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For Reiser, it’s a relief to finally get to show his pet project to the world. “There’s… Johnny!” had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year and was originally set to debut on NBC Universal’s Seeso digital platform in August. But then Seeso was shut down, leaving all of its original series hanging.
Some of Seeso’s existing programs, including “Harmontown,” were sold to another digital company, VRV. After three or four months of conversations with various potential homes, “There’s… Johnny!” finally landed at Hulu, as part of an overall distribution deal the streaming service signed with NBCU.
“I’ve been on shows that the network canceled, but I’ve never had a show actually cancel the network,” quipped Reiser. The producer credited NBCU for not burning the show off on Seeso before that service folded.
“They said, ‘The show deserves better, and we’re going to find a home for it,'” he said. “When we landed at Hulu I thought it was not only the perfect space for it, but at this particular moment, it was a day after Hulu broke through to the next level with all their Emmy wins.”
Added executive producer Brian Volk-Weiss, of Comedy Dynamics: “This has been definitely the most wild roller coaster ride of my career, especially when you consider it had a happy ending. I knew we had a great show, and one that [NBCU parent] Comcast believed in. But were there some dark nights of fear and sadness that we wouldn’t find a home? Absolutely.”
Weiss said there were at least three outlets interested in the show, “but it came down to time and money. One buyer wanted it badly but they had already spent their budget for the year. No company is sitting on money with the idea that in September someone is going to call up and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a fully scripted series ready to buy, if you happen to have millions of dollars left over!'”
Hulu believed in the show and came armed with data that showed “There’s… Johnny!” would be of interest to its audience, he added. “I think that motivated them to be a little hungrier than another company that didn’t have as much data.”
Created by Reiser and his “Mad About You” producer David Steven Simon, “There’s… Johnny!” centers on 19-year-old Nebraskan Andy Klavin (Ian Nelson, “The Hunger Games”), who becomes a gofer at Carson’s “The Tonight Show” in 1972, just after its move to Burbank.
Tony Danza plays famed “Tonight Show” producer Fred de Cordova, while Jane Levy (“Suburgatory”) plays a producer that befriends Andy. Roger Bart (“Desperate Housewives”), and T’keyah Keymah (“The Cosby Show”) also star.
The seven-episode series was produced last fall. “It’s a really rich show,” Reiser said. “There’s some silly-ass comedy, there’s a lot of time period, a lot of history. And a lot of wonderful character stories.”
Produced with the cooperation of the Carson estate, “There’s… Johnny!” features actual footage from 1972 episodes of “The Tonight Show.” Several minutes of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” is included in each episode, and often pairs up with a plot line.
Reiser believes both Carson fans and younger audiences who aren’t familiar with the legendary host will find different reasons to watch. “For those who loved Johnny Carson, you’re already intrigued, because it’s a world that we all wanted to be in,” he said. “We kind of miss Johnny. This is a new way to watch those episodes. And for a younger audience who doesn’t remember Johnny Carson, the show is about these fictitious characters that we’ve created and cast with terrific actors.”
Reiser said he appeared on Carson’s “Tonight” dozens of times, particularly in the late 1980s, and he felt compelled to honor the power of the show. The “Tonight Show” 1972 set and its offices were faithfully re-created.
“It’s not a documentary, so we definitely merged fact with fiction, but we did try really hard to represent the world that was true and the flavor behind the show,” Reiser said. “We had people come by, including the woman who had been Johnny’s right-hand assistant for years, and she went, ‘Oh my gosh, this is exactly it.'”
The premiere of “There’s… Johnny!” coincidentally comes just after Reiser’s Amazon series “Red Oaks” and Season 2 of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” which features the actor/producer, premiere at the end of October. That gives Reiser a rare hat trick, with shows on all three major streaming services.
“I like to think of myself as the king of streaming,” he joked. “And then I still need my son to show me how to watch these things. But the point is, I am the king.”
“There’s… Johnny!” premieres Nov. 16 on Hulu.