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Carson, Johnny (1925–)

Johnny Carson (1925–)



Johnny Carson, who hosted The Tonight Show (see entry under 1950s—TV and Radio in volume 3) on NBC from 1962 until 1992, was the undisputed king of late-night television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3) and one of the medium's most successful personalities. Carson combined Midwestern charm, a slightly naughty wit, and expert interviewing skills as he welcomed the nation's top celebrities, funniest comedians, and interesting ordinary citizens onto his program.

Each installment of The Tonight Show began with Carson's introduction by his longtime sidekick Ed McMahon (1923–): "Heeeeere's Johnny!" The show began with a comic monologue—a comic routine presented by Carson, by himself on stage—that allowed Carson to poke fun at the day's events. The monologue always ended with Carson's trademark gesture: He would pretend he was swinging a golf club. Carson then sat at his desk and performed comic bits or character sketches. Finally, he interviewed celebrities or hosted performing acts. One of the most noteworthy shows occurred on December 17, 1969, when thirty-seven-year-old singer Tiny Tim (Herbert Khaury, 1932–1996) married seventeen-year-old Miss Vicky (Victoria May Budinger; 1952–) live on TV.

Many late-night programs challenged Carson over the years, but none proved successful. When Carson retired in 1992, comedian Jay Leno (1950–) became host of The Tonight Show.David Letterman (see entry under 1980s—TV and Radio in volume 5), who had hoped to succeed Carson, took his show (which had followed Carson's in the late-night lineup) over to CBS to compete against Leno. Johnny Carson set the standard for late-night network programming and influenced Leno, Letterman, and all the hosts who have followed him into the genre (category) of late-night TV.

—Charles Coletta

For More Information

Cox, Stephen. Here's Johnny: Thirty Years of America's Favorite LateNight Entertainment. New York: Harmony Books, 1992.

Here's Johnny! The Official Tonight Show Website.http://www.johnnycarson.com/carson/ (accessed March 11, 2002).

The King of Late Night! (video). Buena Vista Home Video, 1994.

Leamer, Laurence. King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson. New York: Morrow, 1989.

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