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Comedy Central 

The First Guests on 25 Late-Night Talk Shows

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Comedy Central 

1. The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

The king of late night inherited The Tonight Show in its previous incarnation from host Jack Paar, and then parlayed it into the recognizable late night format we know today. Carson’s tenure began live on the air from studio 6B in Rockefeller Center on October 1, 1962. He was introduced by Groucho Marx and had an impressive roster of guests, including Joan Crawford, Mel Brooks, Tony Bennett, and bandleader Rudy Vallée. The musical guests were a folk trio called The Phoenix Singers. (In those days, the shows ran for a whopping hour and 45 minutes a night; today, they're typically a mere hour long.)

Virtually all of the recordings of The Tonight Show from before 1970 are lost because of NBC’s old practice of destroying or reusing their tapes, but you can hear audio of the first three minutes of Carson's first show above.

In May 1972, Carson moved the show from New York to Burbank, California, where it stayed until his last show on May 22, 1992. Guests on his first west coast program were actress Shelley Winters and then-First Lady of California, Nancy Reagan.

2. Late Night with David Letterman

In a bid to keep viewers—including that coveted younger demographic—tuned in after The Tonight Show, NBC created Late Night with David Letterman, which aired its first show on February 1, 1982 with guests Bill Murray and Mr. Wizard. Checkout Murray’s typically wacky first appearance above.

3. The Late Show with David Letterman

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When Carson retired in 1992, Letterman and Jay Leno vied for the spot behind The Tonight Show desk. Leno won what has since been dubbed as the first war for late night, but Letterman didn't come out a loser: He jumped to CBS for a new show to air at 11:35 p.m. Though Letterman retired on May 20th (making way for Colbert), his reign began on August 30, 1993 with cameos from Tom Brokaw and Paul Newman. Fittingly, the first guest was Bill Murray, while the musical guest was Billy Joel. You can see the monologue here.

4. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

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In early 2014, Leno retired (for the second time), making way for Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. But when he took over from Johnny Carson in 1992, his first guest was Billy Crystal. When Leno finally signed off (for the second and presumably final time), Crystal joined him as his last guest as well.

5. The Jay Leno Show

Shortly after Conan O'Brien took over The Tonight Show, Leno reneged on his promise to retire. So NBC created a primetime program for him called The Jay Leno Show, which aired at 10 p.m. The short-lived experiment began on September 14, 2009 with guest Jerry Seinfeld. An Entertainment Weekly cover story named it “TV’s Biggest Bomb Ever."

6. Late Night with Conan O’Brien

O’Brien was a lowly writer for The Simpsons when he was plucked from obscurity to take over Late Night from David Letterman on September 13, 1993. The early reviews were rough, but what followed became one of the most absurdly hilarious shows late night has ever seen. On his first show, O'Brien welcomed John Goodman, Drew Barrymore, and Tony Randall. Check out the typically self-deprecating first intro and monologue above.

7. The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien

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Jay Leno first stepped down from The Tonight Show in 2009, and O’Brien’s Tonight Show debuted on June 1, 2009 with Will Ferrell as the first guest and Pearl Jam as the musical guest. Shortly thereafter, NBC ousted O’Brien and returned Leno to his Tonight Show hosting duties, which he maintained until 2014. Clips from the show have mostly disappeared, but a recap shows the type of humor that typifies O’Brien’s hosting talents.

8. Conan

After being reluctantly ousted from The Tonight Show, the self-described “palest host in late night history” found a home on TBS with Conan. Speculation ran wild as to who the first guest was going to be, and it ended up being somebody no one—not even the person herself—could have guessed. Out of three possible choices, fans hilariously got to vote between Jack Nicholson, the Sultan of Brunei, or a woman named Arlene Wagner, the curator of the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, Washington. The other guests that night were Seth Rogen, Lea Michele, and musical guest Jack White.

9. The Arsenio Hall Show

The first incarnation of Arsenio’s late-night show was meant to be counterprogramming to the slew of elder statesmen hosts like Carson back in the late '80s and early '90s—a show that catered to a younger, more diverse crowd. On January 3, 1989, Hall's first guests were Brooke Shields, Leslie Nielsen, and musical guest Luther Vandross. You can see a clip from the show above.

On September 9, 2013, Hall returned to late night with a new version of The Arsenio Hall Show. As with his first show, his second go-around ran in syndication. On his first night back, Chris Tucker and Paula Abdul were guests, and Snoop Lion performed. But Hall's comeback was short-lived; the show was cancelled after just one season.

10. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

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Fallon’s first night as host of Late Night got off to a rough start: He welcomed the not-so-willing-to-talk Robert De Niro, but things quickly changed when Justin Timberlake sat down to chat. The first musical guest was Van Morrison.

11. Jimmy Kimmel Live!

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In early 2013, Kimmel’s Live! show moved to the coveted 11:35 p.m. time slot to be in direct competition with heavy hitters like The Tonight Show, but Kimmel’s little-show-that-could originally began airing at 12:05 a.m. on January 26, 2003, where it slowly built a loyal following. That first show featured George Clooney, NFL-er Warren Sapp, Coldplay as the musical guest, and an appearance by Snoop Lion. Unfortunately, as always, Matt Damon didn’t appear because they ran out of time.

12. The Daily Show

The original version of The Daily Show bears little resemblance to its contemporary incarnation, with original host Craig Kilborn offering up heavy loads of snark instead of sharp political commentary. Kilborn’s debut show didn’t include a guest, but his second show featured an interview with actress Mary Kay Place.

In 1999, when Jon Stewart took over for Kilborn—who left to host The Late Late Show on CBS—the political slant gradually began to appear. But they kicked things off with a non-political guest as the fresh-faced Stewart chatted with actor Michael J. Fox.

13. The Colbert Report

On October 17, 2005, the nation was served up a heavy dose of truthiness as Stephen Colbert welcomed viewers to his new show. His first guest was Stone Phillips, his impressive neck, and his very firm handshake.

14. The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn

After departing The Daily Show, Craig Kilborn debuted as the host of The Late Late Show on CBS on March 30, 1999. The show followed Letterman at 12:35 a.m. and stole a little bit of its lead-in’s thunder with its first guest, Bill Murray. Supermodel Heidi Klum also appeared.

15. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

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In 2004, when Kilborn’s time was up on The Late Late Show, CBS tapped Scottish-American comedian Craig Ferguson to sit behind the desk. Though he had guest-hosted before, his first show as official host was on January 3, 2005 and included a sit-down with David Duchovny and actress Nicole Sullivan.

16. The Dick Cavett Show

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Cavett has had many talk show incarnations over the years, but he’ll always be remembered for his erudite and provocative late night show that ran on ABC from 1969 to 1975. His first guests on the premiere episode of The Dick Cavett Show were Woody Allen, opera singer Beverly Sills, President of Hunter College Jacqueline Wexler, and actor Robert Shaw.

17. The Late Show starring Joan Rivers

Legendary comedienne Joan Rivers was previously the permanent guest host on The Tonight Show when Carson was under the weather or unable to appear on the broadcast. Rumor has it that Rivers accepted her own show on the then-new Fox network because her name was left off a list of possible hosts to take over should Carson retire. The bad blood between the two continued until Carson’s death in 2005. The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers premiered on October 9, 1986 with Cher, Pee-Wee Herman, Elton John, and David Lee Roth as guests. The show soon fizzled in the ratings and led to Rivers being fired, and soon the show was helmed by a slew of guest hosts including Arsenio Hall, who used the experience to transition into his own late night show.

18. The Pat Sajak Show

Doesn’t it seem like everybody got their own show in the '80s? The good folks at CBS decided it would be a good idea to give Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak his own late-night talk show, and on January 9, 1989, The Pat Sajak Show premiered with Chevy Chase, actress Joan Van Ark, actor Michael Gross, Roberta Flack, an interview and performance by Naomi and Wynonna Judd, MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and comedian Dennis Wolfberg. But quantity didn’t equal quality; the show was cancelled the next year.

19. The Chevy Chase Show

Chevy Chase began his notoriously brief period as a late night talk show host on September 3, 1993. The show debuted on Fox with guests Goldie Hawn and Whoopi Goldberg. Reviews of the show were immediately horrendous and the show was swiftly cancelled just one month later.

20. The Magic Hour

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Another half-baked, late-night endeavor was former basketball star Magic Johnson’s show The Magic Hour, which premiered in 1998. First guests included Mel Gibson, Laurence Fishburne, Cher, and musical performer Babyface. The—ahem—magic didn’t last long, and the series was cancelled after only three months on the air.

21. Last Call with Carson Daly

Renaissance man and host extraordinaire Carson Daly has been the skipper of Last Call with Carson Daly since 2002. Though it has recently rebranded its format away from the standard late night sit-downs pioneered by Johnny Carson, it began on January 8, 2002 as a fairly straightforward talk show that originally taped in studio 8H in Rockefeller Center—the same studio used for Saturday Night Live. Daly's first guest was singer Alicia Keys.

22. Lopez Tonight

Lopez Tonight debuted on TBS on November 9, 2009 in the 11p.m. time slot. Lopez’s diverse first guests were Eva Longoria, Kobe Bryant, and Ellen DeGeneres, with Carlos Santana playing “Oye Como Va.” The show was moved back to 12 a.m. after Conan came on board, and was cancelled in 2011.

23. THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON

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When Jimmy Fallon made his move into The Tonight Show chair on February 17, 2014, he welcomed Will Smith and U2 as his first guests.

24. LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS

Late Night With Seth Meyers / Facebook

One week after Jimmy Fallon made his Tonight Show debut, his fellow SNL alum—and former SNL head writer—Seth Meyers took over Late Night. For his first show, he interviewed Parks and Recreation's Amy Poehler (another SNL alum) and Vice President Joe Biden.

25. THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN 

The Late Late Show With James Corden / Facebook

When James Corden took over The Late Late Show in March, Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis appeared as his first guests.

This story originally ran in February 2014.

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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12 Admissible Facts About Judge Judy
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Judge Judith Sheindlin was 54 years old when her namesake TV show premiered on September 16, 1996. Two years later the diminutive (5’1”) adjudicator was trouncing the powerhouse Oprah Winfrey Show in the Nielsen ratings. Today, she is one of the highest paid TV celebrities, earning $47 million per year—which she will continue to do through 2020, thanks to a new extended contract.

Fervent fans are familiar with Judge Judy’s more outrageous cases, like The Tupperware Lady and the eBay Cell Phone Scammer, but they might not know some of these fun facts about both the show and the woman behind it, who turns 75 years old today.

1. THAT GRUFF, NO-NONSENSE STYLE OF JURISPRUDENCE IS NOT AN ACT.

Judge Judy spent a little over 20 years in New York City’s family court system, where she earned a reputation early in her career for being blunt, impatient, and tough-talking. “I can’t stand stupid, and I can’t stand slow,” was one of her oft-repeated “Judyisms” at that time. She also frequently warned attorneys appearing before her: "I want first-time offenders to think of their appearance in my courtroom as the second-worst experience of their lives ... circumcision being the first." 60 Minutes filmed her in action as part of a 1993 profile, and while her hair color and eyebrows have softened since then, her impatient rants and verbal smackdowns haven’t changed a bit.

2. SHE BEGAN WEARING HER TRADEMARK LACE COLLAR AS SOON AS SHE WAS APPOINTED AS A JUDGE.

New York City Mayor Ed Koch appointed Judith Sheindlin to the bench in 1982, and to celebrate she and her husband Jerry—both civil servants at the time—took a $399 package trip to Greece for two weeks. While passing by a row of street kiosks with various locally made crafts for sale, she impulsively purchased a white lace collar from a vendor. She explained to her husband that male judges wore stiff-collared white dress shirts and colorful neckties that peeped out of the top of their robes, so that they had a nice colorful “buffer” between the austere black gown and their face. Female judges, however, had nothing but neck peeping out of their robes and the unforgiving black color revealed every minute of sleep deprivation as well as any skin tone irregularities. The white lace collar, she decided, would not only perk up her face but would also be a bit disarming for litigants—she could picture them thinking “That nice little lady with the lace collar sitting behind the bench couldn’t hurt a fly!”

3. DESPITE THOSE NEW YORK CITY SCENES ON THE COMMERCIAL BUMPERS, JUDGE JUDY IS TAPED IN CALIFORNIA.

Sheindlin spends 52 days per year taping her show. She flies to California via private jet every other Monday and hears cases on Tuesday and Wednesday (occasionally Thursday if there are production delays). One full week’s worth of shows are filmed each day. Many viewers, however, are fooled into thinking Judy is holding court in her native New York, thanks to the scenic Manhattan footage in between station breaks and the New York state flag behind her chair. That is, until something oh-so-unique to the west coast—like an earthquake—occurs on-camera. (Note that in the clip below, Judge Judy quickly ducks beneath her bench once the room begins to tremble.)

4. SHE IS BRIEFED ON THE CASES BEFORE SHE ARRIVES ON THE SET.

Judge Sheindlin does not go to the studio unprepared; producers FedEx the sworn statements and relevant information on each upcoming case to her home (Naples, Florida in the winter; Greenwich, Connecticut in the spring and summer) and she familiarizes herself with enough details to have some background, but not enough so that the case doesn’t appear “fresh” when she questions the litigants during filming.

5. THE CASES REALLY ARE REAL.

The production company has a staff of 60-plus researchers across the country who spend their days poring over lawsuits filed in local small claims courts. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, they are able to photocopy cases that they think might make for interesting television and those copies are forwarded to the show’s producers. Any cases that make it to the next stage (about three percent) involve contacting the litigants involved and asking them if they’d like to forego their civil court hearing in exchange for a free trip to Los Angeles, an $850 appearance fee, and a per diem of $40 (as of 2012). An added incentive is that any judgments awarded are paid by the show, not by the plaintiff or defendant. The best cases, according to the executive producer, are those that involve litigants with a prior relationship—mother/daughter, father/son, boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. Such cases engage the audience because it’s an emotional tie that’s been broken (the recurring plot on many soap operas).

6. THE AUDIENCE, HOWEVER, IS NOT SO REAL.

Regular viewers will note that the same faces seem to pop up in the audience regularly. Those folks in the spectator seats are paid extras (often aspiring actors) who earn $8 per hour to sit and look attentive. Prospective audience members apply for the limited amount of seats by emailing their contact information along with a clear headshot to one of Judge Judy’s production coordinators (sorry, we cannot provide that info). If chosen, the spectator must dress appropriately (business casual or better) and arrive promptly for the 8:30 a.m. call time. Audience members must pass through metal detectors on their way in and are not allowed to bring cell phones or any electronic devices with them, and food, drinks and chewing gum are also verboten. Spectators are rearranged after each case so it’s not as obvious that it’s the same group of people, and the most attractive folks are always seated in the front row (it’s Hollywood, after all). The audience is instructed to talk animatedly amongst themselves in between each case so that Officer Byrd’s “Order in the court!” admonition has more impact. Bad behavior is grounds for immediate expulsion (in front of 10 million viewers, as Judge Judy likes to remind us).

7. JUDGE JUDY DRESSES CASUALLY FOR THE JOB.

Sheindlin has been known to publicly chastise litigants who come to her courtroom in skimpy clothing or “beach attire,” but behind that bench and under that robe she is usually sporting jeans and a tank top or T-shirt.

8. OFFICER BYRD IS A REAL BAILIFF.

Brooklyn native Petri Hawkins Byrd earned his B.Sc. degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1989 and started working in the Brooklyn Family Court system. He first worked with Judge Sheindlin when he transferred to the Manhattan Family Court. “We [the court officers] used to call her the Joan Rivers of the judicial system,” he recalled in a 2004 interview. “She was just hilarious.” Byrd relocated to San Mateo, California in 1990 to work as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal and a few years later he read an item in Liz Smith’s gossip column about Sheindlin’s upcoming TV show. He sent his old colleague a congratulatory letter and added, “If you need a bailiff, I still look good in uniform.”

9. DESPITE HIS SOMETIMES IMPOSING COURTROOM DEMEANOR, OFFICER BYRD IS ALSO A VERY FUNNY GUY.

He is a talented impressionist, but his sense of humor almost cost him his job—or so he thought at the time. Once, back when he was working with the feisty Judge Sheindlin in New York, he donned her robe and reading glasses to entertain his co-workers with a barrage of Judyisms. Of course, as always seems to happen when one mocks the boss in the workplace, he was caught in the act.

10. THE OCCASIONAL CELEBRITY RELIES ON JUDGE JUDY’S BRAND OF JUSTICE.

Depending upon your own definition of “celebrity”, of course. Actress Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days) appeared on the show in 1996 as the plaintiff, suing her plastic surgeon for a leaky breast implant that was impeding her acting career. One year later, former Sex Pistol John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) appeared as a defendant when drummer Robert Williams, who was hired to support Lydon on a solo tour, sued the singer for lost wages and an assault. Despite Lydon’s occasional bad courtroom behavior, the decision was made in his favor.

11. THE STAR ORIGINALLY DIDN’T WANT THE SHOW NAMED AFTER HER.

Sheindlin first envisioned calling her show Hot Bench, a term used frequently in the appellate court, but the producers wisely advised her that the term was meaningless to TV viewers who didn’t work in the legal system. Her next thought was Judy Justice, since she’d overheard her court officers warning deadbeat parents who were delinquent in child support payments that they were in for a load of "Judy Justice" if they weren’t prepared to cough up some money. In retrospect, Sheindlin realized the wisdom in calling the show Judge Judy: She couldn’t be easily replaced, as the various judges had been on The People’s Court. However, after 19 years on the air, she still does not refer to herself by that sobriquet; whether introducing herself to someone or advertising her show in a promotional clip, she is always either “Judge Sheindlin” or “Judge Judy Sheindlin.”

12. JUDGE SHEINDLIN INHERITED HER SENSE OF HUMOR FROM HER FATHER.

Murray Blum, Judy’s beloved father, was a dentist whose office was in the family home. In those days—before sedation dentistry was an option—a dentist’s best tool to distract nervous patients was the gift of gab, and Murray became a master storyteller out of necessity. Years of listening to her father at the dinner table and at family gatherings taught Judy how to deliver a punchline. One evening outside of a hotel in Hollywood, Sheindlin was approached by a woman who introduced herself as Lorna Berle. She told the judge that her husband Milton was a huge fan and asked if she would mind talking to him for a moment. The elderly comic slowly emerged from a limo and Judy greeted him by singing the theme song to Texaco Star Theater, her favorite TV show as a child. Milton Berle complimented her in return, saying “Kid, you’ve got great comic timing.”

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