carson & lettermanThere was Johnny Carson and there was everyone else. He took over the Tonight Show when the very popular Jack Paar unexpectedly retired in 1962, a semi-obscure WW2 Navy Ensign, comedian, magician and game show host from Nebraska. It seemed to many an odd choice for NBC’s successful late night franchise, and a temporary measure. Temporary as in 30 years, during which Johnny expanded and defined the talk/variety show genre, and it is on his birthday we celebrate


Carson’s wide-eyed Everyman appeal masked a huge well of talent, insight and intelligence.

He began his stint when The Tonight Show ran an hour and forty five minutes, and for most of his career it was a 90 minute-show. Johnny hosted and interviewed a Who’s Who of performing artists, as well as world figures in the sciences, business, arts, sports and politics.

An appearance on his show guaranteed a thousand young performers entry into the Big Time, and a call to his couch for an interview made them overnight stars. Author’s books became best sellers after a Carson interview.

The quintessential Middle American, Carson was a generous host, brilliant comic and a laser-sharp observer of all things American. His timing was legendary, and he could ad-lib with the most brilliant minds in the world. There are other terrific talk show hosts with styles of their own working today; Kimmel, Colbert, Fallon, Meyers, Corden, and they all owe Johnny Carson a deep debt.

The closest we’ve had since Johnny is Dave Lettermen, also now retired, another Midwest native who reflected current events through his own quirky funhouse mirror. Today celebrates the intangible combination of talent and personality that makes a great talk show host. Johnny Carson (1925-2005) ♫Heeeeeere’s Johnny!♫

Suggested Activities: Asking your guests if they brought a clip.

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