to talk about probable upsets or best-dressed predictions. No, we’re here to help you with the most important part of the night — the menu. Below, you’ll find five Cooking Light recipes inspired by scenes from some of our favorite nominated shows. As a bonus, all of the recipes received 5 stars from readers to make for a truly award-winning meal.

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Bourbon-Peach Barbecue Sauce, House of CardsAn ode to Frank Underwood, this barbecue pulled pork is the crowd-pleasing main for tonight’s dinner. The slow cooker does most of the work here, successfully creating a fork-tender roast and drawing outdoor barbecue flavor from the smoked paprika rub. Before serving, the pork is drizzled with a homemade bourbon sauce — and if that doesn't satisfy your Freddy’s cravings, I’m not sure what will. If sliders are more your style, we've got a recipe for those, too.

Grilled Corn on the Cob, Orange Is The New BlackThis dish is dedicated to Litchfield inmate Boo, who we first met smuggling corn and a saltshaker into movie night in Season One. Because Boo keeps it simple with her seasonings, we chose one of our most basic (yet delicious!) grilled corn recipes as our side dish. Soaked in salt water before getting a turn on the grill, this corn will surely get high marks.

Cherry-Peach Sangria, ScandalIf there’s one thing stable in Olivia Pope’s crisis-filled life, it’s her spot on the couch with an oversized glass of wine. While the Emmy-nominated protagonist tends to pour herself a nice red, we think this occasion calls for something a bit more summery. Our white wine sangria is full of juicy fruit, sprigs of fresh herbs, bubbly club soda, and a good dose of brandy.

Classic Scones, Downton AbbeyA formal dinner from the Downton Abbey era slightly intimidates us, what with the elaborate place settings and upwards of 20 courses. Instead, we took our inspiration from afternoon teatime, when lighter fare such as scones was served. Our classic recipe isn’t overly sweet, so these scones are a welcomed addition to a dinnertime meal. Serve them with homemade strawberry jam — or better yet, some clotted cream.

Nathan’s Lemon Cake, Game of ThronesGame of Thrones-inspired food has certainly become a hit with fans — in fact, there’s an entire cookbook dedicated to the series. To ensure the night ends on a sweet note, we're channeling Sansa Stark and her weakness for lemon cakes. With grated lemon rind and freshly-squeezed lemon juice in both the cake and the icing, this recipe is worthy of its own winged award.

50 Flavorful and Filling Low-Calorie Meals

Makeover some of your favorites, from pizza to pad thai.

Whether you're practicing moderation or simply looking to indulge in guilt-free seconds, these dinner recipes are the best of both worlds &mdash low in calories and delicious. Sticking to a healthy weeknight dinner that fits into a diet plan can be quite easy, on both your schedule and your wallet. The best low-calorie meals supercharge your dinner plate with a lean protein, a savory side of fresh vegetables, and a hearty (and filling!) whole grain that's sure to please.

Believe it or not, some of the most flavorful kitchen staples are foods that save you from extra calories at mealtime. You'll anchor your plate with healthy proteins, like super flavorful salmon fillets swimming in a sea of superfast pan sauce, flaky tilapia on a bed of greens, or extremely versatile chicken thighs with a side of sweet potato spuds. Keeping your low-calorie dinner interesting is easy when you shop the freshest veg of the season: Start the year in spring with kale and carrots, move into zucchini and tomatoes, savor Brussels sprouts and mushrooms in fall, and finish strong with beets and winter squash. In-season produce you buy in bulk from the grocery store, or pick up for the first time at the farmer's market, can help you fill up at dinnertime without all those calories.

Discover all-time favorites or venture into new dishes that will keep you feeling great inside and out. This collection of low-calorie dinners is sure to keep any diet feeling new, exciting, and most of all, easy peasy all year long!

Letterman Lets His Guard Down

Inside Letterman's skull, you will find Letterman's brain, which holds captive Letterman's psyche -- squirming, dark, and exquisite. This is no place for trespassers. It is a protected place, where the brave and the bold know not to tread. Even Letterman keeps his distance. Long ago, it is said, a couple of trained professionals tried to gain entry and were never heard from again. Like any man of substance, Letterman is hard to know. If he knows himself, he knows only enough to wish he knew less. I have known him for a dozen years, spoken with him during hours grave and triumphant, acquainted myself with the infrastructure of his world, seen his hot-sauce collection. I have watched him become the most powerful man in all of television and derive enjoyment from almost no aspect of it, save perhaps the good seats at Indy.

"I have my own private struggle," he will admit, persevering under punishing physical conditions, declining any promise of balm or respite. He must be so encumbered in order to be Letterman. "Very strange," observed the wise Johnny Carson, when recently asked to ponder the miracle. "Lot of churning going on inside David there." That Letterman has now become Carson, which is to say become omnipotent, only bedevils him more. He will not bask, so instead he wallows. To reign, he must first and always deny himself, deny satisfaction, deny everything. And yet if he did not reign, he would perish. He cannot win, even though he has won That is Letterman.

I have been inside. I have gone there in increments, over long periods, each time retreating hastily, before harm could come. I am the friendly inquisitor, who pokes fun gently and buffets with apology, performing painless extractions. We get on fine. There is shared history: His father and my grandfather, both gentlemen florists, both long dead, tippled together and made much hell at regional FTD board meetings. My mother called his father Uncle Joe and remembers his visits to Chicago from Indianapolis as pure ruckus, full of noise and nonsense. It is a slender bond, but one too odd to ignore. So I dip in and dip out, tormenting him as mildly as he can stand, then leave before he summons the urge to slap me.

"Why, you sonofabitch!" he grumbled to me last spring, during a chance meeting backstage at Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. (He had come over to wreak havoc.) "You've ruined my career more than once!" Whereupon he circled me, hunched like a wrestler, then wordlessly walked away. Such is our special rapport.

Of course, no human walks faster than Letterman, and this is essential to understanding him, if there is any understanding him. His gait is long because his patience is not. He barrels forth, an unstoppable force who presumes to waste the time of no one living. He possesses no such arrogance. Likewise, his mind is so fleet and dexterous and artful in private conversation that I am convinced no equal exists, certainly not among entertainers, itself a fraternity to which he would rather die than pledge himself. Still, his quickness does not make pointed talk any easier for him. He has always thought he was boring me senseless during any given exchange -- or, at least, pretended as much.

"Oh, it was a huge waste of time!" he said recently, recalling several extraordinary hours I spent debriefing him last year, all filmed for CBS promotional spots that heralded the arrival of his Late Show. "For you it was, I mean," he added. "I felt bad for you. I kept thinking, This poor man. "

According to legend, he feels bad always, except for the one hour per weekday he broadcasts, during which time he is adrenaline personified. On TV he is alive with rush. "Way too much coffee," he says woefully. "But if it weren't for the coffee, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsoever. So that's what we have here." (Also he is known to consume preshow allotments of fresh pineapple and Hershey's chocolate to enhance the buzz.)

"He's basically the same guy up until show time," says coexecutive producer Robert "Morty" Morton. "Then he assumes a different personality for that hour, but afterward he's right back again." Afterward, he repairs to his twelfth-floor office, where he studies the show tape and systematically divests himself of whatever hubris that got him through the last hour. "If a show sucks, it's me," he has long said, fully sure that he has never given a performance that didn't at least partially suck. He told me, "I can never walk out of there thinking, 'Oh, my God, we're a hit! Everyone loves us!" I've never experienced that." Nevertheless, he is a hit, and everyone loves him. From his Emmy acceptance speech, upon receiving this year's award for outstanding variety, comedy or music series: "Well, I don't need to tell you folks -- there's been a huge mistake! Ha ha!" Then: "I have very little to do with the show. Every day, about five, after my manicure, I put on a suit and go to work."

Outtake from an interview conducted in June 1993, in a stark West Side film facility, recorded by CBS (Letterman and I sat
at opposite ends of a long table):

Q: How would you explain your work to foreigners?

A: Well, first of all, I wouldn't be hanging around foreigners. You know that. I'm xenophobic. (Chuckles.) I'm the guy running the TV show. Not really a host. Anybody who has ever seen me work knows that. Anybody who has ever been a guest in my home knows that. And, by the way, there have been very few guests in my home. Especially foreign guests. I don't know. You're the guy on the show who has the best wardrobe, so people in the audience at least know where to look. Everything falls into place after that. There is very little skill involved with it. You just have to smile when things really aren't that funny. And when things are sort of funny, then you have to laugh like crazy. I'll be doing a lot of that here today with you. That's about it. Everything else is done in the control room.

He is a nervous king, for which he cannot be blamed. There he stood, next in line for eleven years, too polite to grease his own ascension. He had been prince and future king since the night of his first audience with monarch Carson, had even been
allowed to sit on the throne, in substitute capacity, sooner than any other mortal -- after a mere three stand-up shots. (His first Tonight Show appearance remains, in his appraisal, the last time he actually felt good about himself -- sixteen years ago.) It was Carson who then, in 1982, permanently installed Letterman into the empire of late-night TV, gave him the hour affixed to his own, so that they could rule in tandem.

Everything was in place. Until the palace coup: Leno, greatest jester in the land, who did not initially amuse Carson but
always amused Letterman, consorted with dark forces to nuzzle and sway network cabinet ministers ("NBC pinheads," in the dour parlance of Letterman). In short order -- a feverish blur to this day -- the network had nudged Carson aside and, without
royal consent, enthroned Leno as host of The Tonight Show.

Carson retired to Malibu, shaking his head, appalled but unsurprised. Letterman, who saw it all coming, nevertheless fell into fits of incredulity and extreme self-loathing. Blindly, honorably, his allegiance had belonged only to Carson, never to the network for this he was punished if but for a moment. Elsewhere, he was quickly promised the moon, so he took the moon at CBS, and instantly owned the night. At once, The Tonight Show was reduced to a shambles, a hollow residence unfit for a king. Letterman's Late Show gleamed and ruled. He was now a man in control, like Carson. Don Rickles came on one night and grumbled. "Gotta go. I'm due at Jay Leno's house for dinner later." Said Letterman, "I'm sure you'll enjoy the peace and quiet." (The exchange was excised from the broadcast Letterman is nothing if not a benevolent king.)

Leno, for his part, essayed contrition. "Dave's story is the great American story," he said. "You work for a place. You're
unappreciated there. You leave. Then you go across the street and build a bigger business."

On the January day NBC executives huddled in Florida to decide whether to dump Leno or lose Letterman, I spent the afternoon in his Late Night office at Rockefeller Center. He was just back from Barbados, looked numb, and wore a beard. He had hired CAA ultra-agent Michael Ovitz to wrangel his fate so that he could sit back and do nothing else but worry about it.

We had been talking about relationships with women -- his own inadequacies therein -- and disappointment in general. Also present were two women he trusts implicitly and relies on always: his executive assistant, Laurie Diamond, and associate producer Barbara Gaines. They prop him as few others can and are never far away should he sink into mire. He was saying, "My sister told me something a couple weeks ago that I'm trying to apply to my life, which is: Don't have any expectations of anybody and you'll never be disappointed. But, you know, it doesn't work. But then that makes it sound like I'm the most giving, most understanding, best buy on the shelf. And I know that's not true. I'm no day at the beach, let's just say that. Right, kids?"

"I couldn't disagree more," said Gaines.

"You are too the best buy on the shelf!" said Diamond.

"Um-hmm," said Letterman, unfooled.

Always he drives himself, fueled by demons. He is known for his drive as well as for his driving. Like Leno, he is a car guy both men keep hangars full of classic junk at the Santa Monica airport (although Letterman almost never gets out there anymore). But unlike Leno, who is happiest monkeying under the hood, Letterman just takes the wheel and drives -- from which all metaphor springs. For his daily commute to midtown from New Canaan, Connecticut, he pilots his all-wheel-drive turbo-charged red Dodge Stealth, occasionally achieving velocities that paralyze radar guns. Still, the trip never takes less than an hour (usually much longer), forcing him onto the road before nine each morning, rarely getting him home before ten each night. He keeps a downtown Manhattan loft, in TriBeCa, but never uses it, although his long-time girlfriend, Regina Lasko, spends most of her week there. The road, he feels, is his salvation, pending speed traps. (When stripped of his license a few years ago, he nearly lost the will to live.) "I think that car is his little womb," attests Morty, glad for any decompression his star can find. "I like to get outta town," explains Letterman. "Driving home at night is not such a bad thing. It's a good way to sort of let stuff go a little. I don't like leaving the office, but when I do -- by the time I get home -- the circuit breakers have been reset, you know?"

Before leaving the office each night, after having chastised himself for gaffes imperceptible, he will likely apologize to any staff members he encounters on the way out.

"Good night, Dave," they will say. "I'll be better tomorrow," he will reply. Conscience notwithstanding, he travels light, wallet in back pocket, yellow envelope of joke submissions in hand. Once home, he immerses himself for hours in BBC radio, which serves both to distract him and to shape his worldview.

"Oh, it booms in," he says excitedly. "They put everything in perspective for you and you realize why you shouldn't be too worried about too much of anything. I've become addicted to it." He watches no late-night television, gets to bed by one, sleeps five hours a night, sleeps hard. "What I don't do is sleep much, but when I'm out, I'm out."

He is forty-seven, which seems inconceivable, especially to him. Lately, however, he has begun to concede the battle, frequently ending conversations with young staff members by blurting, "I don't know -- I'm a fifty-year-old man! How am I supposed to know what you guys like?" It is his neck where mortality besets him most. "I got a bad neck," he says, often on the air, although he asks for no sympathy. He will not speak on the record about his neck. Suffice it to say, he is never not in acute agony, but is also unwilling to pursue corrective measures. If hugged around the neck, he brays like a mule. He lives in abject fear of headlocks. He would rather touch than be touched, although he enjoys nothing more than a woman's touch.

Women in his audience regularly ask to kiss his forehead. "The answer to that question," he says, "is, of course, under any circumstances, absolutely, yes!" I once asked him what a guest on his show should never do. "Number one: Don't frisk me," he said. "Don't hurt my physically. Don't get anywhere near my neck. And don't call me Regis."

Still, he goes not at all gently into middle age. He is a fellow who loves the rock 'n' roll, loves it loud, loves his Springsteen and Seger, Petty and Zevon, Counting Crows and Nine Inch Nails. He was riveted to Woodstock last summer.

His office stereo pumps only the hard-rock sounds of WNEW-FM. He prefers music to stoke him, never to sooth. (Under no circumstances does he wish to be soothed.) In diametric opposition to his idol, Carson, whose idol was Buddy Rich, Letterman hates jazz, regards it as "sleepy." (Within the Ed Sullivan Theater, bandleader Paul Shaffer is forbidden to play that which could be construed as esoteric.) He does, however, fancy bright classical music, is awed by conductor Sir Georg Solti, and is rendered limp by the Puccini aria "Nessun dorma," which he longs to have performed on his show. To his dismay, both Pavarotti and Domingo refused him when they appeared. "Oh, they can do it, for god's sake!" says Letterman, disgusted. "If you're a tenor, that's what you do!"

His happiest moments are the moments he is not himself. Most days, he yearns to be somebody else, and on many days he actually is. His credit for the recent film Cabin Boy, in which he winningly portrayed the part of Old Salt in Fishing Village, listed him as Earl Hofert. On the phone, he likes to assume disparate identities and expects nothing less from his inner circle of friends, among them comedians Jeff Altman and John Witherspoon and actress Bonnie Hunt.

Pure bliss, for Letterman, is committing crank calls on phone-in programs, his guise obscured and never dropped. On Tom Snyder's old ABC radio show and recent CNBC show, he would become various rural morons, seamless in their stupidity, always diverting the subject at hand. In stultifying detail, he would discourse on the new line of Miatas or share random snacking tips or compliment on-air guests on work they'd never done. Snyder indulges him as no other host might. "Larry King will never put up with me," says Letterman. "By the time you explain to Larry that you want to talk about sunspots and what they're doing to bill Clinton, you're gone." He prized the memory of his first Snyder call, before Snyder ever began catching on to him: "When I got off the phone I just couldn't sleep, I was so exhilarated by the experience!"

Perhaps his most significant performance in this genre came last February, the night Snyder's CNBC guest was New York Times television reporter Bill Carter, promoting his book, The Late Shift, which dissected matters Leno-Letterman. (Although Letterman made himself available to Carter in the book's reporting, he refused to read it passages, however, were eventually read aloud to him.) On this night, he was the first caller on the line, a husky-voiced trucker named Don from Kokomo, Indiana. Excerpts:

DON: I'm drivin', man. I'm on 465. It circles Indianapolis, it's an access road, and I got the cruise control hooked up. I'm doin' ninety-five miles an hour, and I got the lights off. How're you doin', buddy?

TOM: I'm okay, buddy. How're you?

DON: I'm in sand and gravel. when the sand and gravel comes in, they gotta have a man tell ya what's sand, what's gravel. That's me.

TOM: In other words, you pick the sand from the gravel?

DON: Well, not actually pick it. I have a trained eye. We ain't talkin' about cotton. say, whatever happened to that Doc McMahon? Remember him on that Johnny Carson?

TOM: No, no, no, no, Ed McMahon.

DON: Is he dead? Hey, Tom, I'm callin' to wish you a happy anniversary.

TOM: Okay, Don, thanks a million. Watch that speed now, Don.

DON: Yeah, well, hey, look -- I don't tell you how to run your little show!

Months later, Letterman told me that his lone goal in making the call, which went on interminably, was to keep Carter from talking about him for as long as possible. "I just didn't want to hear them talking about that bullshit," he said, as pleased with himself as I've ever seen.

Read it and Bleep: On that fateful night when Madonna said "fuck" thirteen times, she had her own Top Ten list. Had she
not crumpled it up and thrown it away, who knows how it might have changed the course of Late Show history. Here, then, for the first time, is Madonna's list.

My Top Ten Complaints About Dave:

10. Couldn't vogue if life depended on it.

9. Always asking, "Whatever happened to that nice Sean Penn?"

8. Stole his nickname, "Material Girl," from me.

7. Before sex, always asks, "Do you have any music for this, Paul?"

6. Can't fit entire Evian bottle down throat.

5. Driving isn't the only thing he does too fast, if you know what I mean.

4. His Top Ten lists keep getting lamer and lamer.

3. Calls the cops every time I break into his house.

2. Doesn't look good in a cone bra.

Deprivation is a leitmotiv in Letterman's existence. He likes to imagine he cannot have that which he clearly could. Not so long ago, he stood on the deck of coexecutive producer Peter Lassally's beautiful Malibu beach home, staring off into the Pacific. "I wish I could have something like this," he said, wistfully. "Dave," said Lassally, "you can." Luxury embarrasses him he prefers to believe himself undeserving. That he reportedly earns between $10 million and $14 million per year does not register at all. In his mind, he dwells but a heartbeat away from failure and ruin. His office in the Ed Sullivan Theater building is large and stark and spartan, nothing on the walls, shelves barren except for two Formula One race-car models and twenty-one bottles of hot sauce. ("I loves the hot sauce," he likes to say.) He allows in his midst no memorabilia or reminders of triumph. Says Diamond, whose outer wall is permitted just one photo of her boss, only because he's disguised as Santa Claus: "He still has that thing -- 'If this all tanks, if they get sick of me, I don't want to have to pack up anything I'm just gonna put my wallet in my back pocket and walk.'"

I recently asked him how he likes to indulge himself. "I'm not indulging myself -- that's the thing," he said. To stay preternaturally thin, he consumes one meal a day, always pasta on show days, to carbo-load. He hasn't touched alcohol in a decade. (When he guzzles vodka on TV, the bottles contain only water.) Lately, he has even sworn off his beloved cigars, although he keeps a handsome humidor full of Cuban Cohibas behind his desk and hundreds more at home. "I desperately miss them," he confesses, full of regret. "But, man, I'm telling you something -- it's a pleasure I'll go back to one day."

While few mortals have penetrated his Connecticut fortress (not counting deranged stalker Margaret Ray), it, too, is said to be simple and unremarkable, a big barn of a house, free of clutter. Each year, on his birthday and on Christmas, head writer Rob Burnett sneaks up to deposit mass quantities of condiments in Letterman's driveway (for it is only with condiments that Letterman will luxuriate).

If caught, Burnett will be invited inside to taste spoonfuls of hot sauce, a ritual of endurance that bonds the two men. "I go right up to the Bat Cave," Burnett acknowledges. "And whenever I'm done at his house, he always hypnotizes me before I leave, so I can't remember how to get there again." He reports that he has seen no signs of extravagance on the premises, except for Letterman's automobile collection. "That," he adds, "and, of course, the mink coats."

"I don't think women get over him," says Laurie Diamond, who regularly fields calls from ex-inamoratas resurfacing to reconnect. With women, of course, Letterman is mercury, quick to slip away, forever dispossessing his appeal. Besides housebreaker Margaret Ray, up to fifty other women are known to think he talks directly to them through the television. Many skulk around the theater one of them managed once to throw Letterman up against a wall for a long kiss. Likewise,
actresses and models -- Ellen Barkin, Vendela, Sarah Jessica Parker and Julia Roberts among them -- will flirt recklessly with him on camera and get nowhere. "It's just silliness," he says crankily. "It's like professional wrestling. I mean, how nuts would you have to be to get involved with an actress or a model?"

In general, he distrusts glamour, tends to be unnerved by women in makeup, and finds himself drawn only to unadorned wholesomeness and fierce brainpower. "There is something very appealing about smart women, intelligent women," he once told me. "And you can see the problem there: If they're smart enough for me to be interested, then they're not going to have anything to do with me. But I like somebody who is really, really smart. It just helps me overall in trying to turn the gaze from inward to outward."

Those who know him best speculate that he could, on any given Monday, show up for work, having quietly married girlfriend Regina Lasko over the weekend. It has yet to happen. It did happen once, long ago, back in Indiana, when he took himself a college bride, named Michelle Cook, for a term of seven years. "For what I put her through," he has said, "I should burn in hell for the rest of my life." Lasko, whose profile is kept so low as to be invisible, is said to be warm, devoted, bright and patient, now in her fifth year of involvement with Letterman. They met when she worked at Late Night, after which she became a production manager for Saturday Night Live, before quitting altogether last year.

Prior to Lasko, there was Merrill Markoe, the woman who arguably created Letterman, who was Late Night's first head writer, who withstood his life for more than a decade, and who survived to write obliquely about it on occasion. From her just-published book of essays, "How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me," Markoe warns women to avoid men who walk fast: "I mean walking half a block ahead of you, no matter how fast you walk, and never slowing down to accommodate you. An informal poll I have been taking for a number of years has convinced me that these fast-walking guys also have terrible tempers and commitment problems."

Before her October Late Show appearance to promote the book, Markoe and Letterman hadn't spoken for six years. "We've exchanged some letters, just casualness, casu -- I almost said casualties, but that's not right," he says. "I mean, looking back at the end of that relationship, it was so unpleasant and mostly my fault. You know, I don't know how to do things with women. She was so good and so smart and just so decent, so I feel like, if there's anything I can ever do for her, I would
do it nine times. I just don't know how to behave, you know? I don't know how you break up with people."

There sits Harry Joe Letterman, one of seventeen men at a long table, gray men in suits fixed with boutonnieres, in a photograph my mother gave me. (My grandfather is one of the men.) It is a thirty-year-old picture taken at an FTD meeting in Michigan. Bespectacled Hoosier florist H. Joe Letterman, as he was known, looks at once dignified and sweetly goofy, about ready to cut loose. "Look at these guys!" his son was saying, studying the picture and chortling, "Don't they look like the old steel and coal robber barons? He loved going to Detroit for this stuff. Oh, he was a big talker! What he was not so good at was actually running the store. But this stuff was his lifeblood, you know?"

We were, for the moment, holed up in a conference room above the Ed Sullivan Theater, where he now runs the store. And now he was recalling the annual summer fishing excursions he and his father made to a local reservoir: "We did it right up till the time he died," he said. "It wasn't really a ritual. In those days, he was drinking heavily and I was drinking heavily, so it always seemed like a good excuse to go out and get drunk while you were fishing. We used it for that pretense. I mean, how could you live with yourself, going to a tavern with your dad to get shit-faced? So our actual purpose for fishing was to go get loaded. I mean, we never caught a fish. I mean nothin'. Not ever."

The widow of H. Joe Letterman has, meanwhile, made much of her sunset years, having recently earned great acclaim as a Winter Olympics network correspondent. (During the two weeks of her satellite-fed Late Show reports from Norway, her son had never appeared more professionally rattled.) The former Dorothy Letterman, mother of two daughters and one son, is now the wife of a decorated World War II glider pilot named Hans.

Her son gave her away -- "so to speak," he says -- ten years ago, back home in Indianapolis. As with many complex men, he is who he is largely because of his mother. "It wasn't until my dad died that I realized my mother is the least demonstrative person in the world," Letterman has said. Never certain what she thought of him, he always assumed the worst, manufacturing a persona to match. "For a long time, she told her friends that I was in prison," he said last year, reprising
a favorite projection. "It was easier for her to deal with that ignominy than saying, Well, he's hosting a TV show." In particular, he has held close the memory of her reaction to his woeful high school record: "At one point my grades were so awful that she wanted to enroll me in a trade school," he says. "Dad had less of an interest in it than Mom. It was just that she was very concerned about my lack of academic accomplishment. But, I tell you, it doesn't seem to bother her now when she gets that fifty-dollar check every week."

Carson had waited an hour before Letterman showed up at Granita. It was the night before the Emmys, and Letterman was hosting a party for his staff, as he does every September, at Wolfgang Puck's seaside restaurant. Carson had come, an invited guest, to demonstrate his great fondness for Letterman. A couple of years earlier, Carson had turned up at the event and signed for the tab. "I think he was under the impression the dinner was just me and Peter and Morty and our dates," says Letterman. "So he said, 'I'll take care of it.' and it turned out to be eighty people, and it cost him twelve grand!"

This time, however, Carson and his wife Alex, were to be treated in kind. After all, it had been a year in which Carson made three cameo appearances on Late Show, something he has yet to do for Leno's Tonight Show, the implications of which are thunderous. (For Letterman, there was no greater thrill than visiting Carson in his dressing room the night of his memorable walk-on last May. "In all those years I did The Tonight Show, I have these memories of Carson coming by my dressing room before the show to say hello," he says. "You couldn't believe how cool that was. And so to be able to go up and see him in his dressing room at my show -- I mean, the full-circle nature of that was maybe more meaningful than I can explain.")

But now Letterman was late, having spent the afternoon at a racing school out in Ventura. And Carson waited. And Carson does not wait. But he didn't mind waiting. And when Letterman arrived, wild and windblown, the two men fell into easy conversation, a phenomenon to which neither is especially prone. And when a woman approached the table and commented on Letterman's height, Carson sparked and twinkled and murmured, Carson-like, "Oh, he's a large man!" And he kept going: "Oh, he enormous. That's one big guy." And he did not stop: "God, he's practically a freak. Stand up and let us see how big you are!" And Letterman, feeling bigger than usual, which is not all that big, paid for dinner.

Most probably he came late because he did not want to believe Carson was there, much less believe what it meant. In his mind, however, Carson is always there, right there -- looming gracefully, representing life unachievable. Carson wore power well, wore it effortlessly. "You know," says Letterman, "he's never gonna be on television again. And he shouldn't. He doesn't need to go on television. He's got nothing more to prove. I mean, thirty years! And he really seems contented now he's getting no less enjoyment out of his life."

Letterman cannot fathom such contentment for himself: "I can't imagine myself operating at a different level of activity," he says pensively. "I can't imagine that. I hope to hell that I could, but . " He shrugs and says, "You know, you run fast, you smell bad." E! Entertainment Television, which now broadcasts Letterman's old Late Night shows, was airing a promo in which he says, "It's not so much a television show as a nightly desperate plea for help!" Laurie Diamond tells me, "Whenever I see that, I think he's just telling us the truth here. At that desk, he's working out this angst that most of us work out on the couch."

Every night before the show, he is led through the catacombs of the Ed Sullivan Theater, up to the stage. On the way, he will toss a football over a pipe, a ritual that indicates whether he will do well or fail, depending on the trajectory of the ball. He takes torment wherever he can find it. One night, Madonna tormented him and he prevailed, but he thought he had failed and let down a nation. Only now, a half-year later, had he relented: "She made me uncomfortable for about twelve minutes," he says, "but, good Lord, we got huge attention for it." (He is less sure of his reconciliation appearance with her at the MTV Awards. "It may have been ill-conceived, but at the very least, it made for a lovely photo.")

Still, the first thing he does each morning is scour the overnight ratings, surveying his kingdom, taking nothing for granted. One week in September, for the first time ever, early numbers suggested he was being beaten by Leno. During that week, on a night when his studio audience was particularly lackluster, he grew morose. At a commercial break, he looked helplessly at Morty and said, "This is an audience who's watching somebody who lost." In the end, of course, he won the week, but his panic was palpable. I visited him after his final show that week, a fine romp of a broadcast featuring Sylvester Stallone and Public Enemy.

That night, I spoke with a man a-jangle, still operating under the notion that his world had collapsed, that he was a loser after all. He was warm and funny, but also antsy, and he couldn't wait to get home. Shortly thereafter, he learned that his winning streak had gone unbroken. The following Friday night, we spoke again -- this time on the telephone. To purge doubt, it had been a week in which he pushed himself harder than ever and won handily. Before coming to the phone, he had endured a photo session, an activity he despises. (For optimum results, Barbara Gaines will sometimes stand nearby and chant, "Happy Dave! Happy Dave!")

"Oh, I'm exhausted!" he said, getting on the line. We talked for a while about his passion for old British films, for Myrna Loy, for tales of unrequited love. He told me of how the original versions of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" reduce him to tears. "Those'll just drop ya in a minute," he said. After ten minutes, however, his tone plummeted. I broached the subject of anxiety.

"The anxiety in me is now starting to build to unbelievable proportions," he said irritably. "This has been such a long, grueling week for me. I've just had my picture taken, and now I'm still talkin' to you. and you, of all people, must know by now that I have nothin' to say! Let me ask you a question: Does it sound like I'm hangin' up?"

Actually, it did for a second, but he recovered and was able to laugh a little. And then he hung up. Fortunately, Monday would come again in a few days, and he would have an hour to feel better.

Traditional Tomato and Mozzarella Bruschetta Recipe

A traditional Italian bruschetta is undoubtedly an appetiser which everyone enjoys. The sweet taste of ripe tomatoes on a bed of crispy, baguette bread is always a good choice, and our recipe below certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Serve with a side of fresh salad and a crisp white or rosé wine to start off your evening.


  1. Finely slice your baguette and cook in the oven for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and leave to cool.
  2. Slice the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a pan with garlic and olive oil, then marinate each side into the mixture.
  4. Slice the mozzarella and apply as the first layer on the baguette. Follow up with the diced tomato, chopped olives, sprinkle of olive oil, and finish with a leaf of basil.

Johnny Carson: The Man Who Retired

There are nights, he will tell you, that he finds himself back where he was, back where we had him, before we could not have him anymore. "I still, believe it or not, have dreams in which I am late for The Tonight Show," he will say. "It's a performer's nightmare, apparently. I've checked with other people, and it occurs to them frequently. And it's frightening. Because I'm not prepared. It's show time and I'm going on-and I've got nothing to say! Jesus! I wake up in a sweat. It's now been ten years since I've been done with the job. But I will be back there-it was two-thirds of my adult life, remember-and people at the show will be as real and fresh and current as ever in the dream, and all of a sudden, I'm having to go on and I'm not prepared. You revisit the whole thing. You think you're on the air. And you're not ready. You hit the wall."

He persists, as such, in the subconscious, his own and also the collective one that is ours. He is ingrained, burnished, lodged deep. Like no one else in a lifetime, his was the last face flickering onto the brain before so many billions of slumbers. Like sun and moon and oxygen, he was always there, reliable and dependable, for thirty years. Then he wasn't anymore. And he didn't just simply leave: He vanished completely he evaporated into cathode snow he took the powder of all powders. He did not even wean himself away. Granted, in that first year or so afterward, there were a handful of televised glimpses- a brief presentation at the American Teachers Awards followed by a fleeting, obligatory walk-on to pay birthday tribute to nonagenarian Bob Hope (truly, the final monologue he ever delivered) followed by the Kennedy Center Honors (he wore his new gleaming medal in the balcony, enthroned beside the Clintons, and was shown reacting, inaudibly, to platitudes issued from the stage below) and then there were a pair of sly wordless cameos on Letterman's Late Show (and one voiced cameo on The Simpsons), beyond which there would be nothing more, since there will be nothing more. He is gone, quite definitely. He is mum, almost intractably. He has told me this, and many other things, privately and generously and always hilariously. He is the Garbo of Comedy, the Salinger of Television, and, I will attest, one hell of a rollicking lunch. At lunch, he sips red wine and spins golden tales and imparts biting commentary and pays with a C-note. Also, he can do without lettuce on the turkey burger. He is gone, yes, but he is also still right here, flashing the mischievous wide white enamel, eyes twinkling in bright steely blue. He looks like a warm, sun-soaked monument-impervious and noble and, per his preference, partially veiled.
Here, but of course, is John William Carson, civilian, president-emeritus of American Humor, seventy-six years in life, one decade in remove, sharp as a shiv, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-omniscient, and a potential consultant for the federal witness protection program. Here, indeed, is Johnny, and he is fine, thanks. Or, as he will tell you, should you ask: "I'm fine, thanks." (He is shyly succinct like that.) Since his elegant abdication from public view-on the woeful night of May 22, 1992-I have occasionally borne personal witness to his fineness during visits to the Santa Monica office suite that until weeks ago housed his production company, a small enterprise that has masterfully archived his legacy. (I had made friends with his loyal staff of three and would drop by for semi-regular fresh fixes of Carsonian proximity.) Usually, he was not around, but sometimes he would come ambling along the quiet corridors and pop through a door and make funny banter-and, in an out-of-body sort of fashion, I would banter back while realizing that this lively, compact, white-haired man in blue jeans was Johnny Fucking Carson and that, like a thousand fools before me, I was trying to make him laugh and, when he did laugh (he is very polite), I felt new reason to continue living. I recall one such bull session in 1996 when the topic turned to the forthcoming HBO film, The Late Shift, which dissected all Leno-Letterman dramaturgy as prompted by his own retirement. "Can you believe that awful shit? It's just ridiculous," he said chuckling, fully bemused by the shambles left in his wake. Whereupon I kidded about the casting of impressionist Rich Little, who played him in the film. He rolled his eyes, as only he can, thus implying volumes, as only he could. Largely, what he would imply most in such moments was that the world-while hardly utopian during his long heroic reign-had merely gone straight to hell during his absence.

"I think I left at the right time," he says now. "You've got to know when to get the hell off the stage, and the timing was right for me. The reason I really don't go back or do interviews is because I just let the work speak for itself." Inasmuch, I have come to know that he is far better than simply fine he is supremely self-assured of his place in the firmament, secure about the lasting worth of that which he quit doing for television cameras, and for his country. He is contented in a way wise humans can only aspire to be, but rarely are. Always with a shrug and a whiff of final punctuation, he regularly repeats to friends and family three short words: "I did it." Nobody argues.

Living as a satisfied apparition, however, offers small solace for wistful masses that are forced to solely subsist on a strict limited diet of refreshed memory-on wee-hour infomercials for videotape and DVD compilations of his spriest Tonight Show moments, or on the interactive pleasures pulsing within . Still, people wonder about him-about what exactly it is that he has been doing with himself since disappearing. Therefore, as the tenth anniversary of his Final Night began to draw near, I did not ask Johnny Carson so much as warmly inform him in a letter that I would be commemorating that milestone by collecting tales of his retirement years from cronies and colleagues. If he wished to offer me any ground rules, I urged him to please do so. He called shortly after reading the letter and said, "There are no ground rules at all. If anybody wants to take a shot at me, I don't care anymore." He also cheerfully started telling me things about his life of late. As suddenly as that, the King sounded ready to play again.

There is sharp focus in his look, even right now. His eyes brighten widely as they absorb what you say. Those steely-blues, as Ed calls them, are nowadays set in a somewhat fuller face, but a face posed to laugh as ever before. The genial countenance is unchanged from memory, as he answers innocent questions and asks some of his own. Has any man asked more questions with more people watching him do so? So many thousands of those questions he gave not one shit about, but it looked as if he did, as if he really wanted to know. And now, here we are, making with the small talk, at his conference table, early on a February afternoon, sitting kitty-corner, a few feet between us, him tilting back in his chair, sunburned fingers laced behind his head he reaches for his hot coffee mug once in awhile, then resumes laced-finger recline. Because he knows you have been learning things about him, he asks: "So who have you talked to?" He likes asking questions when no one is watching, it turns out. He likes hearing the latest still.

When a famous man fades from view, you presume dark reasons for such. You gather that grave illness has befallen him. You suspect he is no longer who he was and therefore wishes to enshroud that which he has become in secrecy. Those who know Johnny Carson know better. Even when he was on view regularly, he was barely seen anywhere other than on television screens. His gift for hiding in plain sight has never diminished. Nonetheless, when his heart was refurbished by sudden necessity (via quadruple bypass) three years ago, widespread speculation concluded that health had been the cause of his invisibility all along. His friends, on the other hand, shared a much different reaction. Said television producer George Schlatter, who had been whale-watching with Carson two weeks before the operation: "I didn't know whether it was for real or whether he was just trying to get out of going to a party."

Parties, absolutely, have forever been his scourge. If forced to attend any gathering, he is usually seen in a corner performing sleight-of-hand with quarters. But since he is rarely present in sizeable company, his profile stays near subterranean. "He's great with ten million people he's not great with ten," says the ever gregarious Ed McMahon. "He can handle three or four, but ten gets a little pressed for him." ("Ed's always been a guy who thrives on social contact," he will note. "I'm just the opposite in personality, you know.") But there is one exception he makes gladly, and that is for the occasional convergences of the Gourmet Poker Club, a kibbitz klatch of exalted show business pedigree. Besides himself, the membership includes only seven others: Steve Martin, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Chevy Chase, mogul Barry Diller, and producers David Chasman and Dan Melnick, the latter of whom originated the game in New York during the '60s and began hosting it in his Beverly Hills home in the early '70s. (Because Melnick employed a sublime personal chef, the club earned its gustatory moniker.) When games occur, which is barely more than six times in a year, they occur always on Wednesday nights at seven-thirty, with dinner served at nine, then back to the table until after eleven. They sit and bet and needle as a circular Rushmore. Chase recalls a night when a delivery guy walked into the room and beheld the assemblage: "The look on his face was utterly gorgeous, like he had seen a poster that had come to life, that couldn't possibly be real. He had to put it out of his mind right away or he was going to wet himself."

"It's the most feminine game in the history of cards," says Martin, who took over hosting chores from Melnick. ("I'm the low-fat host," he asserts.) "It's really about socializing and eating. We're exhausted by ten-thirty." Says Reiner, "Actually, the card game becomes secondary the minute somebody has a good story to tell. There's a lot of 'Come on, fellas, let's get back to the cards!'" As women have never been welcome at the table, Chasman notes, "We refer to it as our only homosexual pursuit. The remarks uttered throughout are usually very, very sharp. But then the game is conducted under the seal of a confessional." (Chasman designed the club logo-a King of Clubs wearing a toque-which has been affixed to baseball caps, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, blazer pins and the like.) At the most recent game, held February 13, Tom Hanks came to play back-up chair and, as with all guest back-ups, he was given the coffee mug stenciled THE PIGEON. (According to Melnick, by the way, "Johnny won't show up if he knows there's going to be more than one outsider at the table.")

As for the poker night proclivities of member Carson, member Chase says: "He folds and then mumbles throughout the rest of the game, while everybody else is betting. He mumbles and hums tunes. It's pretty cute. His mind is always at work. If it's not at work on a tune, he's mumbling about a world event or something. He's very topical. When Johnny's not there, we don't laugh as hard. But there are things said at that table that can never be said in public. Nobody is safe."

There hangs a forlorn photograph outside his office. When jokes died worst, he smelled burnt almonds, he said, or somebody said it and he liked it. That was the stench of comic death, acrid and bitter, for sure. And that would be the epitaph. At the end, they hung a CLOSED sign on the corner of his desk, as a gag. They dimmed the studio lights and snapped the grim picture. Below it are the words: THE SMELL OF BURNT ALMONDS. He stands before this tableau now, with his back turned to it. He has seen it so often, he doesn't see it at all anymore. He smells nothing but his own cologne and the coffeemaker and, sometimes, the sea on his clothes.

How it came to this: On his 4,530th night, which was his last one, he left the air and climbed into clouds. Per his instruction, an emotional- rescue mission was deployed to swiftly pluck him, via helicopter, from the teary backwash spilling through the Tonight Show studio, where he had just tendered his on-camera resignation. Within minutes, he and his blond bride, the former Alexis Maas (the fourth Mrs. Carson), had risen high above NBC's Burbank quadrant, leaving behind lachrymose staff members and a puddling audience of invited guests. (More to the point was dodging thick flocks of media buzzards eager to pounce.) "When he finished, off he went," recalls Ed McMahon, Gibraltar of all TV sidekicks, deskside balance beam nonpareil. "He grabbed Alex and walked right by me without a look, so intent was he on getting the hell out of there." The Carsons thus choppered away home to Malibu, presidential-exit style. At their Point Dume bluff-top compound, the Olympian-sized tennis courts had been tented for a massive bacchanal immediately to follow, an event of unprecedented proportion on Carson grounds. (Hosting was what he did only on television, not in actual life.) This was to be the King's final gesture of gratitude to his devoted subjects, a lavish, grand Irish wake: Everyone associated with the program, including studio pages and security guards, and all of their families would come and feast and dance and drink and try to begin making sense of what exactly had just happened. The legendary Les Brown and His Band of Renown, meanwhile, swung up the joint till the cows came home. "It was, I tell you, one helluva party," says McMahon, who knows from revels.

But what had happened, of course, had been happening for months, as exodus encroached, as those who had ever taken the fluid Carson constancy for granted started to slowly envision a nightscape without him. His imminent flight-after twenty-nine years, six months and three weeks of unflinching servitude-riled deep abandonment issues across the land. A nation bargained and rationalized in vain. David Letterman told me months afterward: "It was sort of like a doctor telling you, 'Well, we've looked at the x-rays and your legs are perfectly healthy, but we're still going to amputate them.' You think, 'Whaaa? Why is he going?'" Carson, for his part, gently soothed amid the panic. Two nights before the end, Roseanne Arnold plaintively asked him, "Why do you have to do this? Why do you have to quit?" He blushed and replied: "I'll tell you why-I want to quit when I'm on top of my game. Beverly Sills, who's a wonderful opera singer, once said, 'I would much rather have people say to me at a party, Beverly, why did you quit singing, rather than why didn't you quit?' You know? So I think you go out when everything's going great and you still enjoy it." (To which Roseanne blurted back, "But what are we supposed to do?!") Nevertheless, even he showed wry flashes of ambivalence: That same night, in his monologue, he said queasily, "I feel like the last lobster in the tank and the waiter is rolling up his sleeve." Or, weeks earlier, commenting on the presidential primary campaigns: "They say today that Paul Tsongas may get back in after quitting . . . Can you do that? I just wondered . . ."

Largely, however, he remained the picture of Nebraskan stoicism that fateful spring, while famous guests came to crease his couch and pay farewell homage. The most public of private men, and vice versa, he once said, "I will not even talk to myself without an appointment." (Kenneth Tynan, in his landmark 1978 New Yorker profile, wrote that in off-camera conversations with Carson, "you get the impression that you are addressing an elaborately wired security system.") During his march toward oblivion, he gave no soul-searching goodbye interviews, even as media-keening saturated the zeitgeist. ("My God," he said, slightly mortified, "the Soviet Union's end didn't get this kind of publicity!") Only in his penultimate broadcast on May twenty-first-a bravura hour that would earn an Emmy award-did the armor visibly buckle.

On that night, mist rolled over him and snuffling ensued. This was the night Bette Midler serenaded him twice, once at the desk with special lyrics to "You Made Me Love You," once from the stage at the very end, heartrendingly so, with Sinatra's saloon signature, "One More For the Road" (". . . Well, that's how it goes / and, John, I know you're getting anxious to close . . ."). But then, somewhere in between, they softly fell into a quavering little impromptu duet of his favorite song, "Here's That Rainy Day"-and no dry eye beheld the spectacle. (Johnny, suddenly freed of self-consciousness, was singing-leading, really-a wistful torch-lullaby to himself!) Robin Williams, who sat beside Midler on the panel, recalls the frisson of it all: "When she leaned in, you could see him well up. I was three feet away, thinking, Uh-oh, the King is about to go! You felt the whole place get a group goosebump. It was the most intimate big moment you will ever see." As credits rolled afterward, what wasn't seen at home was a curtain call-the host and his two final guests joined hands and took a stage bow for the exhilarated studio occupants whose roar could be heard under the fade-out music. Says Midler, still overcome: "We all just about passed out. It was so electric and gorgeous I couldn't watch it for years. I wanted to remember it the way I remembered it."

Carson, in case you wondered, has since watched the tape more than once-he reviews every Tonight Show video marketed to the public-and, each time, feels the same emotions rear up. Mention Bette Midler to him even now and his countenance glows: "Well, she is remarkable." Of the spontaneous combustion attendant, he has said, "You couldn't re-create it, ever." Privately, he considers it the most magical hour of his televised life. Indeed, the truth is, he wanted to end his career that very night and forego the ultimate farewell show. In aftermath, his brain trust of producers, all nearly as spent as he was, descended to his dressing room and half-jokingly declared, "We can't come back tomorrow and follow that!" He fixed them with a look that meant business and said, "You're right. Let's not come back at all. Let's just not even come back."

"Feel like grabbing some lunch?" he says, and quickly rises, and lopes, for he is a loper, into the next office to ascertain reservation plans from wondrous Helen. And then you follow him past the hanging magazine covers featuring his younger face, and you enter the elevator with him. His sweater is camel color and snug across his broad chest. He wears black pants into whose pockets he jams his hands, just as he often did between monologue jokes. You notice that he goes unnoticed, that perhaps because he has conditioned people to no longer see him, they cannot see him even when he is right in front of them. Heads do not turn, really. Outdoors, tucked in a corner table, facing the rest of the patio, he lifts his Cabernet and says, "Well, cheers," and clinks glasses.

Of course, per duty and closure, he came back the next night, very quietly. The audience that packed into the proscenium was strictly limited to friends of the show and families of the staff. By dint of minor miracle, I was there, too. It was, I will tell you, a surreal affair, at once momentous and triumphant and pristinely solemn. The room crackled with schizoid apprehension: We were there, with great privilege, to see something we really didn't want to see. For me, it is a nervous memory, mostly blurred. I remember only that I closely watched a man do that which nobody had ever done better and which he would never do again. Also, I watched him lower his drawbridge and dispatch with his guard. Here was a man taking himself off the air, alone. (His faithful supports-i.e., Ed and Doc-kept to their stations but for one final convergence at the desk.) Perched on a center-stage stool, at outset and end, he uncased himself and unshelled all sentiment. During commercial breaks he would josh toward the audience to soften self-consciousness, focusing his gaze near his wife and sons and sister and brother. During montage reels showcasing his pantheon of guests, he studied his monitor and chuckled or gave private smiles or merrily mouthed along with time-capsule moments stuck in his head. But there was no real escape from naked truth.

"And so," he said, at very last, "it has come to this. I am one of the lucky people of the world. I found something I've always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. . . . I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. I hope that when I find something that I want to do, and I think you will like, and come back, that you will be as gracious inviting me into your home as you have been." Then: "I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight." And so all of us stood and he stood as well. And Doc and the band played "I'll Be Seeing You." And no one stopped standing or applauding. And he absorbed the affection, never once trying to quell it, and his eyes glistened and he did not wipe them at all. And the broadcast ended, which meant (like the night before) people at home could not know that he remained standing there, with tears now about to trickle down, looking at us continue to give him his due for several more minutes. He aimed the silent words I love you at family a few different times. And then he was gone. Once at home, he would dance into the night.

He forgets nothing. Begin to mention the title of an obscure medieval sketch he performed in 1969: "The Black Shield of-" And he will finish for you: "-of Frelman." Things he did on local television half a century ago he describes with acute detail, stories of working with Red Skelton and radio great Fred Allen ("Nobody knows who the hell Fred Allen is anymore"). He will tell you the first line he spoke on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1955 and what he was paid for the appearance and do hilarious impressions of Sullivan-and re-create his favorite Sullivan faux pas: "One night, he said, 'Ah, yesss, right here in our studio audience tonight, we have some young-sterrrs back from Viet Nam, some of them are amputees. And we've invited them to come see our shoeeee tonight. I'm not going to ask them all to stand up-' I rolled off the couch, screaming! 'I'm not gonna ask them all to stand up. ' Because they would fall on their asses! He was marvelous." And then, in the next breath, he will say, "But nobody knows who Sullivan is now. He had the biggest show in America that went off in '71, thirty-one years ago. Why should they remember him?"

His voice is different now. It has climbed in register, sounds a little cottony, and it throws you for a second or two. It is, after all, an underplayed instrument, a reed long out of practice. Through seven presidential administrations, his edgy rasp essayed the perfect pitch of national incredulity, always with subtle phrasing and precise shading. Like Sinatra, he knew just how to swing slightly ahead of the beat, seemingly without effort, and make the music of his monologues feel definitive. (The Carson version of events was the version you danced to first.) Once his chords ceased flexing over public air, they began to husk up, catching friends by surprise. But the inflection and elocutionary crispness remain intact, as does his instinct to mine headlines for fresh absurdism. "You know what's still happening to me?" he told Ed McMahon several months into his new life. "I wake up in the morning, have coffee, start reading the newspapers-and then I reach for a pencil. I start circling items: 'This would be perfect for the monologue.' Turn the page: 'That could work for a sketch.' And by the third page, I realize: Who the hell am I going to do this for? The fish? Am I going to stand out here on the cliff and yell jokes over into the ocean?" Dan Melnick, tells me: "He constantly says that's the only frustration in giving up the show, that when something huge breaks in the news, he can't jump on it. During the last election, with the chads and the recounts, he was going crazy. Then he finally sighed and said, 'Well, it's all too easy.'"

But, in truth, the new material still flows from him, because he is unable to quiet that corner of his brain. "Can you believe this Enron mess?" he will lately start in, then go off on George W's flip-flopping: "I love how his good friend 'Kenny Boy' suddenly turned into 'Mr. Lay' . . . Give me a break! It will be a long time before we ever understand what's going on behind that story." Like so, he pounces on all cultural incongruity with bloodlust of old. He culls topicality at his own pace, toys with set-ups and pay-offs, then waits to unload the arsenal on confidantes, usually over the telephone. "He gets on a run and just becomes giddy," says Peter Lassally, who was co-executive producer of the Carson Tonight Show. "He's so full of enthusiasm, the phone receiver almost vibrates." NBC president Bob Wright and his wife Suzanne, longtime travel companions of the Carsons, get regular doses: "He calls us frequently, or we call him," says Wright, "and he's always got current jokes that come so unexpectedly, so rapid-fire, four or five in a row like bullets, that I forget them. We ask him all the time, 'Do you regret it now? Do you regret leaving?' And he says, 'No. No, I don't.'" Sometime in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, however, Wright answered his phone and heard: "It's John. I regret it now." Then: "I haven't seen such an abundance of material in my life! This is just unbelievable. It's almost funnier than any jokes you could make."

On the other hand, he did not envy the task laid before his late-night progeny-Letterman, Leno, et al-after cataclysm befell the nation last September, when each one of them roiled with self-doubt and nonetheless wondered, What Would Johnny Do? Leno, in fact, reached out for advice, calling Jeff Sotzing, the former Tonight Show producer who oversees Carson Productions and whose mother is Johnny's sister. Sotzing relayed back his uncle's only suggestion: "Whenever you feel comfortable, just go back and do what you do best. And don't makes jokes about the president." (Leno returned on the night following Letterman's first gut-wrenching September 17th broadcast from a shattered New York.) Carson's own tenure, for certain, withstood a grim spectrum of atrocity and strife-encompassing the Cuban missile crisis, Viet Nam, the explosions of Apollo 1 and the space shuttle Challenger, the Gulf war, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and two Kennedy brothers, amid so much more. The murder of JFK, in particular, resonates as the most devastating event from which he worked to help his country recover. On November 22, 1963, he was not quite fourteen months onto the job and, that day, had been solo piloting a small plane around the skies of New York. (Find your irony where you wish.) He learned the news upon landing at Teterboro-"Somebody said to me, 'Kennedy's been killed' and I thought it was like a joke"-but then quickly knew he would not be doing a show that night or any night soon.

"I think we stayed off for close to a week," he will tell you. "What could you do? It just wasn't right. You've gotta lay back in the weeds and wait till things cool down. You know when it's time to go back. You just feel it. There are no rules. The Kennedy assassination, the death of a young president-it was terrible, but I don't think it compared with the loss of three thousand people. When we did go back, though, I remember getting a letter from some lady, who wrote, 'How dare you? How could you go back on the air?' So I replied to her, on the air, 'Why are you watching? If you're so deep in grief, why are you watching television?' But you had to go back. You go on. That is your job."

As with most all of his first ten years of New York based broadcasts, the tapes of those tentative nights were long ago erased. But he will tell you that he watched tapes of the new boys going back and that he was pleased that they did, because that is what you are supposed to do.
He went back four weeks after his son Ricky was killed. This was the July before he ended his career. Rick Carson was just thirty-nine and a scenic photographer, whose Pathfinder had plunged down a coastal mountainside while he positioned for a picture. At his desk, at the close of the show, the father commemorated the son's life-"When Rick was around, you wanted to smile. He had a laugh that was contagious as could be. He tried so darn hard to please . . ." He selected some of his son's beautiful nature photos for a montage that quietly ended the program. "Probably the most difficult moment of my life," he said of that piece. "It makes you very conscious of what's important when you lose a child," he will also say. In 1995, when Ed McMahon lost a forty-four year old son to cancer, he called to tell his large friend, "Not a day will go by that you won't think of him."

There is a new girl attending to him today, who takes his turkey burger order, then returns flustered to ask how he would like it prepared (medium). "They never asked before!" he says, tickled by this. "How long have I been ordering that here?" It arrives under a towering alp of shredded lettuce, which he begins to scoop off with a fork. "I really don't want all this lettuce," he says, and the girl stammers apologies. He tells her sweetly, "That's alright, darling. It's not your fault. It's just too much stuff." And he gives her a wink. He always winked, by the way, when complimenting comics on their stuff. Good stuff, he'd say, which meant the comic could expect the offer of a sitcom deal the next day, solely because of the Carson benediction. Meanwhile, your own entree arrives, a piece of meat the size of Utah, and, winking again, he says, "You can come back and finish that tonight, if you want to."

"Johnny, I want to give you a little advice: When you retire, get dressed every morning. You don't want to sit around all day in your pajamas-you lose some dignity." Such was the pearl dispensed to him by the elderly mother of postal worker Cliff Clavin, on an episode of Cheers, titled "Heeeeeere's . . . Cliffy!", broadcast two weeks before the end. "Thank you, Mrs. Clavin, he said, playing himself, a role no one else would presume to attempt. In retirement, he has played himself almost entirely in casual wear, knotting a necktie next to never after having been required to do so for more than four thousand nights on television alone. (Consistently the epitome of sartorial snap, his signature line of suits and sport coats for years filled racks at better haberdasheries everywhere.) Nowadays, he is all open-collar and crewneck and denim, although his comportment remains as formally ramrod-erect as in fond memory. (Asked during the final march by actor James Woods to choose a word he would like have applied to him for the rest of his life, he replied: "Rigidity." He may not have been thinking posture, however.) Still, he has grown into one loose and carefree customer, shambling about without schedule, taking his wife to afternoon movies, playing morning tennis with a neighbor, consuming hundreds of books (cleaving toward nature, science and history), going for long lunches near his office, most often in a patio corner at Schatzi on Main (opened by Arnold Schwarzenegger) or next door at the somewhat stark and fancier Chaya Venice. Also, he has given up his beloved sleek white Corvette (in which he famously drove himself to work each day), in favor of cruising around town in a silver-gray Lexus SUV, which followed a most happy stint with a Ford Explorer. (He discovered in retirement that he likes riding up high on The Tonight Show, by the way, his chair always sat him a tad higher than his guests.) He keeps a Mercedes as well, but barely ever ignites its engine.

Because man in repose needs possibilities to ponder, he signed a new long-term contract with NBC seven weeks after leaving The Tonight Show-a so-called housekeeping deal to develop or star in various specials and such. Upon signing, however, he told entertainment chief Warren Littlefield, "I'm not ready to go to work on Monday." ("Fine," said Littlefield. "I'll call Tuesday.") "That's why we set up this office," says Helen Sanders, his executive assistant and major domo of Carson Productions headquarters in Santa Monica. "He fully intended to do new projects, but once he got here, nothing appealed to him. After a while, he said, 'You know what? I'm not going to do anything.'" He had reached that conclusion in very short order, rationalizing: "What would I do that I couldn't do on The Tonight Show, and do it better?" The idea of hosting specials, in general, had long made him queasy. ("Dear John, all of your shows are Specials," Kenneth Tynan wrote to him in a beseeching 1979 letter, when Carson first flirted with the idea of quitting for new pursuits. "What other TV format would give you the freedom to improvise, to take off and fly, to plunge into the unpredictable? Carson scriptbound would be Carson straight-jacketed.") Moreover, he feared the specter of actually losing in the ratings, of risking the embarrassment of failure after a life of only dominating. As he told Tom Shales in the Washington Post, on the eve of the December 1993 Kennedy Center Honors (his one interview in the last eleven years): "So you go on at nine o'clock at whatever night and you get killed and you say, 'Why am I doing this? For my ego? For the money?' I don't need that anymore. I have an ego like anybody else, but it doesn't need to be stoked by going before the public all the time." Which is to say, it is his ego-and only his ego-that has, in fact, kept him away from the public all these years. As with so many mere mortals who tried for decades, he knows no triumph can come from competing with the legend that was Johnny Carson.

Resigned to launching no future projects, his production company thus re-dedicated itself to protecting the posterity of his Tonight Show canon-not that it mattered to him one way or another. Nephew Jeff Sotzing proposed an elaborate process of preserving the storehouse of tapes. Carson replied, "Why don't we just make guitar picks out of them. I couldn't care less." More than four thousand hours of re-mastered tape are, nonetheless, now archived in a climate-controlled, fire-resistant, earthquake-resistant vault located 650 feet underground in a Hutchinson, Kansas salt mine. "It's probably the largest, most comprehensive television library in the world," says Sotzing, who, via digital cataloging and Federal Express, can retrieve any tape within twenty-four hours. And it was from this vast trove that golden nuggets were sifted into the mail-order likes of The Ultimate Carson Collection and the twelve-volume Classic Carson Moments, which have sold millions of units, greatly due to late-night infomercial lure. (Per said infomercials and their ubiquity, Doc Severinsen told me the following true story: "A couple of months ago, my wife and I had fallen asleep with the television on. About 2 AM, I hear the sound of The Tonight Show, and I wake up and this thing is running and it looked like the show was actually on. I bolted up in bed and thought, 'Oh, my God! I'm late for work!'")

Typically, Carson is both proud and self-conscious of the video packages that showcase his ineffable art. He alone deems which clips are worthy of resurfacing in the marketplace. "We don't want to make it look like a rendering plant, digging into the marrow," he will say, cautiously. "Whatever we put out, we want to have some decent quality. I don't just want to put the stuff out because we have it." Even so, he was intrigued to learn that sales had jumped in the wake of September 11th: "Very strange. People want something to laugh at, I guess." As a man who earned an estimated $25 million per year at the end of his reign, he is loath to be perceived as profiteering on his backlog. But, in his heart, he also knows that his life's work is not exactly disposable, either. Bob Wright avers, "He feels that his history is in those tapes. He does live through his shows, even now."

He sips his wine and speaks with disdain about what has become of Las Vegas, about how it has become a family destination, about how it was much more fun when the Boys controlled the town, since the Boys knew how to treat people right-"'Hey, Mista Carson! Do you want some liquor? Do you want to meet girls? Can we getcha a steak? Aldo! Get Mista Carson a couple a' steaks!' And you knew these guys were not Boy Scouts. But they were lovely. 'Whaddya need else? Get 'im another steak! Heyyy!' One night they brought a guy back and said, 'Mista So-and-so would like to meetchu.' So this guy came in. You could tell he had ranking, if you know what I mean. I yelled out, 'Godfather!' They all took a beat, and then they all started laughing. Because he was."

At ten o'clock every weekday morning for the last ten years, he has called his office. "Until that call, we don't know if he's coming in or not," Helen Sanders told me before the office closed in April. ("As I settle more into my retirement, my business is winding down," he began his letter of recommendation for Sanders, who will continue to assist him part-time. Sotzing, meanwhile, will shift company operations to his home in Fullerton.) Until then, his habit had been to drop by no more than thrice weekly-usually on the way to doing something else-in order to sign papers and gather briefings from Sotzing also, every Friday, there were regular meetings with his accountant and attorney to assess the state of his fiscal universe. (A millionaire midwesterner's prudent vigilance in action.) The offices themselves existed as a last bastion of rare Carsonia-a quietly beige warren whose walls were flocked with scores of framed magazine covers and editorial cartoons and photographs chronicling the impact of one man's career arc. (When calling there and placed on hold, you heard his Tonight Show theme music played on a loop.) Nestled in a courtyard building above a yogurt shop, cigar emporium, one-hour photo store and a Starbucks, here was where he went to remind himself of how he had made a living. The sprawling room he occupied therein had no desk, but rather a large coffee table in front of a long sofa-the nerve center from which he conducted business. Also, there was a conference table stacked with books and jazz CDs, and various artifacts on display, including a bronzed rubber chicken presented to him by his writers at the end. My favorite curio in the room, however, was a rectangular plexiglass box containing an actual old disintegrating rubber chicken, symbolizing Comedy, and a wooden arrow, left over from a bad Custer sketch, symbolizing Failure he had kept both hidden behind his Tonight Show desk since very early on as a private irony check. Last year, he also brought in his bounty of awards and trophies-among them six Emmys, a Peabody, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Kennedy Center laurel-because he didn't want them around the house. Upon vacating the office, he sent the whole cachet, plus all wall hangings, to the Elkhorn Valley Historical Society in his hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. "Awards and such make me uncomfortable," he will say, blanching. "I figured if these nice people in Norfolk want them, and can do something with them, then fine-take 'em." (The chicken and arrow, meanwhile, went back to his house.)
All this divestiture is borne of fresh plans, however, for his life over the last six years has increasingly become a seafaring one. He is lately a boatman possessed, the serious captain of a brand new custom-built, triple-decked, one-hundred-thirty-foot vessel that is his joy. ("It's huge," says Sotzing. "It's so big that Earl Schieb would not paint it for $39.95!") "I spent three years in the Navy," Carson told me before its assembly was completed, "and I've always liked the water. So I'll move my office onto the boat where I'll have all the SAT-COM and computer stuff. I can do everything from there that I could do from here." In mid-March, he flew up to fetch it from a shipyard in Westport, Washington, and, with a small crew, piloted it back to his Marina del Rey slip inside of three days. ("I asked him if it was everything he thought it would be," Sanders told me on the day he returned. "He said, 'It's more!'") This boat replaces the 80-foot luxury rig on which he had cruised the coastline since late 1995 and rediscovered the call of the sea. He loves watching water from the water, knows where to find whales frolicking, leaps to take loved ones on excursions short or long. There is no better hiding place for him, you realize, than a controlled life adrift. Last summer, he floated for more than two months around the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle, welcoming friends and family members who jetted up to come aboard. "He's a passionate man and he needs a passion," says Sanders. "The Tonight Show was his passion for thirty years and now he has the water." Or, as he will say, "In my time of life, this has worked out perfectly for me."

He glances at his watch, and a story comes to mind. At the far end of the desk-side couch was the clock on which the host kept track of time left in the broadcast. Some nights-these were agonizing nights-time would stand still, because Bob Newhart and other couch-bound pranksters would move the minute hand back when he wasn't looking. "You'd be talking to some dullard, and you'd look up, and the clock hadn't moved. You talk another three minutes and look up-again, nothing! No movement! So the show never ends! Finally, I caught on to what they were doing."

Both of his boats, by the way, were christened the Serengeti-for the primitive plains of Tanzania that first captivated him in January of 1993. Ever the malcontent traveler, he said before retiring: "Now I'll have a chance to travel-but I probably won't." He soon enough changed his mind after "sitting out in Malibu watching hummingbirds mate," as he described his early months off the job. With his wife Alex, his sons Chris, a golf pro, and Cory, a songwriter-guitarist ("my boys," he calls them, now 52 and 49, respectively), and his friend, the wildlife expert Jim Fowler, he made a three week pilgrimage to the African countryside, an experience that liberated him as never before. "He said that Africa changed his life," says Fowler. "He's got more of a knowledge and appreciation for the natural world than anyone could guess. We had some real adventures-plenty of lions, leopards, hyenas, wildebeests. Elephants coming right into the camp. And Johnny loved the skies of Africa. Son of a gun even took the controls of the plane when we left Tanzania, flying right beside Mount Kilamanjaro. He didn't hesitate at all." ("When the plane's in the air, it's easy to fly," Carson told me. "Landing is the big deal.") Anyway, so taken were they with the open wild, the Carsons would return again, the reason not least being that he can speak blue streaks of Swahili, which he taught himself at home before his first journey. (Likewise, he learned basic Russian before traveling, pre-retirement, to the Soviet Union with the Wrights.) "It keeps the mind sharp," he explains.

Herewith, I will attest, to behold Johnny Carson speak Swahili is a remarkable thing. He has regaled me with dizzying waves of it and clearly swells with glee while doing so. Usually, he begins such brisk spates thusly: "Mie kikisa Swahili bizouri laiki suka nasi fumba geuzo gaz ardhi!"-although I may be wrong. (A rough translation: "I speak Swahili quickly because it is fitting and we can mystify and change the world!"-although I may be wrong.) "It's a sweet language," he says. "It flows and it's relatively easy. Tafudhali-'please, please.' Isn't that a nice word? I had a lot of fun with it in Africa, learning just enough to communicate with people. Then one day, the tour crew brought me the Nairobi Times, like I could read the goddamned thing. They thought I was that proficient, but I wasn't, of course. I had to con my way through it, like I'm enjoying my newspaper. But it was a nice experience." Somewhere in his home, by the way, film exists of him performing magic tricks, making Swahili patter, for a cluster of wide-eyed native tribes-people, who clearly believe they are in the presence of some white-haired witch doctor.

You tell him you have gone to see what is left of Carnac. "Mmmmm-hmmm-hm-hm-hm-hmmmm," he softly chuckles, a little self-consciously. In a divine and borderline mystical way, Carnac lives a disembodied life of magnificence. To become his signature character creation, the famous visitor from the East, he would don the feathered and bejeweled turban, the black turtleneck with encrusted broach, and red-satin-lined cape. The great soothsayer's final prognostic miracle-answer: "Green Acres" question: "What would Kermit the Frog be holding if you kicked him in the wrong place?"-was rendered three months before shop closed in Burbank. The costume rode home in the Corvette's trunk later that summer, he answered his doorbell and turned the pieces over to this excitable fellow, James Comisar, a noted television-relic conservator. "James," he said, "we did a little show and it was fine and we helped some people with their careers, but it was no big deal. Please keep it simple. Do not make a big deal out of this stuff." The ensemble is now impeccably fortressed for private view only in a West Los Angeles warehouse-secreted away with Captain Kirk's pistol phaser and Gilligan's hat and thousands of other like treasures. To touch the turban, white gloves are required. Makeup stains still rim the brow. "This turban," says Comisar, most reverently, "is the Faberge Egg of our shared television experience. He was the king and this was the crown." The king, by the way, has no interest in ever seeing his crown again. "If it serves a purpose or something," he says, mystified by the fuss, "we're happy to let him have it."

"I'm optimistic about television," he said when accepting the communicator of the year award in New York, in May of 1993, one year after he had stopped communicating. "Of course, you know in the entertainment business, an optimist is an accordion player with a beeper." He is, in fact, optimistic enough to have mastered the programming of his TiVo machine, so as to record all manner of television that appalls him to the bone. He delights in crap, if only perversely, and will tell you that there has been no shortage of it to keep him amused. He lists such reality fare as The Chair, The Chamber, Fear Factor and, especially, Survivor as among the most egregious crap he has ever seen: "These people are in just about as much jeopardy as I am having dinner. People forget that there's a crew there. There's a catering service. The crew has to eat! It's not like they are going to die out there in the jungle. These silly people will do anything the director suggests because they want to be on television! They want to be somebody! People will do anything anybody tells 'em. I say, take 'em and put 'em in the Congo for four days-see how they do over there. Or maybe Goma in August during the lava season. Give 'em some jeopardy. Reminds me of the great Sam Kinison routine where he's talking about making those commercials with the starving kid in the desert-'Couldn't the crew just give him a sandwich!' And director screams, 'Don't feed him, it'll ruin the shot!'"
As such, you can safely picture him up there on his Malibu hilltop, wielding the remote, monitoring the decline of civilization via the medium he helped to define. Just when he believes we have reached abyss, he is ever consoled to find new evidence that proves badness is bottomless. For this reason, he misses Kathie Lee Gifford's horrible annual Christmas specials and, more so, Tom Shales's hilariously excoriating reviews of the specials. "We would read passages aloud to each other over the phone," says Peter Lassally. "Johnny loved them!" (Carson once even called Shales to compliment him.) He is even more keen on outrageous live television-beauty pageants and telethons, in particular. (He and Lassally regularly trade calls of glee during the Chabad telethon, broadcast in Los Angeles, on which comic Jan Murray, actor Jon Voight and a dancing rabbi have frolicked for years. "Are you watching this?" they ask each other throughout.) This year's Super Bowl entertainment also gave him great pause: "When you look at that production-give me a break! Norman Mailer said something about patriotism being a nice thing, but just ease up a little bit. He's got a point. It's a little overdone. It's nice to live in this country, but ease up!"
Because no development in televised art escapes his purview, he claims to have stumbled on another new affront: "Have you noticed that sometimes if you're watching the Playboy Channel, it will suddenly switch over into hardcore pornography?" he will say. "The first time it happened to me, I was shocked. And two hours later, I was still shocked. And two hours after that-even more shocked!"

Suddenly, he stops talking because he is craning his neck, gazing toward the ground, where a pigeon waddles up. "Any messages?" he asks the bird.

And so it would come to this: Last year, Oscar host Steve Martin thought the time was right and he proposed the plan at a poker game. He recounts: "I would come out halfway through the show and say, 'I've just been reviewing the tape so far, and it turns out that I'm the greatest Oscar host ever! I'm so excited because a lot of great people have hosted.' I keep talking and then Billy Crystal comes out behind me and interrupts-'Steve, you know, I was reviewing tapes of the last six years, and it turns out I was the greatest Oscar host ever!' And I go, 'Oh, really?' Then we get into an argument-and Johnny would walk out behind us, which would bring the house down. And then we would turn and become very contrite and maybe hold hands, Billy and I, and we'd walk off sheepishly." But, of course, the five-time Oscar host Carson declined. "He said it would look like he's wanting attention, that critics would say he's out trying to get attention. I told him, 'There's not a person on this earth who would think that.' But that's his very midwestern morality and humility."

I had asked Carson about the bit when he first called me. "It was a cute idea," he said. "But I told him, 'Steve, it is almost an obligatory thing for a standing ovation'"-he pronounced those last two words, by the way, with great unease-"'so, no, I'm going to lay low.' He understood. But he's a very bright kid." It was Martin, however, who assisted to flush Carson out of hiding, somewhat, in October 2000-"Johnny told me he was writing something," he recalls, "and I said, 'Let me call The New Yorker for you.'" The published result was a short humor piece-not unlike the kind of business he used to do at his desk, after the monologue-entitled "Proverbs According to Dennis Miller." (Among the list of ten: "8. People who live in glass houses . . . are surrounded by a strange hybrid of solid liquids or liquid solids.") Two months later, a second piece saw print: "Recently Discovered Childhood Letters to Santa," which disclosed the lost holiday wish lists of youths like William Buckley, Peter Roget and Donald Rickles. He told me that he has a third one in the works, based on a news item he spotted about an accredited college of astrology. "I start writing and if it doesn't work, I put it aside for awhile," he said. His friend, director-comedian David Steinberg, explains the quandary therein: "He only has one goal in mind that I know of: He wants to be funny in print. He sometimes worries that he might not be, and people will judge it after not having heard from him in so long. It's the classic comedian's dilemma." What is certain is that the printed page will be the only venue in which he ever deigns himself to re-enter public midst-and even then, in the quickest possible strokes.
"There's no way to ever induce him back," says Barry Diller, "because, God knows, I've tried. Everybody has. I don't know anyone other than Cary Grant who left the stage with such dignity and elegance." (Cary Grant, incidentally, was the most desired guest never to appear on The Tonight Show, because Johnny Carson could not lure him out of retirement.) Even so, when NBC was gearing up for its seventy-fifth anniversary May broadcast gala in New York, Bob Wright had long been vigorously entreating the retired one to make one last appearance on said program. "It's going to be embarrassing not to have him there," Wright told me. The retired one, however, had made clear that he instead would be ensconced on his behemoth Serengeti, charting a course down through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean. He will be afloat for months, thanks. "I told him we have planes," said Wright. "We can catch him anywhere he is. The boat is not a prison!"
Of course, the Carson eyes crinkle defiantly, and also twinkle with chill, at mention of such foolishness. "That ain't gonna happen. That ain't gonna happen. Uh-uh," he says, bemused but firm. "He means well. I know NBC means well. But I am retired. I ain't going back on television. There's no need for me to go back. It's gonna be one of those self-congratulatory things: 'Come look at what we've done! Look how good we are!' I'm just not going to do it! I made that decision a long time ago and it's served me well." And then comes a genial sigh of a man most confident, along with the bright dentition. "Anyway, they can send a plane," he says, shrugging. "I'm going to be in the Bermuda Triangle. Planes have been known to disappear there, you know." His body rocks while he laughs his laugh. He will laugh that same laugh on the high seas when he scans the Internet to read about what he missed. Because, you see, he misses nothing anymore.


"Of all the hosts, Johnny was the most generous. He loved it when people scored. I remember when I was on the first couple of times just feeling his timing and generosity to the line you needed to speak. He knew what he had to do to set up, and he always knew how important it was that the setup be exactly right. Any time you made him laugh-even today-you get a really warm feeling inside. You can't get quite past the feeling that it's a privilege to be with him in a social situation.

"The other night, the infomerical for his tapes happened to come on, and I was transfixed by it. It was like watching a great movie-you can't turn it off. It really made me realize what a strong time that was and how important that show was in our lives, in its tone. Its tone wrapped us up at the end of the day and made us happy and it had no cynicism. It was sort of the last stand of sincerity in comedy, no irony. It was just totally, totally funny. Just seeing those images go past, you forget how important they were to our mental health. He says he walked away at the right time. Maybe the right time for him, but not the right time for us."

"Here is the biggest compliment I can give to Johnny: Let's say that he's vastly considered the best talk show host ever-and I still think he's underrated. He was just plain funny night after night, among everything else he did. No one ever talks about how funny he was-but he is a funny, funny man. He's a father figure to me, in a professional sense. A role model, a mentor, and a professional father. He called me once after I guest-hosted The Tonight Show and said, 'You were a little too funny.' And it was such a compliment. It meant everything to me. You've got to remember that the hosts of all the late night shows now don't have guest hosts. Johnny would allow this select group of people to come fill in for him. For the rest of my life, I will be grateful that he allowed me to do that. I call him up every now and then because I genuinely miss him. He is ageless, a really special guy."

"Hours after my show ended, I bought a house in Malibu right next to Johnny Carson's. I spend the days sitting out on the beach and walking back and forth across Johnny's property, hoping to bump into him so we can talk about our talk show experiences, but so far I haven't seen him. His friends insist he has a phone, but I haven't been able to get the number from anyone. I'm sure it's his attempt to respect my privacy. He knows what it's like to come down from the kind of whirlwind success we talk show hosts experience, and I appreciate his consideration. But enough is enough. If Johnny reads this I hope he will feel comfortable enough to come by and say, 'Hi, Larry, I'm a big fan and I miss watching you every night.'
"Johnny, I leave the door unlocked on Tuesday nights, so just come in and sit down, because I would love to compare notes with you about . . . everything! Or even better, let's go to Disneyland sometime with Rickleses and the Newharts."

"Johnny Carson is a wonderful guy, a great guy, a funny guy, a moody guy, and a pain in the ass with three or four wives-who gives a crap? Now go kiss his ass and leave me alone! Actually, when all is said and done, Johnny had two lives. He was magic when the light was on. And when the light was off, he was another guy. Not that he wasn't a fun guy to be around, but he had his moments when he would either be with you or be by himself. Being around functions was not his happiness. When he had to get up to perform, he loved it. When we were alone or in an intimate group, he was great fun. But at a big party, he was like, 'Let's go home!'"

"I think he's the only man who has retired and meant it. He'd gotten so much adulation for so many years. However, there's nobody in the world that doesn't want to be remembered for what they did so well. There has to be that gnawing at him. But he's also a smart theatrician. He knows what he did and he knows how good it is. The other day, I played the DVD set of his best stuff for my wife and me. I called him three days later and sincerely said it was the best entertainment we'd had in a long time. We had really laughed at it. And the thing is, I could hear in his voice that he really appreciated that he was appreciated."

"John would always throw me curveballs on the show. He knew he could trust me and I knew I could trust him. You'd do the pre-interview and he'd get the notes: 'Rickles and I just got back from a trip to southeast Asia and Bob has a funny story about Hanoi.' I'd come out and sit down, and Johnny would say, 'Do you ever ski?' And I'd look at him, like, 'You son of a bitch! I don't have any funny stories about skiing!' He wouldn't do that to somebody he didn't know well. But he'd get that look in his eye and I knew. I was on a couple weeks before the final show and, as I moved down the couch that night, I realized that an era was over. Just gone. We were never going to do it again. He said to me at the end of the show, 'Bob, what can I say?' It was over."

"He's incredible, because doctors will tell you not to retire unless you have something really good to do. Johnny has beat all those odds. He's gone off to Africa, he's gone to Wimbledom, he travels so many places with his wife. We ask him, 'Do you miss it?' He says, 'Once in a while, but not much.' I think that's why he likes the poker game-he's got an outlet to be funny for us."

"The one thing about Johnny that no one has right now and probably never will have is when he laughed and liked you, you had a career the next day. He ordained the culture because he was so open to it. He would say, 'You're good', and was very unpretentious about it. It was exciting to watch The Tonight Show because of that. You wanted to know who he was going to okay. He would decide not just about comedians, but everybody. You would feel the buzz the next day. If there had been a great show the night before, everybody would be talking about it and it would always be, 'Carson really liked that guy!' But you never said, 'Carson was great last night,' because he was always great."

"The first six months after we went off the air was painful. I was busy, but I felt out of place, like something was wrong and I was missing the whole thing. I began to feel like the Birdman of Alcatraz. For all of the years we did the show, it was the last ten when you started wondering, 'God, how's this going to end?' I always kind of thought that maybe Johnny would be driving to work one day and run into traffic and turn around and go home and tell NBC: "I'm not coming in today or tomorrow or ever again. I'm through.' But he did it in such a classy way. Every place I travel, all people want to know is: 'How's Johnny?' 'Is he going to come back and do a show?' He is missed. No two ways about it."

"I miss him very much. The late night guys now-they're good, but with Johnny you were never tense. He was always someone you could be completely relaxed with and you knew that he was never going to let you down. He never did. There's something about him-just a tremendous personal charm. Before my last time with him, I was doing the sound check and thought to myself, 'I wonder what his favorite song is?' I turned to Doc and asked and he said it was "Here's That Rainy Day." I couldn't believe that I had forgotten to ask before that minute. But fortunately I knew that song, so it turned into an improvised moment, which was very sweet. He let down a lot of guard that night. When I was done, I put the red lei around his neck and fled. All those emotions-I just about died."

"I hosted a birthday party for (producer) Danny Melnick last year and he made up the seating arrangements. He put Johnny Carson on one side of me and Steve Martin on the other side. I remember thinking, 'Oh, my god, this is truly one of the thrills of my life and I hope I can be witty enough.' They were beyond hysterical. They started talking and telling stories and sharing jokes. The dinner went on for hours and hours. I thought, 'Am I listening to these two men talk and Johnny complimenting Steve on what a good job he did on the Oscars and Steve saying, 'Oh, no, there's nobody that will ever be able to do it like you did it.' Johnny is handsome and adorable. He's got a twinkle in his eye and twinkle in his walk. He is the wittiest, most charming, warm, lovely, funny individual and he's both intellectually and emotionally curious, too. He wants to know what you're doing, what your life is like-and he can talk about anything, as we saw for thirty years."

"He is a focused and centered person who appears to know what he wants. When he said it was time to quit, he meant it. Everyone thought, 'Oh, we'll be seeing him in six months, because he's got to have the adulation.' He doesn't need the adulation. That is a false image of this man. He doesn't need to be that way anymore. He's got a real life. He's a busy fellow pursuing that real life. I haven't been able to make our poker game in a while, but I called him some time ago because I heard rumors that his hair had grown completely long, like Lyndon B. Johnson, and that he was getting weird. And, of course, it wasn't true. He's the same as ever, only better."

"I haven't seen him in so long. Does he have long hair now? I heard for a while that he had long hair and I went, 'I want to see that!' I did not know that! He should come back for one night just to blow people's minds. 'Look who's here tonight! Doc! Ed! Hi-yo! It's Johnny!' It's like where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Forget Cheney-where's Johnny?! Find Johnny in the crowd. It was a fine art form that he was the master of. It wasn't ironic and it wasn't cynical-it was just flat-out funny. When he had a guest he enjoyed, he would just let go and sit back. He would just go big with the laugh and I'd think, 'Oh, yeah, baby!' And you'd just keep throwing more at him to see him keep going. But the king has left the building. Turn the spotlight off, my friend. I did not know that!"

Alex Baldwin, Sterling K. Brown, more kick of Emmys weekend

LOS ANGELES — Actor Sterling K. Brown is taking Emmys weekend one day at a time.

The “This is Us” star and nominee is juggling a jam-packed schedule of call times and parties in the lead up to the awards ceremony Sunday, where he’s nominated for lead actor in a drama series.

“It’s a gauntlet,” Brown said Thursday at The Hollywood Reporter and SAG-AFTRA Emmy Nominees Night party. “I’ve got work tomorrow, then there’re three parties tomorrow and two parties on Saturday and then Sunday. And then I have to be at work Monday at 6 a.m., so I’m memorizing lines. But I’m having a good time and I’m just trying to enjoy each moment as it comes.”

Brown and fellow nominees and industry peers gathered for drinks and treats, like uni toast and truffle pizza, at Jean-Georges at the Waldorf Astoria before Emmys weekend kicks into full gear.

Attendees like Alec Baldwin and his wife Hilaria Baldwin held court with the likes of Matthew Modine, Anne Heche, William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman, as Bob Odenkirk chatted off to the side and Geoffrey Rush introduced his son around the party.

Modine, deep in conversation with Baldwin, paused to give his young “Stranger Things” co-star Gaten Matarazzo a hug as he walked by, bee-lining to the booth in the back of the restaurant where Natalia Dyer and Finn Wolfhard were hanging out.

“I got to meet Alec Baldwin. That was cool,” Matarazzo said later.

Huffman broke away to grab a drink at the bar. She laughed that her Emmys prep includes going on a diet two weeks ago and then breaking it a day later.

On Sunday she hopes there’s a focus on the work.

“I don’t think it should be a political show. I don’t think people look to awards shows to either be confirmed in their politics or challenged in their politics,” Huffman said. “I think it’s a misuse of power. It’s not what we’re there to do.”

Sterling K. Brown, right, and Ryan Michelle Bathe attend the THR and SAG-AFTRA Nominees Night at the Waldorf Astoria on Thursday in Beverly Hills, Calif.

27 'Schitt's Creek' Gifts That Are Simply the Best

Channel your inner David, Alexis, Moira, and Johnny with a note pad, tote bag, coloring book, and more.

You've come to this article because you're either in love with Schitt's Creek or know someone who can't stop quoting Catherine O'Hara's iconic character, Moira Rose. The Emmy-winning Canadian show is, after all, a gold mine of sharp one liners, heartwarming storylines, and downright hilarious plot twists. And now that the entire six-season series is on Netflix, more and more people are discovering the comedic magic that Catherine, Eugene Levy, Dan Levy, and Annie Murphy created while portraying the Rose Family.

And so, if you find yourself *positively bedeviled* with work-from-home meetings or holiday shopping errands, all you have to do is scroll through this guide for instant gift inspo. As you'll soon discover, this list has a little bit of Alexis everything on it, from tote bags and necklaces to shirts and cooking supplies. Browse through and get simply the best ideas for the Schittheads (yes, that's what they call the fans) in your life. Trust us, no one will be acting like a disgruntled pelican after unwrapping one of these goodies.

FYI: Certain items may be shipped later this year due to the pandemic. You can check here for all shipping deadlines to ensure your item arrives in time for the holidays.

Ew, indeed. A little humor goes a long way with this ornament that acknowledges this incredibly challenging year. We can only hope 2021 will be much less *Schitty.*

Moira and David know all too well how challenging following a recipe can be (even when it's your own recipe). But having these spoons will make any cooking experience in the kitchen much more fun . even if an argument does erupt over how to fold in the cheese.

Watch any episode of Schitt's Creek, and you'll fall in love with Alexis's gold initial necklace. Luckily, you can snag one for yourself and your friends at Anthropologie to emulate Alexis's boho-chic aesthetic.

Let's be honest: Everyone who has seen the show has wanted to shop at David and Patrick's Rose Apothecary. Thanks to Belle Vie, now you can take home a little piece of the store with this soy and vegan candle. The best part? You get to select from all kinds of scents, including sandalwood and suede, vanilla and amber, rain water and violets, black ginger and bamboo, and more.

If you want even more Rose Apothecary swag, look no further than Beekman 1802's collection of rose-scented self-care goodies. Each limited edition set comes with a body-milk lotion, lip balm, bar soap, and a hand-poured soy candle that David would most certainly approve of. Gift the entire set to a loved one or split up the products for multiple stocking stuffers!

Awards HQ May 3: My Ambitious Oscars Plan Daytime Emmys Exclusive HFPA’s Last Gasp Much More!

Greetings from Variety Awards Headquarters!Today is May 3, 2021, which means it’s 28 days until Emmy eligibility ends on May 31 45 days until nomination-round voting starts on June 17 53 days until the Daytime Emmys telecast on June 25 56 days until nomination-round voting ends on June 28 71 days until nominations are announced on July 13 108 days until final-round voting starts on Aug. 19 and 139 days until the Primetime Emmys telecast on Sept. 19.

It’s May, which means Emmy FYC season is kicking into high gear. Last week I broke the news of Netflix’s and Amazon Prime Video’s plans, and today I also have a first look at HBO and HBO Max’s plans. HBO/HBO Max are leaning heavily on a Drive-In theater experience at the Rose Bowl — where last week, I experienced the first Drive-In of the season via Bravo’s “Top Chef.” More on that later in the newsletter.

More from Variety

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s talk about the Oscars. You’ve read a week of hot takes about what the Academy Awards could or should have done differently this year. So I’d instead like to throw out a proposal for next year — something that the Academy and ABC can start preparing for now, and an idea that I think could make a big splash for the Oscars, the movie business and theaters across the country.

A lot of folks, including me, were a bit stunned this year that there weren’t many mentions about the moviegoing experience, about America’s stuggling movie theater business and most importantly, movie fans. For whatever reason, audiences are no longer engaged in the Oscars (and most awards shows, for that matter). Perhaps it’s the films, perhaps it’s the rise of streaming, perhaps it’s a lack of awareness coupled with the distractions of the pandemic).

2022 will be different, however (hopefully). The country will be back open for business (hopefully).

That’s why, my proposal next year for the telecast: If the people aren’t coming to the Oscars, bring the Oscars to the people.

So forget the Dolby Theater. Next year’s Oscars needs to be held at movie palaces, theaters and multiplexes across the country. The show needs to be beamed from historic theaters like the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, N.J., and Tampa Theatre in Tampa, Fla. From the flagship Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. From key AMC, Regal, Cinemark and other chain locations, sprinkled both in major and mid-sized markets across the nation.

Each major category would be held at a different location. That’s right, talent — which should be used to working on location anyway — will have to travel, but that would be part of the experience. Perhaps they can choose a location close to where they’re currently filming. Or maybe in or near their hometowns. They’re used to attending film festivals around the country, well this is the biggest film festival of them all.

In the days leading up to the Oscars, these theaters will hold big film events, drumming up interest in the shows. Imagine the local media coverage, the crowds who will attend and then feel invested in Hollywood’s biggest night. And imagine how meaningful those Oscar wins will be, as it’s a part of a massive celebration of film, the cinema and movie fans.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to celebrate all of that — starting with getting people excited about going to the movies again. To get people engaged with movies again, period. And of course, to throw a nationwide party to signify how we’ve made it to the other side, and that the country (and its theaters) are open for business again.

This isn’t necessarily a cheap idea, although the congloms can easily support some of this. Theaters will provide their venues free of charge, in exchange for all the exposure. Local ABC affiliates can provide production support. The real challenge comes down to getting Hollywood talent to be willing to travel to whatever city their category will be awarded. But again, if they’re willing to hoof it to small towns around the country to pitch their films, they ought to be willing to travel as an Oscar nominee to a city beyond the coasts.

The future of film, the theater business and the Oscars themselves is at stake. Now is not the time to do another same old, same old Academy Awards that ultimately is met with a yawn. Next year requires something BIG. Something that will get people talking and eager to tune in. Something that focuses on MOVIE FANS, MOVIEGOING and the MOVIE THEATERS where most people experience the magic of cinema.

An epic, cross-country Oscars would reframe the telecast as once again being a celebration for everyone. OK, that’s my proposal. I think it would be a historic, amazing telecast. You’ve got a year to figure out how to do this, Academy and ABC. I’m rooting for you.

By the way, a very happy birthday to Mrs. Awards HQ! And now, on to this week’s newsletter. Let’s get going!

Exclusive: NATAS Boss on What This Year’s Daytime Emmys Will Look Like, and Plans to Return to an In-Person Event in 2022

After ten years off broadcast TV, the Daytime Emmys returned to CBS last year — and clearly it worked out. The National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences recently sealed a two-year deal with the Eye network to continue to telecast the awards show, breathing new life into a franchise that had been off TV completely since 2015.

“It’s a commitment for at least the next two years and we expect the beginning of a long term relationship from there,” said NATAS president/CEO Adam Sharp, who shared the latest on the org’s plans this year with Variety and AWARDS HQ. “We and CBS were both very pleased with the performance of last year’s show, and are excited to repeat that this year. After a decade long hiatus, when you look at the numbers for the show, obviously award shows and broadcast ratings across the board have changed considerably in ten years… certainly seen that with Golden Globes, Grammys and everyone else. But the Daytime Emmys ceremony held on to more of that audience than just about anybody else. The fact that we did that, despite not having 10 years to keep engaging that audience in between, was quite remarkable. It showed that the daytime fan community came back, in force and demonstrated to the network and to the community that they were still there and they were eager for the celebration.”

This year’s telecast, set for June 25, will continue to be mostly a virtual event — although CBS, NATAS and producers Associated Television International are looking at anchoring the show in a studio (vs. last year, when hosts were all shown from their respective homes).

“At the very least, we do expect to have a home base for the show, on a soundstage, rather than having everything be distributed where last year the hosts were in their homes as well too,” Sharp said.

A lot of those decisions will not be finalized until nominations are announced in late May, Sharp said. “We can actually have conversations to see what is the state of things in LA in terms of the pandemic, and also what are the comfort levels of the individual nominees,” he said. “Because what we absolutely do not want to do — and I think this was a cautionary tale from the Oscars experience — is take a position that doesn’t respect the fact that different nominees may have different comfort levels.”

The plan is to have the telecast be pre-taped, with hosts to be announced later. (Although “The Talk” hosts handled Daytime Emmy emcee duties last year, given the turmoil on that set, a repeat gig seems unlikely.) The two follow-up Daytime Emmy ceremonies, featuring categories not shown on the CBS telecast, will be streamed on NATAS’ OTT platform in July and will likely be live.

Consider this the transitional year. In 2022, Sharp hopes to have the Daytime Emmys, live from CBS, looking a bit more like normal. “Next year we expect to be back in person, and have already reserved venues and have already started planning,” he said. “We’re well underway and planning for two ceremonies at once right now.”

Specifically, NATAS is looking at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for next year. “Whether we configure it the same way as we’ve done in the past I think is still a question,” he said. “We have the entire complex under control. We’ve had some time to rethink about the ceremony these last few years and I think one of the common refrains has been, next year will be a new new normal. I don’t see next year’s ceremony as a return to any old way of doing things.

“I do think it makes us go back to the creative drawing board as we look to next year and say, no we don’t want to keep doing COVID shows. But we also don’t want to lose the learnings of new ideas that came out of that. How can we take the best of both worlds, to come up with a third thing that’s even better than anything we ever had.”

As for the awards themselves, Sharp noted that the Daytime ceremony received more than 3,000 entries this year — a new record. Part of that can be attributed to the big change, first reported last year by Variety, that moved all children’s programming — including the shows that had previously been eligible for Primetime Emmys — into the daytime race.

“The shift of children’s went very smoothly,” Sharp said. “It that was certainly responsible for a lot of the growth in the competition this year… All three of our competitions this year posted their record highs. Each of our competitions had more entries this year than in any previous competition year.”

In another major step in the healing relationship between the previously warring NATAS and West Coast-based Television Academy, four of the L.A.-based TV Academy governors are now sitting on the NY-based NATAS national awards committee, which oversees the rules of the org’s competitions.

“We invited the Television Academy to appoint four seats to that committee,” said Sharp. Those members include Eva Basler, Bob Boden, Troy Underwood and Janet Dimon.

“I think the first time you’ve ever had NATAS and Television Academy governors and trustees at the same table adjudicating a competition together,” Sharp said. “And doing it, hand in hand in a really productive way and it was great to see… During the final days of the entry windows, when we were dealing with a lot of issues of ‘Does this entry belong in daytime or primetime,’ the two teams were talking almost every day. And so the collaboration between the two academies this year was remarkable, looking at the long history of the relationship.”

As for the Sports Emmys, which take place on June 8, Sharp said he was surprised by the number of entries, given the abbreviated sports season last year. But in the end, it turns out that the unusual year led to more work that networks felt might be awards-worthy. “Networks don’t tend to submit a lot of regular season coverage, they tend to give us coverage of playoffs, where they’ve put in the extra money for the extra few cameras and the extra talent, and so on,” he said. “And we still had playoffs. But then also you had, when there were regular season games, these were technically unique. Even these regular season games have a certain notability to them beyond a normal regular season game. So those got submitted as well as the playoff games, and boosted the count there.”

The Sports Emmys also added an emerging talent category this year, which Sharp said was meant to recognize hosts beyond the typical superstars who dominate the awards.

“When you look at some of the other talent categories in the competition, the names that come up every year are rightfully, the icons,” he said. “They’ve been on the air for a long time for a good reason. They are amazing. But that also means that they rise to the top five every year. And so, it does make it difficult for some of the new talent to get recognition for their incredible work.”

On the news side, 2020 provided no shortage of news content — “2020 probably could provide a decade of News Emmys,” he said. “But also saw a lot of growth on the documentary side.”

Since I’m full of ideas today, here’s one I offered to Sharp: If CBS really wants to grow the Daytime Emmys this year, find a way to announce the new host of “Jeopardy!” at the end of the telecast.

“But we’d have to do it in the form of a question,” Sharp added.

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Giada De Laurentiis and Ex-Husband Todd Thompson Celebrate Daughter Jade’s Graduation

Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis and her ex-husband, fashion designer Todd Thompson, happily reunited to celebrate the graduation of their 11-year-old daughter, Jade Marie, on Wednesday with lunch at the Malibu celebrity hotspot Nobu.

“Happy graduation Jadey!! #mommymoments #soproud ” De Laurentiis, 48, said in a caption of an Instagram photo of herself, Jade and Thompson.

In a video posted to her Instagram Story, the celebrity chef encouraged her daughter as she placed some wagyu beef on a hot stone to cook at the table.

“Nice job, Jadey-wadey,” she said. “Grilling by the ocean at Nobu.”

De Laurentiis and Thompson divorced in 2015, but have stayed close as they raise Jade.

“We live a stone’s throw away from each other, like five minutes, which has really helped keep Jade stable and just keep her environment as similar as possible at both places,” she told PEOPLE back in 2017. “Getting along with my ex-husband really helps as well. We’re supportive of each other and, in turn, supportive of Jade.”

Last year, the three of them celebrated Jade’s tenth birthday with a fun meal at Benihana.

“Bday girl!! @benihana” De Laurentiis said underneath an Instagram photo of the family wearing the Hibachi restaurant’s signature red paper chef hats.

Jade is not only De Laurentiis’ mini-me, but enjoys helping her mom out in the kitchen.

RELATED VIDEO: Giada De Laurentiis Opens Up About Finding Love Again After Divorce: ‘I Felt Like a Kid Again’

“I got lucky because Jade loves to be in the kitchen and she enjoys just being around all of the action,” De Laurentiis told PEOPLE last year. “She’s really getting into it. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but I’ll take it for as long as it lasts.”

“I bought Jade a little purple ceramic knife and she just loves it. She’s like ‘What can I chop? What can I cut?’ It makes her excited about what she’s going to make, and then she’s more apt to actually try new things and eat her dinner,” she added.

Jade has even appeared on her mom’s Food Network show, Giada Entertains, and the mother-daughter duo stepped out together for the Daytime Emmys red carpet just last month.

Watch the video: LOONEY TUNES Looney Toons: Hollywood Steps Out 1941 Remastered Ultra HD 4K. Kent Rogers