Late night TV: Can Fallon out do Johnny Carson?

“The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” still sounds a little weird to me, but that’s not a criticism, it’s a sign of my advancing age.

Because “The Tonight Show” still means Johnny Carson to me, even after Jay Leno had the show for 22 years. Not that I referred to the program that often in his 22 years as host, but when I did, it was as “Leno.”

Truth be told, in the late night talk show wars, Letterman has been my favorite since Carson called it a career in 1992.

Further truth be told, it isn’t often I watch any television that late at night on a weekday, unless the Green Bay Packers are playing on a Monday night, or the Detroit Red Wings are on a West Coast swing.

Morning arrives much too early here at the newspaper on weekdays for me to indulge in late night viewing, as much as the night-owl in me would like to do just that. And Friday nights are for live music, whenever possible, not TV.

Fallon is immensely appealing and giving his show a look is something I hope to do sometime soon. During his time on “Saturday Night Live,” Fallon was wicked funny, as his character Sully might say in a “Boston Teens” sketch with Rachel Dratch’s Denise character.

Those two made me laugh even when the writing wasn’t so funny.

Still, even two decades after he said goodbye, Johnny Carson reigns as my all-time most beloved late night host. Carson had something special about him. Call it a twinkle, call it irreverence, call it what you will.

Carson was funny. And quick-witted. Some of the give-and-take between him and his guests was hilarious.

Probably more than anything, Carson became my late-night favorite because his show brought comfort in the awful days after my mother passed away unexpectedly. My family was devastated, most especially my father who lost not only his life partner, but his best friend.

Being a stoic Finnish-American, my dad didn’t talk much about his feelings. And he kept working at the mine for more than a year after mom died. But sometimes, dad stayed up later than he should, despite having an early-morning alarm waiting for him, just so he could catch Carson’s opening monologue.

It made my dad smile and sometimes it even made him laugh out loud. Which made me smile and laugh as well in those sad, dark days.

When my dad himself passed away 15 months after my mom’s death, Carson was a source of solace for me. Oh, I was blessed with family and friends who were there for me. But Johnny Carson was a special friend in the toughest time of my life.

Jimmy Fallon seems to have a certain spark and my affection for him may grow as I tune in to his version of “The Tonight Show.” But somehow, even though he will be great, his show will be “Fallon” to me.

No one will every replace Johnny Carson in my heart.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.