Segments in this Video

Johnny Carson: King of Late Night: Introduction (03:52)


Critics, celebrities, and writers compare Johnny Carson before the camera and in private life. A vault located 47 stories below ground contains over 4,000 hours of footage of "The Tonight Show." (Credits)

Johnny Carson: Remembering His Roots (03:18)

When Carson was twelve years old, he realized that he wanted to be the center of attention. Joanne Carson describes how Carson received his thoughtful loving nature from his father and sense of humor from his mother.

Johnny Carson: Childhood (03:34)

After moving to Norfolk, Nebraska, Kit Carson worked for the power company. Ruth Carson did not like boys and she favorited her daughter, Katherine. Carson studied magic tricks as a child and called himself, "The Great Carsoni."

Johnny Carson: College Years (02:52)

Jack Benny complains how the roles between he and Carson have switched. During college at the University of Nebraska, Carson allowed his Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers borrow his car for 25 cents an hour. Jody Wolcott, his magician's assistant, married him.

Johnny Carson: After College (01:41)

Caron worked at WOW radio station and performed magic shows and ventriloquist acts. In 1949, television came to Nebraska and individuals watched a test pattern broadcast for four hours daily. "The Squirrel's Nest" was Carson's first television show.

Johnny Carson: Moving to Los Angeles (03:02)

Carson secured a job at KNXT-TV as an announcer. Dan Gingold described how rigid Carson behaved when hosting "Carson's Celler." Weeks after Carson hosted "The Red Skeleton Review," NBC premiered "Tonight" starring Steve Allen.

"The Johnny Carson Show" (02:47)

CBS portrayed its host as the perfect family man. Carson and Jody frequently fought in public after drinking. CBS canceled the show after 39 weeks.

"Who Do You Trust?" (02:52)

Claudia McMahon describes how her father was hired for the game show. Jack Parr replaced Steve Allen as the host of "The Tonight Show." Experts and critics discuss Parr's influence on the television show.

Johnny Carson: Divorce (02:15)

Jody thought Carson was seeing other women and divorced him; Carson began seeing Joanne Copeland, a budding actress. Carson turns down hosting "The Tonight Show" initially, but eventually relents.

Run at "The Tonight Show" Begins (04:53)

Perry Cross, McMahon, and Carson performed a hula dance at a Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. The new host of "The Tonight Show" premiered on October 1st, 1962 at Studio 6B in Rockefeller Center. Audiences question the new format; Ruth was unsure if her son would succeed.

Johnny Carson: Making People Laugh (04:37)

Once Carson's self-esteem grew, the show became popular. Joanne and Carson married and tried to keep their private life away from the public's eye. "The Tonight Show's" guests included astronauts, politicians, actors, and authors.

Capturing the National Zeitgeist (05:11)

Tiny Tim's marriage to Miss Vicki is still the highest rated program in late night history. Copycat shows sprang up, but would not last due to the pressure of daily live television. Friends and colleagues describe how Carson allowed his guests to shine during their segments and had comedic timing mastered.

Johnny Carson: Popularity Soared (03:22)

Ruth sat with a reporter while Carson performed his monologue on "The Tonight Show" and criticized him. Joanne accepts that Carson committed adultery and divorced him in 1970.

Johnny Carson: Musician (02:53)

Mel Brooks believes that Carson could have made a living as a drummer. Friends and colleagues describe Carson's fractious relationship with his sons. "The Tonight Show" moves to Burbank.

Johnny Carson: Regimented Schedule (03:15)

Carson called his producer daily at 10am to discuss last night's show, the ratings, news headlines that should be incorporated into his monologue, and rehearsal. Carson wrote the entire show during the writer's strike in the 1980s. Colleagues describe working on "The Tonight Show."

Johnny Carson's Monologue (04:13)

Talk show hosts discuss how Carson crossed generations and the impact of his monologues. Colleagues describe how the late night host never alienated his audience politically, but would make jokes at politician's expense.

Johnny Carson: Comedy Skits (02:58)

Biographers describe how Carson wanted to portray an illusion of himself. Carson created a series of stock characters including Aunt Flabby, Carnac the Magnificent, Floyd R. Turbo, and El Mouldo.

Johnny Carson: Wooing Women (07:47)

Carson began dating Joanna Holland but continued to date other women. Female celebrities describe being interviewed by Carson. Claudia explains how McMahon came up with "Here's Johnny;" colleagues describe the pair's relationship.

"The Tonight Show" Ensemble (04:31)

Doc Severinsen describes how the host developed the band's personality. At the "Tonight's Show's" ten year anniversary, Carson announced he married Holland. "20/20" interviewed Carson about his alcohol addiction.

Johnny Carson: Bad Jokes (04:46)

Steve Martin explains how Carson would instead of ignoring when a joke bombed, he would make it funnier with his self-deprecating humor. "The Tonight Show" brought in 20% of NBC's total income in the late 1970s; Carson asks to leave the show.

Johnny Carson: Born Anarchist (04:59)

Craig Tennis recalls how Carson upon being asked to wear a necktie at the Polo Lounge, took off his shoes and socks in protest. Jay Leno, Garry Shandling, Drew Carey, and other comedians recall their first visits to "The Tonight Show" and its impact on their careers.

Empathy for Fellow Performers (04:09)

Carson believed audiences needed to like the performer. Seinfeld describes that viewers loved to see the childlike innocence of the late night host when meeting animals. Carson returned to Norfolk Nebraska to film a special on his 56th birthday. Joanna petitioned for divorce in 1983.

Hosting the Academy Awards (03:32)

Martin modeled his hosting of the Oscars after Carson's performance. "The Tonight Show" named Joan Rivers as the first permanent guest host. When she began her own late-night program, Carson felt betrayed and angry; they never spoke again.

Carson Betrayed by Business Manager (03:22)

Carson felt exploited and betrayed by Bushkin and fired him. Ruth died in 1985; workers found a box with hundreds of newspaper clippings of her son's success. Female friends and colleagues describe their relationship with Carson and how his mother impacted him.

Alexis Maas (02:31)

Carson invited Maas in for a drink after meeting her on the beach. The couple married in 1987. Rick Carson died in a car accident in 1991.

Johnny Carson: Feeling Threatened (04:11)

Arsenio Hall decided to create his own niche in late-night programming instead of directly competing with "The Tonight Show." Leno's manager planted a story in the press that NBC wanted Leno to replace Carson soon. After announcing his retirement, the network never consulted Carson on his possible replacement.

Johnny Carson: Final Show (04:13)

"The Tonight Show" needed to turn potential guests away. Doc Severinson explains that Carson believed it was time to retire and wanted to simplify his life. Colleagues and friends describe how the show was never the same.

After "The Tonight Show" (05:21)

Carson never pursued another television project and would fax jokes for Letterman to use in his monologues. For his last appearance on network television, Carson delivered a top 10 list. After being diagnosed with emphysema, Carson did not want to fight.

Johnny Carson's Legacy (04:44)

Carson died on January 23rd, 2005; friends and colleagues describe their reaction. Bette Midler serenades the late-night host on his final program.

Credits: Johnny Carson: King of the Late Night (00:0-3487)

Credits: Johnny Carson: King of the Late Night

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Johnny Carson: King of Late Night

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Quite possibly the biggest star that television has ever produced, Johnny Carson was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone else in American history. Over the course of his 30-year run on The Tonight Show, Carson interviewed 23,000 guests in 4,531 episodes. Yet he remained a very private man who rarely gave interviews himself. With unprecedented and unrestricted access to Johnny's personal and professional archives, multiple Emmy and Peabody award winning American Masters series and two-time Emmy-winning filmmaker Peter Jones explore the life and career of one of the most beloved yet enigmatic icons in American entertainment history.

Length: 115 minutes

Item#: BVL131313

Copyright date: ©2012

Closed Captioned

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