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Johnny Carson doc scores big for PBS

'American Masters' documentary drew 6.3 million viewers

Auds flocked to the PBS documentary on Johnny Carson in May, with final Nielsen tallies making it the most popular “American Masters” production to date.

“Johnny Carson: King of Late Night” averaged 6.3 million viewers including repeat broadcasts and DVR viewing within the first week of its premiere — three times the average audience that PBS typically sees (2.1 million in primetime). Indicative of its broad appeal, the doc’s audience was just about equally divided between men and women.

Previous viewership highs for “American Masters” were achieved by “Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character” (5.5 million in 2007) and “Jack Paar: As I Was Saying…” (4.8 million in 1997).

“We are thrilled with the ratings for ‘Johnny Carson.’ It makes perfect sense that the biggest star television ever produced was seen by more people than any of our other American Masters,” said series creator and exec producer Susan Lacy.

A DVD and Blu-ray release of the documentary will be available through PBS Distribution on Tuesday.

Upcoming preems for bio series “American Masters” include “The Day Carl Sandburg Died” (Sept. 24), “Inventing David Geffen” (Nov. 20) and “Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance” (Dec. 28).

Also scoring well in the ratings for PBS this spring was “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.,” the latest series from the Harvard scholar. The 10-parter, which ran from March 25-May 20, averaged nearly 2.5 million viewers.

Most popular episodes in the genealogy-themed project were episode six (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.) and episode seven (Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Simmons), each drawing about 3 million.

“American Masters” and “Finding Your Roots” both come from New York public television station Thirteen/WNET, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“Johnny Carson: King of Late Night” is a co-production of Peter Jones Prods. and Thirteen/WNET’s “American Masters.” Peter Jones was writer-director-producer. Mark Catalena was director-editor-producer.

“Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” is a production of Kunhardt McGee Prods., Inkwell Films and WNET in association with Ark Media. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Stephen Segaller, Peter Kunhardt and Dyllan McGee are exec producers. It too will be available on DVD as of Tuesday.

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