American Masters – Johnny Carson: King of Late Night

Published July 23, 2012

Hard to believe that Johnny Carson left The Tonight Show nearly a quarter century ago, after an amazing 30-year run.  For Americans between 1962 and 1992, Johnny was not unlike a grown-up bedtime story – for we watched him from our beds, and he was the last thing we saw before nodding off.  Whether he was killing in his monologues (or dying, and simply letting silence and a blank stare get a second chance at the laugh), or poking fun at Ed, or doing Carnac the Magnificent, or offering us an endless parade of unforgettable, and often legendary guests, Johnny Carson truly was the King of Late Night.

I expounded on this a few years ago with a post entitled Bette Midler Bids Johnny Carson Adieu, focusing on Johnny’s farewell show.

David Letterman reached that 30-year pinnacle before shuffling off into retirement, and for years I (and many others) considered him to be Carson’s TRUE heir to the late night throne. However, Jimmy Fallon has proven night after night that he is a worthy successor to Carson (certainly more so than Jay Leno), if only for being consistently original, surprising, and (most of all) FUNNY. Actually, Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Kimmel have all stepped up and given each other worthy competition at that post-news, weeknight hour, but each of them owe a  significant debt to Mr. Carson.

PBS.org recently posted a documentary on their American Masters page, entitled American Masters – Johnny Carson: King of Late Night.  I just finished watching the 2-hour program, and it was so good, and nostalgic, and entertaining, I decided to post it here.

The copy from the PBS page reads as follows: Quite possibly the biggest star that television has ever produced, Carson commanded, at his peak, a nightly audience of 15 million viewers – double the current audience of Leno and Letterman – combined. Rarely giving interviews, Carson chose to remain a very private man whose public persona made him an American superstar. He once revealed, “I can get in front of an audience and be in control. I suppose it’s manipulation. Offstage, I’m aloof because I’m not very comfortable.” American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night explores this dichotomy and enigma, unearthing clues about Carson’s childhood, early days in the business, and personal and professional life.

Interested?  Of course, you are.  So, without further ado: Heeeeere’s Johnny!