How serious are they in Charlottesville?

When TV's Johnny Carson jokes about the University of Virginia, the townsfolk become very serious.

The late night TV host opened his monologue Tuesday night with a crack at the university, saying that mice were being exposed to rock videos in an experiment.

One lab animal, Carson joked, had died and the other was standing in line for Bruce Springsteen tickets.

That had the audience in Burbank in the aisles, but at Mr. Jefferson's university, officials were not taking the joke so lightly.

Tom Doran, director of medical center information services, said the comparative medicine department has a very strict system and protocol for use of animals in laboratories.

"The comparative medicine people were a bit concerned because various groups that are against animal experiments have complained before," said Doran. "They were afraid that it might be seen as if they were being flippant about the use of animals in experiments."

Said U-Va. spokeswoman Elizabeth Wilkinson: "We've been calling around, but haven't been able to find any cases like that. We called the Johnny Carson studios and they said they heard on the radio that a university in Virginia was doing this; we got a pretty vague answer from them. It may just be a mixup in name."

Joe Bleedan, publicity director for The Tonight Show, said yesterday that about nine writers work on the gags in the show. "Generally the writers get it out of the newspapers," said Bleedan. They don't usually check the information for accuracy, he said.

The university is a major research facility, but Doran said that the only experiments being conducted there with animals involve using gerbils and hamsters for hearing experiments. "But," he added quickly, "it doesn't involve music."