"Johnny Goes Home" is a chocolate milkshake, your first paper route and a Sunday drive all rolled into one. The Johnny is, of course, Carson, proud member of the class of '43 at Norfolk High School in Norfolk, Neb. Last year he took a film crew and returned to the town where he grew up; the 90-minute special airs at 9:30 tonight on Channel 4 and, since it follows "Little House on the Prairie," guarantees NBC an evening of overwhelming wholesomeness.
Carson's observations about life in the small town are not profound -- "they used to not parallel park; you parked diagonally" -- but there is a lovely Midwestern charm to the program, which was beautifully put together for Carson by producer-director David Lowe Jr. and cinematographer Jack Churchill. Perhaps it sounds off-putting (Big Star returns home for Big Homage), but Carson has seldom seemed more genuine or appealing on the air. He doesn't even seem to mind that the film camera makes him look older than the TV cameras used on "The Tonight Show" do.
Johnny drives the old '39 Chrysler Royal he polished as a kid, visits a classroom with grown-up schoolmates for a lesson in penmanship from former teacher Fay Gordon ("John! You're making compact ovals!"), and tours the house he lived in with one of its present occupants, a straightforward and blissfully unaffected kid named Wayne Kumm II. Old home movies are gracefully intercut with the present-day footage, and there's a new delight around virtually every corner. This is an almost totally wonderful television show.