On October 11th, 2011, Johnny Carson filed a $10,000,000 lawsuit against one Ed Purkins, of Gainesville, FL, from beyond the grave, citing grievous personal injury and loss of public dignity. This was the start of the troubles.
Ed had been plumped down in his recliner, a sweaty beer in one hand, the remote control in the other. Flipping the channels, as they used to say. Not really paying much attention to what was going on in the little TV screen. It was late, the beer was having its desired effect, and he just needed a surfeit of noise and color to wash out the troubles of the day. From his testimony: “I’d finished the can, y’know, and was just thinking about putting my fat ass to bed. I used to be bigger, then. Tossed the can into the basket, and I missed it by, oh, I dunno, three inches. Half-foot tops. Anyway, I thought about just letting it sit there, y’know, I could always throw it in when I replaced the bag, but then I thought, it’s late, I gotta get up sometime…so I got up, dropped the remote down on the chair, and picked up the can, just like my momma taught me.
“That’d be about when I heard the noise coming from the TV. I mean, there was always some kinda noise or other coming from the TV, that’s what it’s there for, right? But this was different. It was sort of a…scraping kinda noise, like pushing a big heavy rock across the sidewalk. And you could feel it, too, in your gut like. I looked back over, thinking maybe I’d see some smoke or something coming outta the set, but it looked fine from where I was standing. Course, I couldn’t see the screen properly; I was sorta off to the side. So I went over, checked out all the connections, the speakers and whatnot, and everything seemed to be in working order. It was still making the normal TV noises, but underneath the grinding sound, and there was something a little odd about them. Like, one second I’d hear Johnny talking about this or that…they were doing some kinda marathon on him, y’know…and then I’d hear this “meep-meep!” and sorta zips and zooms. Figured something musta gone funny with my cable. I’d call the guy in the morning, y’know. It was late.”
The defendant then returned to his recliner, obtained the remote, and prepared to power down his television. “I hadn’t really looked at the screen, figuring the problem was audio, y’know. If I had, of course I wouldn’t have tried to turn it off. I’m not a cruel guy, anybody’ll tell you that. But then Johnny started yelling something, and the audience was going crazy like.” As Mr. Carson’s estate put it, testifying on his behalf, “Johnny was scared, he was hurt, and he needed to get this boob’s attention somehow. If the idiot had turned off the power, it would’ve been goodnight, Johnny. He needed to do something drastic to catch hold of Mr. Purkins’s beer-addled interest. We remind the court that, were it not for Mr. Purkins’s senseless flipping, Johnny would never have found himself in that dangerous and degrading predicament to begin with, would never have been forced to drop his televised persona in a desperate plea for the most basic form of mercy.”
When the defendant turned to investigate the ruckus on the TV, he was met with a then-unprecedented sight. “It was like the picture was stuck in-between channels, which I guess was what all the grinding was about. On the right side of the picture, there was the Tonight Show, the audience all sort of mushed together on the bottom, two or sometimes three to a seat; on the left side, there was some cartoon canyon, y’know, big fluffy clouds, red rock, green cactus. Johnny had somehow got himself stuck right in the middle, where the two pictures met. He looked wedged in there good.” Indeed, Mr. Carson sustained a fractured hip, a displaced collarbone, and several puncture-wounds to his right arm from the prolonged contact with the cartoon cactus. “Don’t let the bright colors and simple shapes fool you,” (from his attorney), “those things are as sharp as the real thing. We’ll be having a few words with WB after this.”
It took Ed Purkins several minutes to come to terms with this unaccustomed sight. “I’d always thought that all the channels were separate, y’know. I mean, it’s TV. I thought maybe the beer had been too much on such a hot night.” It then took another three hours for the acclaimed television personality to convince the muddled Mr. Purkins to contact the proper authorities on his behalf. During that time, he suffered severe sunburn to his right side, due to the unnatural brightness of the yellow cartoon sun, and the sustained, awkward position may have resulted in as-yet undiagnosed chronic complaints. He was also pecked on the forehead three times by a belligerent roadrunner.
The case was decided in favor of Mr. Carson, for the full amount, which Ed Purkins is still working to pay off. His advice to other would-be TVers: “Pick a channel, and stay on it. I just wish somebody would’ve told me something like this could happen. I feel bad for Mr. Carson and all, but sometimes I think I’m the victim in all this, too.”
Since the Carson v. Purkins case, there have been over 75 class-action lawsuits filed by television personalities, many of them frivolous. The troubles came to a head with the infamous case of Theodore Cleaver, who intentionally tried to “wedge” himself between channels, an action which resulted in the young man’s death. “He only thought it’d be a laugh,” said Wally, the boy’s older brother. “He wanted the attention more than the money. Ratings haven’t been good lately for us black ’n’ whites.”
Congress is currently in session to discuss a bill that would disable the actions of remote and built-in television controls, effectively “fixing” every television set permanently on one channel, and in the “powered-on” position. Many of the aggrieved television personalities, whose ratings would suffer from such action, see this as a writing-off of their troubles. Some have called for Congressional representation, and a few of the more violent personalities (led by several well-known cartoon animals) have murmured about secession.
For a more in-depth study on this fascinating and controversial issue, see “Flickering With The Stars: The Secret Lives of Television Personalities,” by E.G. Pickersham.