Johnny Carson, King of Late Night Television


Johnny Carson, King of Late Night Television

Johnny Carson has been called and rightfully so the “King of Late Night Television.” Johnny came to be a pioneer in television as host of The Tonight Show for 30 years.  His interviewing skills and also his comedic whit won over a huge audiences as well as launching countless careers for comedians and others.


Johnny’s early years

Johnny Carson was born on October 23, 1925, in Corning, Iowa.  At age 8 Carson’s dad relocated the family to Norfolk, Nebraska. It was there that Carson grew up and began refining his talent for entertaining family and friends.  At 12 years old Carson discovered a book of magic and bought a magic set and begun performing his magic act.  Johnny wanted to be a magician and his first gig was at the Norfolk Rotary Club when he was 14 years old and he called himself “The Great Carsoni” on a black velour towel draped over the front of his magic box.

Johnny Carson

Carson was in his senior year of high school when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  After graduation Johnny enlisted in the US Navy even though he never saw battle.  He would entertain the troops by performing his act using his ventriloquist dummy, Eddie.  After the navy Carson returned to Norfolk and went to the College of Nebraska.  He finished in 1949 with a major in speech and also a minor in radio. His final thesis (a scholastic paper) was on “Ways to Create Funny Jokes.”


Johnny’s start in broadcasting

Carson signed up with the radio station WOWAM in Omaha, Nebraska, directly out of college. He was given his own show, which debuted on August 1, 1949 called The Johnny Carson Program which broadcasted for forty-five mins in the morning.

Carson decided to see if he could make it in Hollywood, California.  He didn’t locate a job for months but ultimately, Carson began working at KNXT radio station and after a year Carson was given his own television program called Carson’s Cellar.  Numerous skits and character personalities that were later viewed by millions on the Tonight Show made their television debut on Carson’s Cellar.


Carson signed an agreement with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) soon after.  A year later Johnny Carson had his own half-hour comedy show called The Johnny Carson Show.  Nonetheless, because of troubles the network was having with authors and directors, the program was terminated after four months. CBS fell short to renew his agreement. Carson was left out of work with a wife and also 3 sons to support. He accepted a work as game show host for Do You Trust Your Spouse?, which later became Which Do You Rely on?, on the American Broadcasting Companies, (ABC) network.

Johnny had to relocate to New York City for the work and New York was not as easy as Hollywood, but Carson kept working hard. He was asked to replacement for Jack Paar, which was the host of a program called The Tonight Show, for 2 weeks in 1958. He carried out a funny routine for The Perry Como Show about the very same time. Gradually, Carson was making a name for himself once again.

The Tonight Show

Steve Allen started The Tonight Show on the radio in 1951 in L.A. California and then The Tonight Show transferred to Television in 1954 in New York City.   Allen produced The Tonight Show for two-and-a-half years and changed hands with Jack Paar hosting the Tonight Show.  Millions watched every night from 11:15 P.M. to 1:00 A.M. then Johnny Carson became the host of The Tonight Show on October 1, 1962 and the rest is television history.


Over thirty years Johnny Carson developed his stage presence.  His opening comic monologue wrapping up with his famous golf swing and his focus on comic details like his timing, delivery and actions and his fair treatment of his guests made him a natural host of the most popular television program of the time.  Carson believed that if the visitor sparkled, so would The Tonight Show.  Over the years hundreds of the country’s best entertainers, celebrities and everyday people sat and talked with Johnny Carson.  He was a significant influence in assisting new entertainers get their start.  Comedians like David Letterman, Jay Leno, George Carlin as well as Joan Rivers all got their big break on The Tonight Program.  Jay Leno eventually replaced Carson as the program’s Tonight Show host.

After The Tonight Show

After hosting The Tonight Show 4,531 times for millions of viewers over thirty years, Carson decided to retire while still on top.  On Friday, May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson did his famous golf swing for the very last time.