April 9th, 2012
Johnny Carson: King of Late Night
About the Documentary

Johnny Carson (10/23/1925 – 1/23/2005) was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone else in American history. Over the course of 30 years, 4,531 episodes and 23,000 guests, he became a fixture of national life and a part of the zeitgeist. In a 2007 TV Land/Entertainment Weekly poll, Americans voted Carson the greatest icon in the history of television. Two-time Emmy®-winning filmmaker Peter Jones explores his life, career, complexities, and contradictions in the two-hour documentary American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night premiering nationally Monday, May 14, 2012 at 9 pm (ET) on PBS (check local listings). 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Carson taking over The Tonight Show from Jack Paar and the 20th anniversary of his retirement.

Narrated by two-time Oscar®-winner Kevin Spacey, the film features 45 original interviews with Carson’s friends, family and colleagues, including his second wife, Joanne, Dick Cavett, Doc Severinsen, and other The Tonight Show staff. Performers who appeared, or began their careers, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson are also interviewed, including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Drew Carey, Garry Shandling, Steve Martin, Angie Dickinson, Ellen DeGeneres, Carl Reiner, Don Rickles, Bob Newhart,Joan Rivers, and David Steinberg. Late night TV hosts Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien also discuss Carson’s influence on their careers.

For 15 years Jones wrote an annual letter to Carson requesting his cooperation in the production of a documentary. His appeals went unanswered until 2003, when he received a telephone call from Carson himself: “You write a damn fine letter, Peter, but I don’t have anything more to say.” Following Carson’s death in 2005, Jones directed his letters to Johnny’s nephew, Jeff Sotzing, who controls his uncle’s archives. Finally, in 2010, Sotzing agreed to cooperate and the Carson Entertainment Group granted unprecedented access to Johnny’s personal and professional archives, including family photo albums, home movies, memorabilia, and all existing episodes of The Tonight Show from 1962 until his retirement in 1992. His simple reason: “I didn’t want people to forget Johnny Carson.”

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.

“Carson has been one of the holy grails for documentary filmmakers, but there’s such a protective veil surrounding Johnny that I was beginning to wonder if this would ever happen,” says Jones, whose films for PBS include the Peabody Award-winning Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times (2009) and American Masters: Goldwyn (2001).

“I am thrilled that the 20-year process of Johnny Carson taking his rightful place in American Masters has come to fruition at last!” remarks Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer. “There is no one who touched more entertainment careers than Johnny. All of us are actually in his debt to some degree.”

In 2011, American Masters earned its eighth Emmy® Award for Outstanding Primetime Nonfiction Series in 11 years. Now in its 26th season, the series is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET, the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations, and operator of NJTV. For nearly 50 years, WNET has been producing and broadcasting national and local documentaries and other programs to the New York community.

Johnny Carson: King of Late Night is a co-production of Peter Jones Productions, Inc. and THIRTEEN’s American Masters for WNET.Writer/Director/Producer: Peter Jones. Director/Editor/Producer: Mark Catalena. Producer: Brian Tessier. Narrator: Kevin Spacey. Music: Earl Rose. American Masters Series Creator and Executive Producer: Susan Lacy.

American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Jack Rudin, Vital Projects Fund, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.

  • Joe

    My first view of the American Masters Documentary series was Woody Allen. It was very engaging. I know they vary not only by subject but filmmaker as well. I’m still hooked.

    Looking forward to this one. Carson was way before my time…..Maybe I’ll learn something.

  • Sue Campbell


  • Adrian

    Joe, you are in for a treat!

  • Harold Hackler

    Hello – I am interested in watching the Johnny Carson show on May 14 on OETA.. Why would this not be shown on page 8 of the May 14 Evening Schedule? I just want to be sure and not miss it. Please advise. Thanks,

    Harold Hackler

  • jerry

    Carson was the most successful of all the tonight show hosts up to and including Leno. Each was so different. Steve Allen (the original host) made me stay up nights laughing at his antics including his man on the street interviews . Letterman was not the first to have a TV camera outside just to view people passing by. Allen did that in the 50’s. Allen was the most talented musically and intellectually too. He nurtured my love of jazz. My favorite spot was a night he riffed some jazz notes on the piano as Jack Kerouac read from “On The Road.” Jack Par was the most unusual and the best interviewer of the bunch. It wasn’t until Carson came along that The Tonight Show turned into the show that it is today-just a place for celebrities to push their latest film or CD.
    Certainly Carson was the most polished of all the hosts. He had the remarkable ability to let you think you knew him and if you ever met him he would have a beer with you. Obviously, for whatever reason, that is the last thing he would want to do if you ever met him.

  • Nancy

    Is this show scheduled to be repeated? Can’t wait to see it! The memories are flooding in just thinking about it!

  • Bernie G

    How can someone who was always there, every night in our living rooms and bedrooms remain so unaccessible?
    Hopefully this documentary on the wonderful American Masters series will clue us in.

  • Walter Blaney

    I can’t wait to see this Johnny Carson documentary. I am so pleased president of Carson Entertainment Group, Jeff Sotzing, has agreed to allow this show to be made. His reasoning that, “I didn’t want people to forget Johnny Carson “, is perfect. Carson is certainly unforgettable in the lives of all his millions of fans who loved him. I was so fortunate to have been one of the thousands of guest performers on The Tonight Show, the most memorable night of my 62 year career in showbusiness. My Stetson’s off to Jeff Sotzing and PBS. Walter Zaney Blaney, Texas

  • Chris Owen

    I not only was a huge fan, but was fortunate enough to see a taping of his show. Back in Burbank, where I grew up. Amazing to se the dichotomy of his on air persona, and what transpired during commercials. He had a cigarette, had people surround him, and poof, suddenly, they were gone. It was fascinating to watch, the man behind the curtain. Look forward to this documentary.

  • lucy contaldo

    Forget Johnny, never. no one will ever come near his stature. He was the BEST and i was blessed to have “grown up with him.”

  • Julio

    In 1966 when I was 14 years old, I moved from Naples, Italy, to Alabama. My dad abandoned us–his family, my brother went off to college, my mom went to work in a cotton mill. I was left home alone. It was the most depressing point in my entire life. Then I discovered the Tonight Show (after having had no TV for 4 years prior). Johnny wasn’t just some entertainer, he became my best friend and helped to pull me out of what would have otherwise been a deep bout of depression. Between Johnny Carson and the Beatles, the optimism and joy they all provided really pulled me (and our country) through a tough time. Anyone who ever watched Carson regularly is a better person for it. His sense of humor was contagious, and everyone knows laughter is the best medicine. Thanks Johnny for all the memories. I still have my VCR tape of the final show and will keep it forever.

  • Debbie Ernest

    Johnny Carson put me to bed every night for decades. He was like an old friend & I miss him. There will never be another like him & I look forward to watching this documentary.

  • Jay

    The King of Late Night, period.

  • Linda Van Beek

    My husband works evenings so I looked forward to watching The Johnny Carson Show. It was always worth it. He always put me in a good frame of mind. Look forward to the documentary.

  • T. Guardia

    I was too young to watch Carson, but my Dad always did. He loved him.
    I couldn’t get into David Letterman until he began his own show at CBS and then I loved him and kept trying to get my family to see him the way I did, which I believe was as an incarnation of Carson. You can tell Letterman worships Carson and carries on his tradition.

  • mabel floyd

    i look forward to this series. part of the ritual of ending the day and getting ready for a restful sleep was watching johnnie carson. i wish some of the past brilliant shows like johnnie carson could be rerun. i know i would watch. that is a dream for the future. in the meantime i will watch this johnnie carson offering and enjoy every minute.

  • Wendy

    Johnny was late night TV. I adored him. His comedic timing was superb. His facial expressions were priceless, especially when working with animals. No one has ever been able to replace or live up to his entertaining style. I wish we could see reruns every night of the week.

  • Diane Chatigny

    This upcoming show is wonderful news. We all grew up with Johnny and ED. What a Team they were. Such respect for each other. No one could compete with Johnny. He was so funny, so down-to-earth and such a great host and never put up with phonies. Loved his special closeness with Dolly Parton and Bernadette Peters. His generosity with giving “new” comedians that needed a break in a very tough business. Still miss him . . probably always will. Cannot say enough about his genuineness. He was in our living rooms and bedrooms for years. What a guy!

  • C. F. Massie

    I grew up watching Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett all great interviewers with their own unique style. But for shear talent, charisma and treating each guest with the utmost of respect be it a celebrity or an average Joe with a unique story well then Mr. Carson had no equals in this arena. I thoroughly enjoyed how he made every guest feel as though they were part of his showbiz family and for that matter they probably felt they were talking to a close friend or relative.

    I guess his type of character and respect is getting harder and harder to find in the showbiz world, to bad he is no longer with us I know I and many Americans miss him and I would bet many, many celebrities wish they had more opportunities to be interviewed by him.

    God Bless Johnny, truely one of a kind talent and human being

  • Roxanne Rodwell

    I spent my whole adult life with Johnny Carson, from his first show to his last, when he signed off just after I lost my husband. So I was saddened and will never forget his last show. Thank you PBS for sharing Johnny’s whole life with his fans. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Jack Paar and Steve Allen were also wonderful entertainers in their very different ways but Leno and Letterman don’t begin to compare.

  • Ron Shipley

    Impossible to say it any better than the 10 person’s before me have already. Mr. Carson was always funny with clean humor. He honestly deserves to be known as “Mr Comedy” of American Television – forever!

  • John R. Jankowski

    Johnny Carson is an iconic treasure that will never be forgotten. His sense of humor, his likeability, his juvenile antics gave all of us a reason to stay up late. Doc Severson and Ed McMahon, as much as Tommy Newsome, became household names as a result of the Tonight Show. What a wonderful memory to have/

  • Sally Philbrick

    I looked forward to seeing Johnny Carson’s show every night. He was so unpredictable and so funny. In my opinion, he and Frank Sinatra were the greatest performers I have ever had the pleasure to watch. Real class acts! I miss them both.

  • American Masters

    Hello all,

    Thank you for the wonderful comments! Here is the schedule for the premiere and repeats:

    Monday, May 14 — 09:00pm
    13 – WNET

    Monday, May 14 — 09:00pm
    13.1 – WNET-DT

    Wednesday, May 16 — 03:00am
    13 – WNET

    Wednesday, May 16 — 03:00am
    13.1 – WNET-DT

    Sunday, May 20 — 10:30pm
    13 – WNET

    Sunday, May 20 — 10:30pm
    13.1 – WNET-DT

    Tuesday, May 22 — 03:30am
    13 – WNET

    Tuesday, May 22 — 03:30am
    13.1 – WNET-DT

  • American Masters

    Hello, Harold Hackler,

    The show will be on OETA at 8pm on Monday evening. Thanks for your interest!

  • Floyd Turbo

    I grew up with Carson. The Floyd Turbo’s existed everywhere.

    I first saw his show when I was 6 or so.(1962) He was literally responsible for educating a generation.
    Older siblings would “ape” his jokes. Parents would even giggle. Bed time was midnite–instead of 10:30 pm

    I remember in Jr Hi wanting to read 3 newspapers a day–just so I could get up to speed and appreciate his monologue jokes. The Nuns had no clue why we read so voraciously–but a few of them even confessed to being “fans”. “Hip” meant plugging into the Tonight show. Age didn’t matter.

    He was sooo quick, sooo smooth. What a facile mind. We used to “re-play JC” at school the next day and laugh.

    I also began to understand and appreciate my elders during the Viet Nam war–when many families fell apart. It felt like a privilege to be able to listen to “adult humor”, which at that time–was nothing more than very quick,intelligent, perceptive and witty humor and innuendo. Satire at its finest. The Human condition parsed. Nothing like it exists anymore.

    Leno has fits of it, but wafts away. Letterman is so “inside” himself, he’s a duck. Kimmel won’t shut up–he just talks and talks… right thru the semblance of any joke.

    I feel for the upcoming generation. They have Intellectually very little to parse and share–other than digital dots, electronic pacifiers, and cartoon like creations. Quantity rather quality. Little to no socialization–in the real world.

    I’m saddened to read about his mother. Makes me appreciate John, and his work, all the more.

    Oh, Yeah. I’m from Nebraska. Land of corn and High ACT scores. Thanks, Johnny !

  • Anne Heyl

    Looking forward to seeing my daughter Ginny Beauregard on the show Monday on WGVU in Grand Rapids Mich. Those were the days!!

  • Carol

    I started watching Johnny Carson when I was in grammar school. He was on in NYC at 3:30pm on a show called “Who Do You Trust” and Ed McMahon was with him then. I used to rush home from school to catch the show.

    I appreciated his humor from an early age and never stopped watching him. Thanks Johnny – you will always be remembered.

  • Rolloff

    I was really looking forward to seeing this but Kevin Spacey? Could you pick anyone more boring and monotone? Guess I’ll have to watch with my thumb on the mute button.

  • D. Cook

    How often I’ve thought how fortunate we were to have Johnny during the period of history that we did.

    Doubtful he would even WANT to do his program today with country/world events as they are.

    Will not be missing this program.

    RIP, Johnny. We miss you.

  • Ken R

    Johnny Carson was the greatest. I have been to at least 50 tapings during the late 80s. The silver star on the black floor in Burbank was the center of the universe. He was inately gifted with the ability to interview and entertain. Even David Letterman, who fashioned his style after Carson, admits that Carson was the best.

  • Louis J. Gehring, MA


    I am currently conducting research in Germany. I will not be able to View your tribute to Johnny Carson on PBS.

    I would like to purchase a DVD of the program.

    Please advise.

    Louis J. Gehring, MA

  • Rixar13

    I must see this PBS special…. ☺

  • Jeffrey Knight

    Whenever Kevin Spacey guests on “Late Show with David Letterman”, the host asks Spacey to do his letter-perfect impression of Carson. It is masterful, and the producers of this doc couldn’t have made a better choice to narrate the special.

  • don gibbs

    today’s so-called comedy shows (leno, letterman et al) are shameful whenever they attempt to do comedy by using pre-produced video clips! that use of technology is pure cheap, low level so-called comedy! show some comedic ability by giving the monologue as johnny did! leno, letterman et al are no comparison to johnny! the quality of the hosts and the shows has tanked since johnny retired. he and his predecessors worked so hard and laid such a fabulous foundation for this type of show, but today’s shows have ruined all of that. today’s shows are a low level and lazy attempt at comedy………

  • ethel bluefield golub

    thanks for these incredible programs.

  • Donna Wright


    Absolutely LOVE Johnny!

  • greg fujita

    It was nearly 20 years ago to the day (May 22,1992) that Johnny Carson bid a somber farewell to the American viewing public on his final The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson appearance.

    The landscape of late night television has been destroyed since his departure when his true heir to the late night crown,David Letterman, was left out in the cold by NBC and Jay Leno filled in Johnny’s barely cold shoes.

    I was fortunate to going one of Carson’s final tapings of the Tonight Show in August of 1991 when Dennis Hopper was a guest. You can barely hear my applaud in the background when Carson mentioned Hopper’s character he portrayed in the David Lynch film “Blue Velvet”.

    I miss Carson’s rye wit and humor and that sparkle he had at the camera and in our lives. My favorite band (Los Lobos) was on during Carson’s reign 4 times and it was a thrill to see them perform.

  • Richard

    I hope to catch this on-demand…some of the material, like “Carnac” I still laugh at. Comedy has become way too mean-spirited in the years since Carson; his monologue and the act after the first break (especially when it was Carnac or the Mighty Carson Art Players) were a part of many evenings…

  • Sue

    Great show! Johnny Carson was a master of comedy.

    However, I was totally taken aback by the offensive comments and jokes made to female guests (and inappropriate touching) which these days would be considered sexual harrassment and furthermore, not even funny, but everyone just took for granted as being OK and terribly funny back then (including the women guests). And also I was amazed at how the men interviewed to comment about Carson, were so admiring his acting this way! Shocking!

  • JoanneMcMenamin

    Just saw Johnny Carson documentary , it was done beautifully .
    It brought many tears. There is, even today , no one like him. Obviously
    He was “one of a kind”
    I thank you for the memories of him and in how you produced it .

  • Nancy Harter

    Just watched it. It was another incredible show only PBS could take part in. So well done, very classy. Kevin Spacey did a fantastic job. Being from Nebraska and sitting up late at might with my folks watching The Tonight Show, I was very interested to see this. Just excellent!

  • Chrysann Manning

    Riveting-could not take my eyes off! Hope is will be available for streaming & DVD soon.

  • Linda Lou

    Johnny Carson WONDERFUL, enjoyed every single minute of it. Would like to buy it for my Father.

  • Toni Stephens

    I just finished watching the supurb documentary about Johnny Carson. He was truely an American Master! I watched him on the tonight show as a child, teenager, and a young adult. I was saddened when he left the show, and have missed him ever since. I often mention him, and some of the characters that he portrayed, to younger people that I work with. He was the ultimate entertainer. Thank you so much for this program that helps even the younger generation know about this wonderful man!

  • Rich Moore

    What an outstanding program about Johnny Carson, The King of Late Night Television. I remember coming home after school and turning on the TV to watch Johnny on “Who do you Trust,” before going out to play baseball or whatever else was going on. Even as a ten year old, I was a sucker for his wit and infectious humor.

    I was one of that generation that grew up and grew older watching him through all those years, sharing so many laughs and also the hard times. Johnny felt like the guy you could always turn on to make you feel better about yourself and the things going on in this screwed-up world. He had all the greats on, and you knew while watching sometimes, that you would never see anything that good, that excellent, on TV again.

    I think David Letterman, who is the closest thing we have to Johnny, summed it up the best when he said while watching that last show, it was kind of like losing someone close to you. He just faded away and you knew you would never have the pleasure of their company ever again. As my 29 year old son texted me toward the end of the program tonight, “He was just a
    magical person.” That says it all.

  • carl martineau

    i remember as a kid
    in junior high
    in the mid ’60s
    in southern california
    Orange County
    the initial broadcast
    of Ed Ames hilarious “tomahawk throw” ..
    surprised at the time
    it got aired ..
    and two decades later
    in the ’80s
    attended a taping
    of one of Carson’s shows
    when Anthony Quinn appeared
    and showed some of his artwork ..
    and then he and Carson
    did a “Greek Dance”
    as plates were being
    thrown and shattered onstage
    to LOUD audience approval ..
    the intricacy and artwork
    of the show’s sets quite dazzling ..
    something that did n’t come across
    on television in detail at the time ..

    carl martineau
    berkeley california

  • Dave

    I watched Johnny Carson from an age when I was much too young to watch anything beginning at 11:30pm on the coasts. I was dazzled by the wit and mastery for years. I even bought one of his suits. (Remember them?) About 30 years ago, there was an excellent documentary called “Johnny Goes Home,” which followed him back to Nebraska. (Rated 9.5 of IMDB, but I’m sure only big Carson fans bother to review it.)

    As the years past after he retired, my positive feelings waned because of the way he disappeared entirely from the public eye. It felt like the 29 years had been entirely about himself, that he was never interested in the audience at all, except to watch him. Other great ones that Carson seemed to admire, like Hope, Burns and Benny, never turned their back on the audience as long as they could walk and see.

  • Michael Powers

    They should’ve called the program, “Bill Zehme ruminates….”

  • kathy conway

    This was such a special remembrance. I very rarely ever missed his show and missed him greatly and still do. He had the most special knowingness about all of us and made us laugh and cry and just enjoy a wonderful experience which was Johnny Carson, Thank you for this very special experience.

  • Steven Powell

    I miss Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” literally every weekday night. Before we would go out as a teen in school, leaving would have to wait until the end of Johnny’s monologue.

    I was keen to notice his custom fit blazers that he wore. A true American treasure, without a question!!

    Late night has never been the same since Johnny left. In fact it is quite annoying. I just caught the tail end of the American Master’s documentary and know that this documentary is going to win a host of awards.

    As I constantly pause in writing this comment, I choke up because as an African American, Johnny really was my hero and no doubt the last of the great pioneers of television. That day when the show ended, I honestly cried.

    I miss Johnny Carson and nothing has been able to fill that void since.

  • Barry Shea

    Wonderful show. Absolutely wonderful. What was that beautiful, sad acoustic song Johnny sang and played on the acoustic guitar? Something about love becoming a cold, rainy night. So true…

  • Angel Garrido

    I went to see the show several times over the years. His last year I was in the audience with my dad and daughter. After Johnny’s monologue during the commercial break, Johnny took questions from the audience. I said I had a question for Ed McMahon. Johnny said, “A question for you Ed.” I said, “My mother knew you in Atlantic City”. Johnny replied, “When he proposed to your mother he didn’t mean it”. The audience laughed. I said, “I have a message”. Johnny asked, “What’s the message?” I answered, “DADDY!!!!” Carson fell on the floor laughing, the audience went wild and Ed just stared in disbelief. When they came back from commercial break, Johnny said, “Wow, what an audience. And they brought their own material.” I will never forget that night as long as I live. Long live Johnny Carson.

  • joe v

    What a great 2 hours of television about one its greatest and most enduring stars! Thanks for this terrific treat. I used to sneak downstairs and watch Johnny as a 10 yr kid in the early 60s. And kept on watching thru college and on to his final show in 1992. He could be eloquent or inane at any moment….which is what kept us coming back for more. Nothing greater than those spontaneous moments that he knocked out of the park for laughs. How he was able to keep up the pace for 30 years under that kind of pressure..not to mention his failed marriages is hard to fathom. Perhaps that show was therapy for him…it certainly was for the millions who watched every night. The last show was 20 years ago and that’s hard to believe he’s been gone from television that long.

  • Kevin Nagle

    Fantastic work on this documentary. I watched every minute with great interest. Thank you for putting this together, and thanks to Jeff Sotzing for allowing the creators to have access to make the documentary possible.

    I know it was mentioned that after his retirement, Johnny Carson faxed some jokes to David Letterman, but I didn’t hear it mentioned in this documentary that a few days after Johnny’s death, Letterman’s monologue consisted entirely of jokes that Carson had written (as a tribute from Dave to his mentor).

  • stephen sokol

    How in the world did Carson let himself get entwined with Bushkin? You take one look at him and think— sleaze.

  • GLC

    Thank you for airing this remarkable documentary. I had forgotten how funny and how relevant Johnny was. The segment with Drew Carey was very poignant. Of the current late night hosts, only David Letterman come close to how good Johnny was. I can’t wait to watch this again.

  • Marjorie Soffer-Wood

    I agree that Johnny was a one-of-a-kind. What is the repeat schedule for American Masters?

    Thank you.

  • Ann Scott

    I looked forward to and very much enjoyed last night’s American Masters tribute to the King of Late Night. Johnny entertained my parents and me nightly through the 1960s, and I felt so absolutely sophisticated when I “got ” a joke. He continued as a special part of my life through college and adult years, right up to his final show. At the end of that memorable show, Bette Midler sang “One for the Road”. Following her song was Johnny’s farewell. In the American Masters show last night, I was hoping to hear the speech in its entirety, but they cut out the part I remembered fondest. Johnny said something like this: “I was one of the lucky ones. I found something I liked doing, and they let me do it for 30 years.” Can’t type those words without tearing up.

  • American Masters

    Thanks for the wonderful comments! The program can be viewed online, and the DVD can now be purchased at ShopPBS.org!

  • Glenn Siegel

    A very well done documentary. I remember watching Johnny throughout the 80s. I also remember on the night of Johnny’s last Tonight show that the other Late Night shows honored him in their own ways. Arsenio did not have a live show that night, and Dennis Miller did- Miller opened his show with the Comment “To honor Johnny Carson, I’m going to be on tonight so he can kick my *$$ like he has every other night, so feel free to turn the channel and watch his final show.” And like almost everyone else in the country, I turned the channel to watch Johnny say goodbye. As others have said, we’ve not seen his like since.

  • Greg

    Well done! Incredible, poignant, thought provoking, and like the man himself, touching. I grew up watching Johnny in Canada as did countless Americans, feeling as though I was a part of his inner circle.

    I want to thank you Mr. Jones, Mr. Sotzing and the PBS family for allowing me a firefighter, to sit back after a long shift and unwind to this beautifuly written and produced documentary.

  • Jill Morris

    Splendid edition of American Masters! As per the PBS paradigm: smart, thorough, insightful, objective, and beautifully edited. Mr. Carson was unique… an authentic phenomenon, but only after seeing this, did I feel I finally understood the elements of the complex amalgam he comprised—alas, something it seems he felt precluded from celebrating more openly and fully during his life. Many, many thanks for this wonderful gift.

  • Randy-O

    Hey Barry, the song’s called “Here’s That Rainy Day,” which I’ve heard was Johnny’s favorite song. For me, that clip of him singing (quite capably, I might add) that song, accompanying himself on guitar, was the most stunning of the “new” clips featured in the program…Bravo, “American Masters”!!

  • Randy-O

    I also liked Conan’s comment about watching Johnny with his dad. After Johnny died, my sister made the same observation about my dad and me!!

  • JR

    This documentary on Carson is terrible. Did you forget to interview Bill Maher?

  • Heyad

    Bill Maher also was influenced by Carson. American Masters, explain why he wasn’t in this documentary?

  • jknight001

    Really loved this documentary on Johnny Carson and highly recommend it. It did a great job of looking at the different aspects of Johnny. I feel like I know him a bit better even though he did not want to be known.

    I was astonished to find out that his mother listened to his monologue and did not find any of it funny. Can’t imagine that. As I watched the documentary I wondered if having such a critical mother led to his desire to be so private.

    To me it is no surprise that Johnny Carson lasted so long. He was the consummate party host. He never talked down to his guests (whether they were celebrates or the audience) or outshined them. Always made sure they had a good time. Who wouldn’t want to invite someone like that into their home for 30 years?

  • Bonnie Sparks

    Soooo Johnny Carson the Show and Man, hoping to see an American Masters repeat showing.

  • Mary Short

    Where can the program be viewed online? I missed the original airing.

  • BFZ

    I also looked forward to this program from the second I heard of its airing. I too was one of those “kids” who would sneak any chance I could get to see Johnny…I fondly recall being 13-got to stay up late one night my parent’s had company over, and got to watch Johnny…I felt so “grown up”. As I matured I got to watch more and more of him, and now look back fondly on that time and the “golden age” it truly was for late night tv. I also remember sitting in front of the tv on 5/22/92 watching his last episode…tears running down my face…and knew then that I was witnessing the end of an era. 20 years later, I still feel this way. Watching Bette sing to Johnny made cry like I’ve not cried in a long time-Simply wonderful program! Spent the day at work showing this masterpiece to colleagues and friends…and sure made a few cry watching Bette as well!

    Thank you!

  • Fran

    In response to the coments that “Dave says, 05-15-2012″, I think if I had to please an audience five nights a week as long as he did I would probably do exactly what he did. How much of a person does one have to give to make everybody happy? As we all know, you can’t please everybody, but Johnny Carson certainly gave it his best. I am so glad that I am a supporter of PBS. Thanks PBS! Johnny will be remembered as positive by many more people than those who remembered anything negative about him.

  • Bill

    Watched the show and it was great – better than watching a hockey game –
    A few years ago I read where the episode of Miss Vicky marrying Tiny Tim was lost – strange it somehow shows up in the documentary. That was one of those things where you don’t forget where you were when it happened – in a bar on the Jersey shore (forgot the name of the bar). Hope it’s available on DVD to go along with the VHS set I have – a few clips from those tapes were used in the doc. And a whole lot more yet to be seen. Where’s that salt mine?

  • Hualani

    Does anyone know if this will ever become available to watch? I live in rural area without TV availability or cable and on the website its been Unable to be seen due to technical difficulties, please check back later. American Masters Website under “full episodes” Ive been checking every few hours since the advertised broadcast. The online simulcast didnt work either, updates anyone at PBS? Is it the goal to fix it? or just hope everyone will buy the DVD? (which Id also consider doing if I had some better idea of what the shows going to be like)

  • John

    I too remember, at age 13, having an old black and white TV in my bedroom, staying up late watching The Tonight Show from New York when Skitch Henderson led the band. No wonder I graduated high school in the very middle of my class, scholastically: I stayed up every night watching Johnny!
    I can tell you though, that by the time I finished High School, my appreciation for great music and my sense of humor were in the top 1% of my class.
    I saw the very first appearance of Bette Midler when the show was in New York and of course watched the last show in tears. What a journey.
    Thanks Johnny for so significantly contributing to our lives.

  • Janet Hanson

    Will the May 14 documentary be repeated, I HOPE!!!!!

  • Rolloffdebunk

    Perhaps Rickles said it best when he said “after the show Johnny just wanted to pull up the covers and go to bed.”
    I believe the shows took a lot of his energy. Imagine all that original material week after week and all from a shy man! I see him on the Serengeti now, on the bridge looking out to sea. May God bless you Johnny you gave us so much!

  • Hualani

    In reply to American Masters says: May 15, 2012 at 5:26 pm
    Thanks for the wonderful comments! The program can be viewed online, and the DVD can now be purchased at ShopPBS.org!
    Im one that would be interested in purchasing the DVD however would like to “see” the show first. I’m in the US however its never yet worked to be streamed online = I check a few times daily. I live outside the digital broadcast area and outside cable availability so I can ONLY VIEW PBS ON,INE. Thanks for that service. You should know this particular show only shows “technical difficulties that are preventing us from playing the video at this time please check back again soon” Ive seen other similar posts now deleted? Any news or progress for online viewing?

  • Geny

    Johnny Carson was before my time but the documentary opened me to a great Legend!

    Johnny Carsons life and career… I have a QUESTION: the night the documentary was diffused, it said it would be re-diffused on May 20th. I do not see it anymore. When will it be diffused againg? I had missed an hour and would want to see all of it again! And I also had a couple of people who were very interested of seeing it. …

    Please, if possible, let me know!

  • Ann

    Will the public be able to buy the American Masters series of Johnny Carson ? I’d very much like to have it in my collection of Johnny’s shows.

    I still miss him and his shows and no one can ever replace him, ever.

    Thanks for any information you have on this question.

  • Ed Ohlin

    A program like this makes me embarrassed that I don’t get the checkbook out often enough for public television. Mr. Carson was a truly great entertainer but so sad to see the difference between his public and private persona.

  • Liz

    I watched the episode last night and thought it was excellent. It was sad to know how he died and at the same time, what a great PSA (public service announcement) to remind people NOT TO SMOKE! With is energy and vitality, he may have lived much longer. I didn’t hear about any other ailments he had and perhaps he would have lived into his late eighties or nineties. It sounded like he was depressed the way he isolated himself and probably too proud to let anyone see him sickly. Remember Yule Brenner, Peter Jenkins and others? PLEASE QUIT SMOKING IF YOU SMOKE!! Get hypnosis, accupuncture, counseling, medication, etc., whatever works! TRY EVERYTHING!

  • niara

    I watched it last night after Sherlock: Season 2. I had no intention of watching the entire 2 hours — by then it was laready 10:30 but I got wrapped up in the documentary. I didn’t watch The Tonight Show much growing up and the few times I did see it I recall it not having that much of an effect on me. It wasn’t until reaching full adulthood and standing here at the ripe age of 49 do I fully appreciate his contribution to television, and quite frankly, America. Without being political, he was political. Without being funny, he was hilarious! Everyone interviewed talked about his great sense of timing — he was not afraid of the silence, and would milk that deadpanned look for what seemed like eternity. As I watched those episodes last night, and watched him give that classic look — he would stare right into the camera — especially the episodes with the animals, are absolutely classic. You forget how when he laughed, he REALLY laughed — he would throw back his head and howl with laughter. You don’t see too much of that nowadays. And to watch Drew Carey well up visibly as he recalled his appearance on the Tonight Show, and the love and gratitude that David Letterman clearly has to this day, and that last episode, with Bette singing to Johnny — look at the tears in his eyes, look at her struggling to continue to sing without breaking down — it was as if the world had stopped for a moment just so Bette Midler could sing goodbye to Johnny Carson in front of all of us. Such a glorious talent.

  • Amy Peck Murphy

    As a Long Island teenager, being raised without a father in the house, Johnny became my world. I adored him, albeit only via the small, black-and-white television screen. When I first developed my lifelong crush on him, he was actually still anonymous enough to be listed in the Suffolk County phone book: JW Carson, Whalebone Walk, Davis Park. He had a small house over on Fire Island, but gave it up the year after, when fame no doubt made it impossible to enjoy such a “fishbowl” location. I managed to wheedle a meeting with him on two occasions — one in Studio 6B at “30 Rock”, after watching the show, and the second time at the great Westbury Music Fair, where he had appeared live. Both times he was gracious, charming and took the time to answer my questions and give me an autograph. I so treasure these memories, and — like thousands of others — was palpably depressed by his passing back in that cold, cold January of 2005. This documentary had much the same effect on me, most especially those last clips of his “reclusive” days on “Serengeti”. Wistful and sad…

  • William Allen

    Why bother to create a website that purports to make a variety of shows available for viewing when the response to every attempted viewing is: “due to technical difficulties the video is not available”? When this goes on day after day, time after time, on three-fourths of the videos, it appears that the site is either a lie, a joke, or a waste of time. Or all three. Your money would be better spent on paying yourselves higher salaries.

  • J. Gass

    Will there be a re-run of Johnny Carson, American Masters?

  • Tom

    Quite simply, a SPECTACULAR production. It just doesn’t get better than this!!

  • Janet

    I am also interested in buying a copy of this show, Is it available?

  • Bill Hennessy

    We missed the showing of “King of Late Night” on American Masters 5/11/12. When will this documentary be replayed on Concast PBS,is Toms River, N.J. 08755 area?
    Hope you can help us as the newspaper and TV guide don’t list PBS and this show.
    Thank you in anticipation of your help.

  • Jane James

    Sadly, I have tried for days to watch Johnny Carson. All of your other videos play, but not this one. I keep seeing “technical difficulties” and try again later- which I have, over & over. Can and will this be corrected? Myself and millions of others could really use the laughs these days. Thank-you.

  • fultonk

    We are aware that many have had trouble viewing the documentary. We are currently looking into the issue. Apologies for the technical difficulties and thank you for your patience.

  • fultonk

    Hi Janet, Yes. The documentary is available for purchase on ShopPBS.

  • Rozanne

    I LOOOOVED Johnny Carson….I have several of his videos and man if you need a “pick me up” this is the man to watch….always funny and what an incredible career he had….he brought laughter to so many people…. what more can I say :) ♥


    To all American Masters web users: We greatly apologize for those of you who have experienced technical difficulties with streaming the Carson documentary. As of July 13, 2012, we have explored and fixed all potential video issues with the PBS video player. Tens of thousands of users have been able to watch the documentary successfully online (even before the video adjustments were made). For users still experiencing issues, please check to see that your browser is up to date and that all of your plug-ins are current.

    Thank you for your patience.

  • Brandon

    Does anyone know from which Carson series or Tonight Show episode came the lovely black-and-white segment of Carson playing guitar accompanying himself while singing “Here’s Comes that Rainy Day”?

  • Ted

    The complete final show and the complete show the day before the final show are on the DVD set The ultimate Collection starring Johnny Carson, volume 1-3 Also the 1982 Johnny Goes Home is on there, too. A short clip of the Tiny Tim wedding is also there but the quality appears that it was from a 2nd generation videotape master. This set came out in 2006.

    I would also like to see the complete 30 years released on BlueRay but I suspect that the early 60’s masters are in very bad shape and would cost a lot of money to clean up. Also the early shows were basically shot at roughly 320X200 resolution, and many years of them are black and white. (I don’t know when the show went color)

    I also agree that Letterman today isn’t anywhere near as good but remember that Letterman was in his prime back in the 80’s. I watched him back then and he was easily Johnny’s equal.

    One thing I found facinating in the 2006 DVD’s is that apparently in the 60’s shows there were a seres of segments called “danger johnny”. Carson parachuted out of a plane, and took a ride in a military jet, and drove a formula 1 car around a track in these segments. Can you imagine a TV star being allowed to do that today? Leno had to fight tooth and nail to be able to continue to be allowed to ride his motorcycles and I understand that Schwartznegger also has had a lot of problems over the years with movie deals where they tried to sign him to a contract banning him from his motorcycles.

    I will say that hands down if you really want to understand Johnny, watch his Johnny Goes Home show. It’s pretty much all there. Johnny’s great tradegy of his life was that he became a huge Hollywood star but he also wanted to have a home, raise a family, be married, just as anyone else does, and just as his parents raised him – and he recognized that he couldn’t have the calling of his heart – being a comedian – and do this. The two were not compatible. His love of being the comedian won out and he chose that, but he never really forgot what it was that he gave up to do that. Remember that he did get married and have children, but that marriage failed, but he never gave up on the idea of it. It seems clear that once he hit age 66 he decided that he had done his bit for King and Country and he just wanted to spend what time he had left being the husband, father, and homebody knocking around the house in the life that he had given up.

    Carson did know his place in society, and did understand the seriousness of the role that he was playing. His shows have a huge amount to teach us about the US culture of the late 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s that led into the current decade. Watching the clips now and growing up in that time period (I was in high school in early 80’s) it amazes me how disconnected the American public became after the 60’s from what was really important in the world.

  • Rich

    Who is the woman (70’s news reporter) shown in the clip from the Tonight Show where she ask Johnny a few probing personal questions? “Where did you get that,” ask the woman on the edge of her seat; “I bought it in Chicago,” quips Johnny Carson.

    Thanks for a good study of Johnny Carson, for someone born in the mid 60’s, there was obvious familiarity but this expose presented plenty of enlightening material.

  • Larry Harbour

    I could never get tired of watching this special, job well done! I have 30 yrs of memories from watching Johnny, truley the “King of Late Night” and I will miss him for the rest of my life. If I could wish for something, it would be that every episode be made availible for viewing/purchase! Thanks Johnny, and thanks PBS!

  • Linda Hansen

    Johnny was the GREATEST!!!!! He will NEVER be matched for his humor & interviewing skills. I do not watch much of the late night programs, only bits if I want to see the person who is on. Johnny you would watch the whole show and be completely entertained. WE MISS YOU JOHNNY!!!

  • jean-francis Mots

    when I came to the united state, 1965 ,not speaking english I watch Johnny Carson every night after work.
    Because of is wit and sense of humor of the news of the day, I could relate to him. Slowly I got a grip of the language.
    Many years later 1884 to be exact during a banquet in hollywood. I got to know Johnny was in the ballroom for dinner.
    I summoned the head maitreD’ and ask him to take me to his table.
    You and him must think I was crazy, we arrived at his table and he properly introduce me to him.
    I was able to thanks Johnny for his unknown contribution to teach me english telling him my story.
    We shook hands and when back to the kitchen. He was as me and his table guests were pleasantly surprise.
    I never forgot this incredible moment, I never get tired of watching all the rerun and P.B.S American Masters.
    one of most memorable moment of my career.

  • http://www.je5je5.org/ Nubia Vanstone

    Thanks for using the time for you chat this, we feel strongly about it and really love reading more on this topic.


Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2015 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.