The undisputed King of Late Night is — and forever will be — Johnny Carson. On this day in 1962, Carson took the helm of The Tonight Show, and nothing was ever the same again.
Carson didn’t invent the modern talk show. That honour goes to Steve Allen. However, Carson reinvented the talk show and kept reinventing it night after night for 30 years, racking up nearly 5,000 shows. But it wasn’t his endurance that made Johnny Carson a star. According to Biography:
Audiences found comfort in Carson’s calm and steady presence in their living rooms each evening. Revered for his affable personality, quick wit and crisp interviews, he guided viewers into the late night hours with a familiarity they grew to rely on year after year. Featuring interviews with the stars of the latest Hollywood movies or the hottest bands, Carson kept Americans up-to-date on popular culture, and reflected some of the most distinct personalities of his era through impersonations, including his classic take on President Ronald Reagan. Carson created several recurring comedic characters that popped up regularly on his show, including Carnac the Magnificent, an Eastern psychic who was said to know the answers to all kinds of baffling questions. In these skits, Carson would wear a colorful cape and featured turban and attempt to answer questions on cards before even opening their sealed envelopes. Carson, as Carmac, would demand silence before answering questions such as “Answer: Flypaper.” “Question: What do you use to gift wrap a zipper?”
In August I was thrilled when Variety announced Johnny Carson Returns: Antenna TV to Air Full ‘Tonight Show’ Episodes starting January 1st:
Antenna TV has struck a multi-year deal with Carson Entertainment Group to license hundreds of hours of the NBC late-night institution. Antenna will run episodes that aired from 1972 through the end of Carson’s 30-year reign in in 1992. Because NBC owns the rights to “The Tonight Show” moniker, Antenna TV’s episodes will be billed simply as “Johnny Carson.”
“This is not a clip show. This is full episodes of Johnny Carson, the man that everyone in late-night agrees was the greatest host of all time, airing in real time as he did back in the day,” Sean Compton, Tribune’s president of strategic programming and acquisitions, told Variety. “Tuning in to ‘The Tonight Show’ is like taking a walk down Main Street in Disneyland. The minute you step in there, you feel good and you know it’s a place you want to stay. We cannot wait to bring this show to fans who remember Carson and to a new generation of viewers who have never had the chance to see Johnny in his prime.”
Starting January 1st we’ll see more comedy brilliance like this: