Classic Johnny Carson shows return to late-night TV

David Letterman appears with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" Aug. 30, 1991.

David Letterman appears with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” Aug. 30, 1991.

(Bob Galbraith / Associated Press)

Heeeere’s Johnny -- again.

Tribune Broadcasting’s Antenna TV has acquired the broadcast rights to the library of “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and will start airing them in late night Jan. 1.

Antenna TV, a digital multicast broadcast network that specializes in vintage programming, will air the full hour-long “Tonight” episodes at 11 p.m. Eastern and 8 p.m. Pacific with a second airing three hours later, every weeknight. Ninety-minute episodes will air on weekends.

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Carson, who died in 2005, negotiated the right to own his programs during one of his contract stand-offs with NBC when he was the dominant figure in late night television. The legendary host’s estate controls the “Tonight” episodes from the early 1970s to end of his run in 1992 and has sold them on home video, DVD and as digital downloads on iTunes. Clips of Carson shows have also run in syndication. Full-length episodes with Carson have not aired on television since Carson retired in 1992.

“The idea of running the show at the same time every night on Antenna TV will provide viewers with a feel for how the show was viewed originally,” said a statement from Jeff Sotzing, president of Carson Entertainment Group, which licenses the programs. “This is a fantastic opportunity for people to relive this wonderful piece of American history.”

The library includes “Tonight” appearances by show business legends such as Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Stewart and early guest shots by David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld and Drew Carey when their careers were still on the rise.

Viewers will also be able to revisit Carson’s monologues and comedy bits such as “Carnac the Magnificent,” “Art Fern” and “Aunt Blabby.”

Antenna TV is available on broadcast stations in 78% of the U.S, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.