Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Play Iconic Late-Night Host in New Series

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is set to star in a series about late-night TV legend Johnny Carson. According to a report by Deadline, Gordon-Levitt will play Carson in an extended biopic of his life and career – that is, if the show gets picked up somewhere.

The project is called King of Late Night, and it is written by Deadwood creator David Milch. It will follow Carson's career from New York City to Los Angeles to Las Vegas, tracing his rise to fame and his trailblazing performances along the way. The show may also enlighten some fans about "the more colorful aspects of" Carson's personal life, and how those clashed with his on-screen obligations.

King of Late Night is a co-production between WIIP and Anonymous Content. In addition to Gordon-Levitt and Milch, so far the only other talent attached is director Jay Roach and executive producers Paula Lee, David Flynn and Paul Green. The series has reportedly been in development for about five years, and it just hit the marketplace. There's no word yet on whether any major outlets or streaming services are bidding on the show.

The series' A-list talent is blunted somewhat by Milch's diagnosis with Alzheimer's Disease in 2019. The TV legend was reportedly working on the series for several years beforehand, but it's not clear what his involvement in the show would be like going forward. Milch is known for co-creating NYPD Blue and Luck, working on True Detective Season 3 and the Deadwood movie. His memoir, Life's Work, will be published in September.

As for Carson, die-hard fans may know that he was born in Nebraska in the early 20th century and paused his education to join the U.S. Navy before going to college. He fought in World War II then returned and got his degree, which he used to launch a career in local radio and television. He worked his way up to national broadcasts and became a household name on NBC's The Tonight Show.

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Carson hosted The Tonight Show for three decades from 1962 to 1992. He had a magnetic on-screen presence that many have tried to mimic to this day, but even by the standards of the day, he was extremely private off-screen. Carson was married four times and spent little time mingling with other celebrities.

Fans of Carson can check out the 1996 movie The Late Shift on HBO Max, where Carson was played by Rich Little, or the 2017 TV series There's... Johnny!, which is streaming on Peacock. There is no word yet on when King of Late Night may premiere or where.