×

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

But in reality, Carson prevailed because he was the personification of a successful performer--he was proud of his work, his demeanor and talent were unfailingly consistent, and he brought joy and community to an audience without demeaning its interests or thrusting upon it his private agonies, which were not infrequent.

But in reality, Carson prevailed because he was the personification of a successful performer–he was proud of his work, his demeanor and talent were unfailingly consistent, and he brought joy and community to an audience without demeaning its interests or thrusting upon it his private agonies, which were not infrequent.

After Robin Williams and Bette Midler on Thursday, the final night would be perceived by some as anticlimactic. But it was typical of the man–understated, a quiet, personal kind of closure. It possessed, of course, the appropriate clips, the symbols, as if any were needed, of what the show could achieve without even breaking a sweat. But more than anything else, the program was simple.

And nothing symbolized that more than the monologue. There was, of course, the almost obligatory vice president joke. The GE joke. The joke about the proliferation of late night talkshows. But most important, and so consistent with a private persona, was the quiet but gracious references to family. And particularly to the son who died recently in a car crash.

“It would have been a perfect evening if … Rick would have been here with us, but I guess life does what it is supposed to do. And you accept it and you go on.”

The concluding shot of the broadcast was a photograph of a sunset taken by Rick shortly before his death.

It all began on Oct. 1, 1962, with Mel Brooks, Tony Bennett, Rudy Vallee, Joan Crawford and Groucho Marx as guests. It concluded with just the regulars … Carson and his sidekicks, Ed McMahon and Doc Severinson.

In between, every person managed to find his or her favorite guest, favorite skit, favorite one-liner. Remember Ed Ames who threw tomahawks as a hobby? One night, with Carson goading him on, Ames hurled a tomahawk at a cutout of a lawman. The weapon struck the cutout in an anatomical region of unusual sensitivity to males.

“Frontier bris,” Carson quipped. It was fast, cut (so to speak) across some cultural lines and was funny. That’s one I’ll keep.

There had to be a concluding show, but Johnny Carson is not a performer you can ever say goodbye to. He is too much a part of our lives. And on those nights when Jay or Arsenio or Whoopi or whomever bombs, we will always (unfairly) shrug in discouragement, and remember those great nights with the man who defined the art.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

(Fri. (22), 11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., NBC) Host: Johnny Carson Johnny Carson's run as host of "The Tonight Show" concluded Friday night exhibiting the performance qualities that brought distinction to three decades of work ... politeness, a somewhat flustere

Production: Academics who rarely admit the ownership of television sets labored to explain Carson's success with opaque psychobabble. Critics prattled on for days with interviews and then extrapolated it all into appallingly simplistic theories of societal significance.

More TV

  • CENTRAL PARK FIVE

    Netflix and Ava DuVernay Sued by Police Interrogation Firm

    The company behind a controversial police interrogation technique filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against Netflix and director Ava DuVernay, claiming that it was defamed in DuVernay’s miniseries on the Central Park jogger case. John E. Reid and Associates developed the Reid Technique in the late 1940s, and it has continued to offer training materials [...]

  • Noah Oppenheim

    NBCU Has Likely Succession Plan Set at NBC News

    NBC News President Noah Oppenheim has been battling Ronan Farrow in recent and disturbing headlines, but the executive remains the most likely candidate to succeed NBC News and MSNBC Chairman Andy Lack, according to people familiar with the matter. Lack, who has seen NBC News through one of its most tumultuous eras, has a contract [...]

  • Succession Season 2 Roman Gerri

    How 'Succession' Turned Rich-People Problems Into TV's Most Satisfying Drama (Column)

    It was only as the credits rolled on the Season 2 finale of “Succession” that I realized I was standing. At some point during the exhilarating final scene, I’d apparently leapt to my feet, radiating with the thrill of watching the last meticulously placed domino fall. It was startling to understand just how invested I’d [...]

  • '100% Wolf - Legend of the

    '100% Wolf - Legend of the Moonstone' Leads Most Viewed Show at MipJunior

    Animated series “100% Wolf – Legend of the Moonstone” from Germany’s Studio100 Media topped the poll of most-watched shows at MipJunior, the children’s content market in Cannes, which wrapped Sunday. The series follows the adventures of Freddy Lupin, a young werewolf who has been accidentally turned into a poodle, but is determined to prove he’s [...]

  • jay-wallace-fox-news

    'News Stars' Will Fill Shepard Smith's Slot, Says Fox News President (EXCLUSIVE)

    Shepard Smith has left the Fox News building, but his hour will remain staffed by employees from the network’ news division. Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Shannon Bream, Martha MacCallum, Bill Hemmer and John Roberts are among the Fox News Channel news anchors who will do a stint in the 3 p.m. hour vacated [...]

  • craig-ferguson-join-or-die

    Craig Ferguson Game Show 'The Hustler' Gets Picked Up by ABC

    Comedian and host Craig Ferguson is returning to the airwaves with a new trivia game show series at ABC, “The Hustler,” in which one player will already secretly know all the answers. The format involves five contestants working together on a series of trivia questions, with the aim of growing and winning a collective prize [...]

  • Patrick Dempsey poses with his 'Excellence

    Patrick Dempsey, Alessandro Borghi Discuss Being Part of 'Devils'

    Patrick Dempsey (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Italian actor Alessandro Borghi (“Suburra”), who co-star in the anticipated financial-world thriller series “Devils,” said the show pulled them into uncharted territories. A sign that the TV drama business is becoming increasingly global, “Devils” marks the first truly international drama for both actors. Although it shot in English, “Devils” was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content