Twenty years ago this week, on May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson ended his 30-year reign as the host of The Tonight Show. In the newly released PBS documentary Johnny Carson: King of Late Night, we’re pleasantly reminded why, decades later, the prototype Carson set for late-night hosts—trustworthy, likable, neighborly, cool—remains the same. “Johnny was to comedy what Walter Cronkite was to news,” explains Paul Block, a longtime producer on Carson’s Tonight Show.
We trusted Johnny. We liked Johnny.
Manchester City wins the English Premier League title, May 11, 1968
They hadn’t won a championship in 44 years. Down 2-1 with time running out, it seemed Manchester City would once again concede the English Premier League title to its crosstown rivals, Manchester United. Then, the impossible happened: Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero scored back-to-back goals with seconds remaining in stoppage time—and the city of Manchester partied like it was 1968.
Before all the bright lights and legitimate businessmen showed up, the gambling scene was dominated by a handful of flamboyant and mostly unsavory characters. The face of that scene: a cantankerous Texan by the name of Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, who lost his battle with cancer just last week. He was a pool shark, a rounder, a proposition bettor, a bookie and a four-time WSOP champ.
The man would wager on anything and stack the odds in his favor whenever possible—he once talked a Wimbledon champ into a one-on-one tennis match, then insisted they use skillets instead of racquets (and won). He played poker with the likes of LBJ, Nixon and Pablo Escobar. He wore a ten-gallon Stetson with everything. He was a recurring Johnny Carson guest. And along the way, he took gambling from its smoky backroom roots to the mainstream. (It’s no coincidence that the most televised and popular form of poker today is his beloved Texas Hold’em.)
The game show era of the 1970s and 1980s. A strange time. Refined, black-tie shows like What’s My Line and Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life gave way to wide lapels, sexual innuendoes and long-stemmed microphones.
Helming these shows was an interchangeable fleet of charmingly fake-tanned, bleach-toothed, dyed-haired pseudo sex symbols, the majority of whom had begun their careers as small-market disc jockeys. They were likably sleazy. Used car salesmen with a heart of gold. And following Johnny Carson’s lead, they pushed/shredded the envelope when it came to loud sport coats.
That’s not to say they weren’t good guys—Richard Dawson often made on-air, tearful pleas to help save the lives of needy children. Bob Barker certainly helped control the pet population. And Peter Tomarken died trying to transport a cancer patient in his Beechcraft Bonanza prop plane.
Today, we salute them. Our seven favorite game show hosts of the ’70s and ’80s.
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