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For sale: 'The Tonight Show's' second Emmy

September 23, 2009 |  6:50 am

Johnny-carson-tonight-show

Poor Johnny Carson. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, he used to get furious with Emmy chiefs when "The Tonight Show" kept losing best variety series. Or worse: it wouldn't even get nominated. It reaped bids in 1964, 1966 and 1967, but got skunked in 1965, 1968, 1969 and 1970. After a while, it didn't look like "Tonight" could ever win, probably because Carson's intentionally silly chat show competed against slick, scripted variety programs like "The Carol Burnett Show," which usually trounced.

Tonight Show Emmy

But then, suddenly, Emmy hopes brightened when the TV academy separated talk shows into a separate category. Alas, "Tonight" lost to "The David Frost Show" in 1971, then to "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1972. In 1973, "Tonight" got snubbed completely. In 1974, talk shows were again bunched with variety series. "Tonight" nabbed a nom, but lost to "The Carol Burnett Show."

Enough! Carson finally got fed up and furious. When "Tonight" nabbed a bid again in 1975, he decided to slap the TV academy right back and issued a damning public declaration refusing the nomination.

The academy felt the sting. Carson was beloved in Hollywood and across America, so Emmy chiefs conspired to cook up some way, any way, to get "The Tonight Show" an Emmy. In 1977-78, they created a new category for program achievement/special class, nominated "Tonight" and it finally prevailed. Then, in 1978-79, "Tonight" did so again.

That second Emmy statuette goes on sale at Profile in History's auction (lot No. 599) to be held on Oct. 8 and 9. It's part of the estate sale of late "Tonight" producer Fred De Cordova. Estimated sale price for the Emmy statuette set by the auction house is $12,000 to $15,000, but I think that's high. I bought Phil Silvers' first Emmy for best comedy series (1956) last year for $6,000. (Read the full story here.)

But maybe it's not too high, considering how rare it is that "The Tonight Show" wins an Emmy. Its curse at TV's top award continued long after Carson passed the show to Jay Leno. Read more here and here.

Photos: NBC, ProfilesInHistory.com

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