Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a strong history of playing real life figures, and he’s just signed on to play another one. JGL will portray legendary TV host Johnny Carson in a new limited series titled King Of Late Night.
David Milch, best known for creating Deadwood and NYPD Blue, will write the series, while Jay Roach (Bombshell, Meet The Parents) will direct. There’s currently no word on what network or streamer the show will air on.
King Of Late Night will chronicle Carson’s life and career as beloved host of The Tonight Show, his ability to connect with audiences and guests, and how his public persona often clashed with his more personal private life. Raised in Nebraska, Carson briefly served in the United States Navy towards the end of WWII, before pursuing a career as a radio host.
He landed several hosting gigs ranging from game shows to his own short-lived variety show, before being approached by NBC to take the late-night gig. Carson then hosted The Tonight Show for thirty years and inspired a generation of comedians; practically every late night host working today cites him as an inspiration.
It won’t be surprising to hear that this isn’t the first attempt at capturing Carson’s life on screen. Two separate projects based on Bill Zehme‘s book Carson The Magnificent: An Intimate Portrait were planned but never came to fruition.
Then there was HBO’s 1996 film The Late Shift which saw Rich Little playing Carson, but that project focused on the conflict between Carson’s successor Jay Leno and competing host David Letterman rather than being about him specifically.
A comedy series titled There’s…Johnny! premiered on Hulu in 2017 and followed fictional staff members working behind-the-scenes at The Tonight Show with Carson during the 1970s. However, the show never actually featured Carson as an onscreen character.
As mentioned, Gordon-Levitt is pretty used to playing real-life figures. He previously portrayed Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone‘s Snowden and hire wire artist Philippe Petit in Robert Zemeckis‘ The Walk.
He also played Robert Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln, and federal prosecutor Richard Schultz in Aaron Sorkin‘s The Trial Of The Chicago 7.
On top of those roles, he currently stars as Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick in the first season of planned anthology series Super Pumped. There’s probably a knack to portraying a real person, and Hollywood obviously thinks Gordon-Levitt has it. He’s known for his deep commitment to his roles, so we’ll see what he can do as Carson.
Although King Of Late Night is not currently attached to any network or streamer, Milch and Roach both have plenty of experience working with HBO, so they might be the frontrunners to pick up the series. If not, it’s likely plenty of their rivals will be eager to snap up the show themselves.