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The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (TV Series 1962–1992) Poster

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In September 1983, Joan Rivers was officially designated Carson's permanent guest host, a role she had been essentially filling for more than a year before then. In 1986, she abruptly left for her own show, The Late Show (1986), on the then new Fox Network. Carson first learned of her show when watching her press conference on TV. She called Carson after the announcement and he was furious at Rivers for failing to inform him personally before the press conference, but he refused to take the call. Carson was so infuriated that he banned Rivers from his show, canceling even the three weeks of guest hosting she was scheduled to. Carson never forgave her for leaving, and never spoke to her again, even after she wrote him a note following the accidental death of Carson's son Ricky. Rivers stated that she didn't want to tell Carson before the announcement was made because she was afraid FOX would cancel the deal if word leaked out. She maintains that she handled things the right way by not telling Carson of her plans ahead of time. However, Carson stated that he felt betrayed by Rivers not because she dared to compete with him, but because she was not honest with him beforehand about her intentions and did not ask him for advice and his blessing. The Tonight Show reverted to various guest hosts after Joan left, with Jay Leno the most frequent. Leno then became the exclusive guest host in the fall of 1987, a position he held for the remainder of Carson's reign.
Five years after the final 'The (1962) Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' broadcast aired, 10,000 "Tonight Show" tapes were transported to a working salt mine in Kansas, 54 stories underground, to protect them from deterioration. The average temperature of the salt mine is 68 degrees, with 40% humidity.
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At exactly one minute before midnight on 1 January 1971, this show broadcast the very last television commercial for cigarettes in the USA (Virginia Slims) before the Federal ban went into effect.
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One of the few occasions in which the program did not feature an opening monologue happened in January 1986 when guest-host Joan Rivers chose not to deliver one out of respect for the victims of the Challenger disaster, which had occurred that morning.
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One of the most hilarious and best-remembered (purely unplanned) moments was when guest Ed Ames demonstrated his tomahawk-throwing technique, aiming for a cowboy sketched onto a prop wall. The tomahawk struck the drawing right in its crotch, and the whole set broke into pandemonium. Johnny Carson remarked as the laughter began to subside, "I didn't even know you were Jewish!" setting off more laughs.
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Johnny Carson regularly played with pencils at his "Tonight Show" desk. These pencils were specially made with erasers at both ends in order to avoid on set "accidents".
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NBC also considered Bob Newhart, Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason, and Joey Bishop to host before hiring Carson.
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On 28 March 1974 rumors that 'The (1962) Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' was to be assaulted by a "streaker" became a reality when show writer Pat McCormick dashed across the stage naked at the end of Johnny Carson's monologue. Johnny was completely taken by surprise by the sight of the 300lb McCormick running naked in front of the audience.
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From at least the early 1980s onward, rather than bleeping offensive language, gibberish words were usually overdubbed instead. For example, one night when a Carnack the Magnificent sketch bombed, Carson was seen to exclaim "Holy sh*t!" Viewers heard him proclaim "Holy palooga!"
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The longstanding ninety-minute format was shortened to sixty minutes, at Johnny Carson's request, beginning September 16, 1980.
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'The (1962) Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' remained a fixture on NBC through the administrations of seven U.S. Presidents (John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush).
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After 'The (1962) Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' moved from New York to California in May 1972, Johnny Carson took Monday nights off and the show would be hosted by a guest performer. Until Joan Rivers became "permanent guest host" in September 1983, the most frequent of these "guest hosts" were: 'Joey Bishop' (177 times) Joan Rivers (93 times) Bob Newhart (87 times) John Davidson (87 times) David Brenner (70 times) McLean Stevenson (58 times) Jerry Lewis (52 times) David Letterman (51 times)
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When 'The (1962 Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson') first aired, virtually everyone - including Johnny Carson - smoked on-camera during the show. Over the years, however, smoking on television became unfashionable. By the mid-80s, smoking openly on television was a thing of the past, but Carson's sentimental cigarette box remained on his desk until his final broadcast.
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There was a six month period when Jack Paar left "The Tonight Show" in 1962 and Johnny Carson replaced him as the show's host. In the interim, NBC had various celebrities guest host. It was during this time that musician Tommy Newsom was a hired to play the alto sax in The Tonight Show Band and he remained with the band, occasionally taking over band leader duties when Doc Severinsen was away, until Carson retired in 1992. Therefore, Newsom's tenure on "The Tonight Show" was three months longer than Carson's.
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Many taped episodes (including appearances by Ayn Rand, and John Lennon and Paul McCartney) were lost in a fire at NBC's archive, and only clips made for other programs (show "best-of"s, promotion, news) have survived. NBC also recycled the original tapes of many episodes, without Johnny Carson's knowledge or approval. It was only once he learned of this that it was stopped.
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Voted #12 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
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'The (1962) Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson' programs from September 1980 onward are owned by Carson Productions. Johnny Carson got the rights as part of a contract signed following a 1979 battle with NBC president Fred Silverman.
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Over the years, a number of traditions were introduced into the opening of the show and Johnny Carson's monologue. These included (among many): Ed McMahon's call "Heeeeerrrre's Johnny!", Carson swinging an imaginary golf club at the end of the monologue, Carson pulling down the boom mike to announce "Attention K-Mart shoppers!", and Carson breaking into a soft-shoe dance as the band plays "Tea for Two." These last two examples were usually reserved for use when jokes failed.
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To the right of Johnny Carson's desk were the controls to a weather machine that made the back drop rain, snow or cast a bolt of lightning.
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When it was first announced that Johnny Carson was joining "The Tonight Show," he was relentlessly pursued by the press for interviews. Carson eventually provided the journalists with the following list of answers that they could use with the questions of their choosing. Yes, I did. Not a bit of truth in that rumor. Only twice in my life, both times on Saturday. I can do either, but prefer the first. NO. Kumquats. I can't answer that question. Toads and tarantulas. Turkestan, Denmark, Chile, and the Komandorskie Islands. As often as possible, but I'm not very good at it yet. I need much more practice. It happened to some old friends of mine, and it's a story I'll never forget.
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Around 10 A.M. every morning before a show, Johnny Carson would call producer Frederick De Cordova and chat for a few minutes about what guests were to appear on the show that night and discuss a sketch rehearsal, if necessary. The telephone conversation would last about ten minutes, and that was the only contact Carson and De Cordova had before each show.
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In 1987, performer Juliet Prowse was mauled by a 80-pound leopard while preparing to go on the show to promote the broadcast of the Circus of the Stars #12 (1987), requiring 30-40 stitches to reattach part of her left ear. A few months earlier in September 1987, she was mauled by the same animal while rehearsing for the show Circus of the Stars #12 (1987). This time, she required five stitches.
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A soundtrack album issued in the 1970s (including highlights with Tom Smothers and Dick Smothers, George Carlin, Pearl Bailey duetting with Johnny, and even former President Richard Nixon appearing on the show) sold over half a million copies.
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In the first twelve months after the series' permanent relocation to Burbank in May 1972, the program made two sets of three-week visits to its former home in New York, in November 1972 and again in May 1973 - the reverse of the first ten years when Johnny Carson and the show made occasional visits every year to Burbank. After the second set of New York shows, the program didn't tape any more editions in the Big Apple until a week-long stint in May 1994, by which time Jay Leno had become host.
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When Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared as a guest show on the show in 1979. Arnold had long hair. The reason for this was because Schwarzenegger was growing his hair long in preparation for his role as Conan in 1982's "Conan the Barbarian".
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See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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