American Masters: Season 26, Episode 5

Johnny Carson: King of Late Night (14 May 2012)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary, Biography, History
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Chronological look at the life and career of Johnny Carson (1925-2005), with commentary from an ex-wife and more than 30 fellow comedians, friends, employees, and biographers. The biography... See full summary »


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Episode credited cast:
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Himself (archive footage)
Jack Bailey ...
Himself (archive footage)
Herself (archive footage)
Michael Barrie ...
Himself - Tonight Show Writer (as Mike Barrie)
Ginny Beauregard ...
Herself - Personal Assistant
Himself (archive footage)
Paul Block ...
Himself - Talent Coordinator
William F. Buckley ...
Himself (archive footage)
Vicki Budinger ...
Herself (archive footage) (as Miss Vicki)
Himself (archive footage)
Catherine Carson ...
Herself (archive footage) (as Katherine Carson)


Chronological look at the life and career of Johnny Carson (1925-2005), with commentary from an ex-wife and more than 30 fellow comedians, friends, employees, and biographers. The biography defines why Carson was an enduring star (his cool, his timing, his genuine laugh, his breadth of knowledge) and pursues his motivations and inner self (a loner with a drinking problem, a decent Midwesterner whose mother withheld approval, a quiet person who loved to entertain). The key to understanding him, argues the biography, is his love of magic. Written by <>

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Release Date:

14 May 2012 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?


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Performed by Bette Midler
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User Reviews

Johnny Carson gets quite a tribute in this "American Masters" episode
3 July 2012 | by (Baton Rouge, La.) – See all my reviews

After a couple of months of sitting on my DVR, I finally watched "American Masters: Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. It seems to cover everything of his life and career choice-his discovery of magic tricks at 13 or 14, his first TV appearance on a station in Omaha, Nebraska, his initial Los Angeles local TV exposure, his big break on national TV as substitute on Red Skelton's show before his own same-named show on CBS, and then his pinnacle-30 years of "The Tonight Show". We also get glimpses of his four wives and his affairs in between. And then there's the way he wanted his private life really private. Along the way, there's plenty of interviews of people who he helped to either mentor or just expose to a mass audience-David Letterman, Jay Leno, Garry Shandling, Jerry Seinfeld, Joan Rivers. The last one is discussed further because of her abrupt departure as "The Tonight Show"s permanent guest host as well as treasured guest after Johnny discovered her Fox deal in 1986 that Ms. Rivers never told him about beforehand. Arsenio Hall also chimes in about Johnny and how his show managed to be real competition for Carson when he simply went with his own thing and went after the late night king's audience's kids. Many of the show's highlights are here: that tomahawk incident with Ed Ames with Johnny saying "I didn't know you were Jewish!", a caged tiger from Joan Embry scaring him to go to Ed McMahon's shoulders, etc. One surprising scene for me, however, was seeing Johnny singing "Here's That Rainy Day" from an early show so lovingly while playing guitar. It was a pleasantly unexpected scene to watch. I could probably say more, but I'll just now say if you were or still are a fan of his, I highly recommend this "Johnny Carson: King of Late Night" ep of "American Masters." Personal note: Mom often told me that when I first talked, it was during one of Johnny's shows when Ed said "Heeeere's Johnny!" and my first words were the toddler version of it.

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