From: Tynan on Carson, New Yorker (edited)
Carson never fraternizes with guests before or after the taping.
Newcomers are interviewed several days in advance by a talent coordinator who makes a list of the subjects on which you are likely to be eloquent or funny.
When you plunge through the rainbow-hued curtains you meet, for the first time, your host, interrogator, and judge. You have invaded his territory and once you are on Carson’s turf, the onus is on you to demonstrate your right to stay there.
Mort Sahl described what happens when a guest fails to deliver the goods.
“The producer is crouching just off camera and he holds up a card that says, ‘Go to commercial.’
So Carson goes to a commercial and the whole team rushes up to his desk to discuss what went wrong.
When an interviewer from Playboy asked Robert Blake whether he enjoyed doing the “Tonight Show,” he began by confessing that “there’s a certain
enjoyment in facing death, periodically.”
"It is so wired and so hyped and so up. It’s like Broadway on opening night.
"There’s nothing casual about it. And it’s not a talk show. You got like six minutes to do your thing. And you better be good. Or they’ll go to the commercial after two minutes.
"The producer, all the federales are sittin’ like six feet away from that couch. And they’re right on top of you, man, just watchin’ ya. And when they go to a
break, they get on the phone.
"They talk all over the place about how this person’s going over, how that person’s going over. They whisper in John’s ear. John gets on the phone and he talks. And you’re sittin’ there watchin’, thinkin’, What, are they gonna hang somebody? And then the camera comes back again. And John will ask you somethin’ else or he’ll say, “Our next guest is.”
Carson can cope superbly with guests who tell interminable stories. Instead of quickly changing the subject he will allow them to ramble on while he affects interest.
Now and then, however, he will let the camera catch him stifling a yawn.