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Johnny Carson: King of Late Night

Johnny Carson: King of Late Night (2012)

May. 14,2012
| Documentary

Chronological look at the life and career of Johnny Carson (1925-2005), with commentary from an ex-wife and more than 30 fellow comedians, friends, employees, and biographers. The biography defines why Carson was an enduring star (his cool, his timing, his genuine laugh, his breadth of knowledge) and pursues his motivations and inner self (a loner with a drinking problem, a decent Midwesterner whose mother withheld approval, a quiet person who loved to entertain). The key to understanding him, argues the biography, is his love of magic.


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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.

Chuck4Ever After

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.


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."http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes


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.