If you watch one piece of video today, make it this one. It's posted a little lower in this space and shows the real spirit of the man who we lost today -- a first-rate, "Second Banana," Ed McMahon. The fact that he embraced that status and relished it says so much about what kind of guy he was -- self-effacing, humble, and, as we see in the video, more than willing to make fun of himself after falling on tough financial times.
Early this morning (and when I say early, I mean early -- we're on the air at 4am) our lead reporter on Today in LA, Robert Kovacik, started running down the story on word that McMahon had died a few hours earlier. McMahon's best friend had called us from Orlando, and his publicist confirmed it to Robert first (because we are McMahon's TV family, he said, he was willing to go on the air with us first,) We reported it on the air a few minutes later. That publicist, longtime McMahon friend Howard Bragman, told Robert during our newscast this morning that McMahon's character was alive and well last year when he fell in to default on his home and faced foreclosure.
He had a choice. Say it's nobody's business, or come out and say hey, it can happen to anyone. It happened to me, Ed McMahon!
McMahon, of course, came forward and had no shame about what was happening, again cementing his status as the guy who's just like us, the personification of that audience out there who laughs at all Carson's jokes, that non-celebrity-celebrity "second banana" who is making a go of it however he can, and poking fun at himself along the way.
That's how he landed in this FreeCreditReport.com commercial; an homage to his days of handing out money with Publisher's Clearing House, and the irony that now he's broke.
There he was, rapping like a pro, making us laugh with him, and yes, at him a little bit too. Which was always just fine by him, as long as we were laughing.
"Rakin in hand over fist ... was on the VIP list ... I was a verbal gunslinger ... and my shots never missed ...
But now the bills have come due and my credit score's wack ... so i'm hitting up the winners to get my checks back ..."
Hilarious. I wandered around on the NBC lot this morning looking for stragglers from Jay Leno's Tonight Show staff, who are wrapped with that show and prepping for the new show on Stage 11. The new Jay Leno set is coming along nicely, and most of the guys doing the construction at this early hour (it's not yet 8am) are not the "old-timers." They laughed and told me they come in "at eight, maybe five after," but they told me anyone who was with the show during the Carson days will be happy to share stories about McMahon, who was beloved on this lot.
Well, two minutes after eight, Joe Drago, a prop guy on the show for about the last 20 years or so, called me and said he'd be happy to chat a little about Ed McMahon. He told me a few stories about the good old days, which you can see here in this second video.
I wandered back to our side of the lot, hoping maybe I'd run into someone else, but the old haunting grounds of the previous incarnations of the Tonight Show are quiet and dark.
Jay Leno's old stage, Studio 3, is stripped now, with just an old dumpster in the middle where the desk and couch used to be. (Check out this video of us dumpster diving and looting that I took yesterday!)
Carson's old Studio 1 is right next door -- Access Hollywood's in there now. But guess who's still on the door? I hope the new tenants, whomever may rent the studio out, leave the paintings up on the elephant doors.
Ed McMahon should always have a home on the NBC lot.