Tonight Show Chatter Has LA TV Producer Remembering Carson’s Killer Extra 15 Minutes

David Steinberg, whose many appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson during the show’s New York heyday were surpassed only by those of the late Bob Hope, was recently reminiscing with Jimmy Fallon (in the very same 30 Rock studio) about some of his 140 guest spots. Clips like this take on added resonance in the wake of Wednesday’s bombshell NYT report by Bill Carter that NBC is planning to move the program back to Manhattan in 2014 with Fallon as host.

Three thousand miles away from Studio 6B, our pal Michael Horowicz also couldn’t help but reminisce about some Carson lore anchored to Fallon’s studio. During a trip to New York in the mid-90s, Horowicz and Late Late Show colleague Tom Snyder had dinner with former WNBC weatherman Dr. Frank Field at Bello on Ninth Avenue. Field, to the amazement of his dinner companions, explained that when The Tonight Show was done in New York, it actually started around 11:15 p.m. At the time, NBC affiliates aired only 15 minutes of evening news and so, from 11:15 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. – or so Field claimed – it was him, Johnny, Doc and the gathering band, hanging out on-air to fill the nightly gap.

“Tom and I didn’t believe him,” Horowicz tells FishbowlLA. “We both considered ourselves great students of late night TV, and we’d never heard about this extra 15 minutes. Furthermore, we’d never heard of any NBC affiliate that didn’t do a full 30-minute late news. We honestly thought Frank was full of sh*t, or at least full of sherry.”

“A week later, back in LA, I got a huge box delivered to my office at CBS TV City from Frank,” he continues. “It contained about a dozen old Kinescopes and giant two-inch videotapes. That night, I dropped them off to be transferred at an all-night dubbing place on Cahuenga in Hollywood.”

“The next morning, I nearly collapsed when I saw what was on them. It was Frank – and Johnny Freakin’ Carson – in the audience, playing games and interacting with the crowd, for 15 minutes until the top of the “real” show. It was like The Tonight Show Lite, just what I might have imagined it to be, if only I had believed Frank. The footage was priceless… and hysterical.”

Horowicz showed the treasure trove to Snyder and Field was quickly booked on The Late Late Show to talk about this extra Carson magic. “I sent all the video back to Frank, and I’m sure he still has it saved somewhere in his shrine to himself down in Florida,” Horowicz chuckles. On March 30, Field turns 90.

Photo of Field, Snyder courtesy: Horowicz