And What a Reign It Was

In his 30 years, Carson was the best, providing a bedtime blanket of amusing rituals and quirks, and a barometer of the national mood

Darrell Vickers and Andrew Nicholls, head writers for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, are sitting in a cluttered room at the end of a long, nondescript suite of offices at NBC's Burbank headquarters, getting ready to tackle El Moldo. It is noon on Wednesday, and they have already had their morning phone conversation with Carson about tonight's show (he has asked for a few more jokes about Ed McMahon's recent wedding and some on the Michelangelo computer virus), and they have finished a draft of the opening monologue. Theirs is one of six full-length monologues prepared by the show's eight...