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11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Maybe it's just me, but this episode made me feel rather sad.

Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
20 May 2012

This episode of "American Masters" was well made--I have no complaints about this in any way. In fact, it was EXCEPTIONALLY well made and because of this it depressed me. This is because with a 'warts and all' biography, you get more than just effusive praise--you get the good AND the bad. So, while you learn about all of Johnny Carson's many on-screen successes and accolades, you also hear about what an absolutely screwed up guy he was as well. Because of this, instead of focusing on his triumphs (and this made up most of the show), I kept getting bogged down with his failings. He had a difficult mother--one who had a very hard time praising Johnny or connecting with him. In turn, he had a horrible time connecting with his own children--and seemed to be very distant. He also struggled with alcoholism (or at least a serious drinking problem) and his very public divorces. And, while there was lots of praise for him as a performer, it was sad that no one interviewed for the show ever felt close to him. It's an odd contradiction--with such a public figure having such an incredibly private life--and often, he was alone.

If you want to feel happy, don't watch this. However, if you hate biographies that gloss over problems and only paint a rosy picture (a very common problem), then this is for you. You learn a lot about the man and I can really respect the job the "American Masters" folks did with this one. Very good and the definitive biography on the man.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

King of Late Night Forever

Author: getyourdander from United States
22 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This show nails the essential complex host/man/loner Johnny Carson was.

It has all the major talkers Carson competed with, plus a lot of his classic clips and stories about a major television figure who tried to keep his private life private.

What is interesting to me is that the special mentions the love affairs that Carson had that broke up his marriages. Other than scandal sheet articles, I have seen very little tell all books from women Carson had affairs with. I guess not all women kiss and tell.

The special does bring up Angie Dickinson's claim that she wanted romance with Carson but things never worked out. There was always a lot of sexual innuendo used on Carson's Tonight show. This Carson special is available through a link on You Tube for anyone interested.

It covers the Joan Rivers Feud, and many other topics. Most interesting thing - very little reference to Mclean Stevenson who was the guy who guest hosted Tonight the most while Carson was there.

The Carson family issues which were never seen when Carson was on and alive are brought to the surface here in a very direct way. This show is "spot on."


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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

I was surprised I liked this film so much.

Author: runamokprods from US
8 January 2015

While I grew up enjoying Johnny Carson, he wasn't somebody I felt driven to know more about. But this almost 2 hour documentary does a terrific job of dovetailing both the public and private sides of the man to give a portrait of a tremendous talent who could handle anything on his show with amazing spontaneous grace and humor, but had a much harder time dealing with people, love and family out in the real world. A complete extrovert on-stage, he was a true introvert away from the lights, struggling with drinking, anger and extra-martial affairs. Yet while the film doesn't flinch in looking at his sad and dark sides, it does so with compassion and never feels like a hit job. It balances these darker, sometimes very moving sections with great clips from "The Tonight Show" that remind one just how damn funny the guy could be, in spite of his troubled personal life.

For a film I wasn't sure I even wanted to see, it did an excellent job of hooking me in and riveting me in telling the story of a great entertainer who was far more complicated than I imagined.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Well done doc about the king

Author: F_Jenkins from la
2 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Beautifully done documentary on Johnny Carson. There are some laugh out loud moments - makes you want to rent some Carson DVDs. This covers the life of Johnny from his beginnings during television's beginnings to his rise as the king of late night TV - a mantle many have tried to claim or just get a piece of but none have succeeded. The best part is hearing other comics talk in glowing praise of Johnny - how no one could ever be as good as him - and the feeling of appearing on the Tonight Show for the first time. Drew Carey breaking up as he talks about getting the nod to come to the chair after his first set was really great. Letterman's praise is spot on too as is Seinfeld's. They are great in their own right but know, Carson is king and will never be dethroned, even after his passing. A great documentary for fans of Carson, comedy or just documentaries in general.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Johnny Carson gets quite a tribute in this "American Masters" episode

Author: tavm from Baton Rouge, LA
3 July 2012

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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Johnny Carson, Big and Small

Author: Miles-10 from United States
4 April 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In one of the clips from the "Tonight Show" episodes used in this documentary, Johnny Carson has just stepped on stage and the audience is giving him a seemingly interminable ovation, but Carson begs them to stop. If his head gets any bigger, he tells them, his crown will no longer fit. Carson is unknown to a whole generation now. Even people born in the 1980s do not remember him because he was on TV after their bedtimes, and unless their parents or older siblings shared their VCR recordings of the previous night's show, most kids would have found Carson over their heads. (There were exceptions. A compilation of skits from the "Tonight Show" were in syndication even before Carson retired, and the kids who saw those were apt to enjoy their broad humor.) Orson Welles, the worldly American actor and director, once said that the only thing he missed when he lived in Europe was that they have "no one with the genius of Johnny Carson". That was how much Carson meant. In the movie "Fargo", there is a scene in which the criminals each hire a prostitute and have sex in a motel room. They all finish in time to turn on the TV and watch as the "Tonight Show" theme (actually called "Johnny's Theme") plays. It was what everyone in America did at 11:30 p.m. for three decades of the late twentieth century.

Aplomb is a word that almost always described Carson, except, of course, when an animal brought on the set by a zoo keeper urinated in Carson's hair, but Carson played that for laughs and got them. I think this documentary captures the essence of Carson's success. As someone says in the film, what you saw was who he really was. It was just that there were other dimensions that you did not see. He was funny and charming and open in his public persona but closed and drunkenly angry and boorish off camera, a man whose relationship with his children was so distant that once when the "Tonight Show" band leader, Doc Severenson, was spending an avuncular day with one of Carson's sons, he was stunned when the boy admitted that he had an easier, more intimate relationship with Severenson than he did with his own father.

We fans were all aware that Carson had married and divorced several times (four marriages, three divorces) and knew that there had to be Sturm und Drang behind all of that. (The documentary shows that his second wife appeared on her husband's program as a guest, but did you know that she once guest hosted?) What we also knew, which you will learn from this documentary, is that for some reason, mysterious to Carson himself when he occasionally commented on it, he married three wives whose names began with the letters "Jo". Jody, Joanne, and Joanna. The man was trying to get something right by trying again and again. But finally he married Alexis, and did not divorce, it turns out, not because they had no problems but because Carson adamantly refused to solve their problems by getting a fourth divorce; rather he was willing to give her whatever freedom she needed to avoid that.

There were also ways that Carson's inner anger came out in his comedy. He not only made jokes about his painful divorces but also about his lawyer and financial adviser who squandered some of Carson's money. And when a new NBC president made the mistake of trying to squeeze more out of Carson, the comedian opened a monologue by saying that the executive in question had gone swimming and a shark had avoided him rather than attack. "It was a professional courtesy", said Carson. (Carson eventually got everything he wanted in his next contract with NBC.) Carson and his sidekick, Ed McMahon, had an ongoing gag about Carson being annoyed with McMahon's occasional on-stage interruptions. Who knew that there was truth behind Carson's annoyance, but how clever of them to make this into part of their comedy routine rather than let it fester into an actual conflict.

Then there is the ultimate ambivalence of Carson's life. He once joked on air about the time he got a prestigious award and told his mother about the award and the of the body that had given it to him. "Well," she said, "they must know what they're doing." When she died, however, she left a box of decades-worth of newspaper clippings about her son's successes. Johnny kept that box close to him until he died. It was the most praise he had ever gotten from her. It seemed as if Carson went too soon from the world after his retirement, but it had actually been more than a decade. Years of cigarette smoking had ruined his lungs even after he had given them up.

Despite the tragedies of his life off screen, I think Carson lived a life with joy in it. He had a lot of fun and was loved by fellow performers as well as the public. Yes, he had limited privacy because every adult in America could recognize him instantly on sight, but he was highly rewarded for that. He was a multi-millionaire who could afford to give generously to charities, which he did quietly so that it was not revealed until after he died just how many hundreds of millions he had given away.

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Long live the King

Author: DarthVoorhees from United States
10 August 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Johnny Carson has always been an interesting figure in the pop culture lexicon. It seems that he is someone who is totally immune to any criticism whatsoever because what he represented was so powerful. This episode of 'American Masters' for the most part is interested in more of the myth than the man. The allegory of Citizen Kane and Rosebud is brought up frequently during the documentary as if finding Johnny's Rosebud will define him. I felt that the documentary was too flattering to Carson and too much in awe of his legend that it really ultimately failed to present a real dissection of Johnny and his faults and successes.

One problem with this documentary is that it just reiterates everyone's love for Johnny. There isn't an interviewee on the show who doesn't love Carson. All of his faults are portrayed as gleams of polish that make up the legend. I for one would have loved to have seen more time spent on some of the darker instances of Carson's career. I have always thought he was in the wrong in his feud with Joan Rivers. Rivers is given some time to articulate her side of the story but I for one would have been far more satisfied if some other people who had dealings similar to this were represented.

I guess what is conveyed here is the legend of Johnny Carson and the legend has weight. Dozens of interviewees are questioned about Johnny's need to entertain and there is a weight put around all their answers which become half answers. Surprisingly Carson himself answers the question in a 'Tonight Show' clip and the answer is simple, he liked the attention. It's a beautifully honest answer but it kind of defeats the mythic propositions of the documentary. In some ways I liked seeing these comedians being very conscious of this giant shadow they live in. If you like sentimentalism in your documentaries than you will love this. In Carson's case the legend is more interesting than the man, who by all accounts could be a pretty nasty bastard.

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5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Great Look at the Late Night King

Author: Michael_Elliott from Louisville, KY
17 May 2012

American Masters: Johnny Carson: King of Late Night (2012)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

Very good entry in the long-running series takes a look at the life and career of Johnny Carson. The two-hour documentary covers a wide range of topics including Caron's early work in magic, his Omaha, NE days, his moves to Los Angeles, a couple failed television shows, his game show and finally his thirty-year run as host of The Tonight Show. Through interviews and archival footage we're told the ups and downs of Carson's career. It's said that Carson was one of the most loved figures in television history and that certainly appears to be the case simply by how many people turned up to be interviewed for this. Jay Leno, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, Conan O'Brien, Drew Carey, Jerry Seinfield, Angie Dickinson, Joan Rivers, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Steve Martin and Dick Cavett are just a few of the familiar faces who show up to talk about what Carson meant to them. It's really amazing that it took so long for American Masters to do a documentary on the legend but they really haven't let you down as the film is certainly well produced and director Peter Jones did a fantastic job at putting it together. What I really enjoyed is how we'd get the biography of Carson's life and then while we're told the stories we'd get a cut to a Tonight Show clip where he's joking about it. As someone who didn't grow up with Carson I found the clips to be incredibly funny and I think the film really got across what made him so special with so many people.

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0 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Two hours I'll never get back again

Author: Chuck4Ever After
29 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Why -- oh why -- did I watch this?

I found it on Netflix, and the incredible Kevin Spacey was listed as the main actor. That's pretty tempting for a major Spacey fan.

Yes, Spacey was the narrator, and he did an admirable job. But he didn't appear as himself at all.

I was hoping he would at least appear as a guest on one of the shows or offer some commentary or something.

Guess you need to be a true Carson fan to enjoy this. There's almost nothing in it for Spacey's other fans.

Shoulda known better. Would have been way more fun to watch some other Spacey gig I had already seen.

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