October 2, 1962 - May 22, 1992
NBC Late Night Talk Show - 4531 Episodes

Johnny Carson

Ed McMahon

Musical Directors:

Doc Severinsen (1967-1992)
Skitch Henderson (1962-1966)
Milton Delugg (1966-1967)

Assistant Musical Director:
Tommy Newsom (1968-1992)

The contrast between Jack Paar (the previous host of
The Tonight Show) and Johnny Carson was marked. As
emotional and likely to blow up as Paar was, that is how
calm and unflappable Carson was. Carson opened each
show with a monologue and then spent most of the
remainder of the evening chatting with guests. Unlike
Paar, Carson tended to avoid anything controversial and
was usually content to keep his audience amused. When
Carson started, the show was originating from New York
and was taped on the same evening that it aired. Johnny
was on all five nights and began his monologue when the
show began, at 11:15 P.M. On his first show, Carson was
introduced by Groucho Marx; Johnny's first words,
reacting to applause as he walked onstage for the first
time: "Boy, you would think it was Vice President Nixon."

In February 1965 he refused to do the 11:15-11:30 P.M.
segment any longer, leaving that to Ed McMahon and
Skitch Henderson. On January 2, 1967 this first
fifteen minutes was dropped from the show
altogether, leaving the show at 90 minutes.

For millions of Americans, the show was a comforting,
consistent, comedic lullaby. Every night for three
decades, they'd drift off to sleep as a twinkle-eyed,
silver-haired Nebraskan swung an invisible golf club,
made some alimony jokes, and inspired throaty ho-ho-hos
from his eager sidekick. Over the course of some 4500
shows, he turned The Tonight Show into a pre-sleep
ritual, launched a thousand stand-up careers, and
reached the kind of fame where last names were
unnecessary: "Heeeeere's Johnny!" was enough.

The show would remain at 90 minutes in length until
1980 when it was cut back to only one hour. Features
that were used on his show with varying frequency
included "Stump the Band," in which members of the
studio audience would ask the band to try to play
obscure songs by giving them only the titles; "Carnac
the Magnificent," with Carson as an inept magician;

"Aunt Blabby," with Carson as a gossiping little old
lady; "The Mighty Carson Art Players," spoofing movies,
commercials, tv shows, and events in the news; "Floyd
R. Turbo," with carson as a super-patriot; and "The Art
Fern Tea Time Movie," with Carol Wayne as the original
"Matinee Lady." Perhaps the most celebrated telecast,
and certainly the one with the most enormous
audience, was that of December 17, 1969,
on which Tiny Tim married Miss Vicki.

In May 1972 the show was permanently moved from New
York to Burbank, California. It was also around this time
that Carson started cutting back on his appearances.

He would now do the show only four nights per week,
leaving the Monday night show to a guest host. The most
frequent guest hosts during the first 21 years 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), and David Letterman (51 times).
Joan Rivers was the "permanent" (and only) guest host
from September 1983 until 1986. 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 Johnny's rein. Johnny's
final telecast was a national event. A quiet reminicence
(without big-name guests) about the shows golden
moments over the past 30 years. Many, however,
felt that the next-to-the-last show was the best;

in it, Bette Midler sang a wistfully comic love song
to Johnny that expressed what most viewers felt,

Program Opening from 1966
Program Opening from 1987
CD Theme Music
Midi Theme

From the January 23, 1999 edition of TV Guide:
Ranked "the funniest TV moment of all time" by TV Guide!.


Photos courtesy of

Click HERE for Johnny Carson's obituary.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
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Check out these classic TV Guide covers...
June 8, 1963 TV Guide cover June 27, 1964 TV Guide cover July 30, 1966 TV Guide cover October 14, 1967 TV Guide cover
August 31, 1968 TV Guide cover August 15, 1970 TV Guide cover March 4, 1972 TV Guide cover July 13, 1974 TV Guide cover
July 30, 1977 TV Guide cover June 23, 1979 TV Guide cover March 28, 1981 TV Guide cover December 3, 1983 TV Guide cover
July 14, 1984 TV Guide cover June 29, 1991 TV Guide cover May 9, 1992 TV Guide cover December 25, 1993 TV Guide cover
February 13, 2005 TV Guide cover




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