John William Carson (1925-2005) was a legendary American television host, comedian, producer, singer, and writer, best known as the host of the late-night talk show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–1992). Carson received many awards, including six Primetime Emmy Awards, the Television Academy’s 1980 Governor’s Award, and a 1985 Peabody Award.
In 1980, Carson also established a television production company, Carson Entertainment Group, which primarily produced The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman from 1982 to 1993. Johnny Carson was also inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.
Impact of Johnny Carson on Pop Culture
Carson was an icon and more than just an entertainer who didn’t only limit himself to hosting late-night TV shows but also got featured in multiple films, books, etc. Let’s learn more about the impact of Johnny Carson on pop culture.
1. Johnny Carson on TV and Film Screen
From late-night TV shows to comedy films and documentaries, Johnny Carson has been a part of multiple on-screen projects. He was a social and cultural centerpiece who lit up the screen with his presence. Let’s take a look at some of his appearances.
- The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–1992)
The third iteration of the Tonight Show franchise, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, was hosted by Johnny Carson on NBC, with Ed McMahon as Carson’s sidekick and show’s announcer. Many celebrities appeared as a guest, and Carson used to perform his iconic comedy routines.
People used to wake past their bedtime, to watch Carson’s sketches involving demented characters, such as TV host Art Fern and fortune teller Carnac the Magnificent. In 1969, the falsetto singer, Tiny Tim, married Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show, and the episode had a whopping 40 million viewers.
Because of his educational humor, Carson won multiple awards, including the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Talk Show Host (1987) and the show also won Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Series (1992).
The show had an overwhelming influence on people, which became clear in 1966, when Carson played Milton Bradley’s game, Twister, with actress Eva Gabor, and it skyrocketed in popularity after the broadcast.
- The Johnny Carson Show (1955)
The Johnny Carson Show was a prime-time television variety show starring Johnny Carson. It was a traditional mix of music, comedy, dance, skits, and monologues. However, the show wasn’t successful and quickly got canceled. Following its cancellation, CBS assigned Carson to host a day-time series by the same name, but it also managed to run through only one summer.
- Who Do You Trust (1957-1962)
“Who Do You Trust” was an American television game show in which married couples used to compete and answer questions, with husband deciding whether he or his wife will answer. It was presented and announced by Johnny Carson and Bill Nimmo respectively. Nimmo was later replaced by Ed McMahon. The show aired at 4:30 pm Eastern on ABC, which attracted many young viewers just coming home from school.
- Carson’s Comedy Classics (1983)
Carson’s Comedy Classics was a syndicated television show released on the U.S. TV stations in 1985, made from sketches and segments taken from the first 20 years of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It is narrated by Ed McMahon, who used to introduce the program and each of the segments.
As a result, Carson received ownership of the show. His team created a clip show consisting of highlights from his first 20 years at The Tonight Show and sold the rights to Columbia Pictures Television for $2 million.
- Johnny Carson: King of Late-Night (2012)
Johnny Carson: King of Late-night is a documentary film about the life of Johnny Carson, narrated by Kevin Spacey. It features 45 original interviews with Carson’s friends, family, and colleagues, which include Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, Ray Romano, Steve Martin, Bob Newhart, and many more.
Carson’s statement in his show, “I can get in front of an audience and be in control… Offstage, I’m aloof because I’m not very comfortable”, was further explored in the documentary, including unearthing clues about Carson’s childhood, early days in the business, and personal and professional life.
The documentary received two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Picture Editing Nonfiction Programming and Outstanding Writing Nonfiction Programming. It was also nominated by the Writers Guild of America in the Television Documentary category.
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2. Johnny Carson in Literature
Johnny Carson wrote three books, which are available on Goodreads. These are as follows.
- Happiness is a Dry Martini
- Misery is a Blind Date
- Johnny’s Theme
Many writers also got inspiration from Carson’s intellect and witty character and wrote books about him. Some of them are listed below.
- Johnny Carson: An Unauthorized Biography (1987)
Written by Ronald Smith, Johnny Carson: An Unauthorized Biography explores different aspects of Carson’s personality, a man who was a shy loner offscreen but used to face ten million viewers on screen every day.
- King of the Night (1989)
King of the Night is a scandalous biography of Carson, written by Laurence Leamer. It covers the process of his phenomenal success in a spicy way.
- Here’s Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship (2005)
This book is written by Carson’s sidekick and one of his greatest friends, Ed McMahon. As McMahon was one of the few people who knew Carson before The Tonight Show, he mentioned many memorable events and stories of him in the book that only he knows, including the story of the famous sofa of the show and the nature of his and Carson’s personal relationship. McMahon provides a realistic view of a man who only presented his one side to the world.
- Backstage at the Tonight Show: From Johnny Carson to Jay Leno (2006)
Don Sweeney, who was with The Tonight Show for nearly twenty years, wrote this book. It contains a collection of anecdotes and vignettes of various celebrities from the peak years of the show. It also includes the behind-the-scenes of many celebrities, providing their glimpse from the other side of the curtain.
- Johnny Carson (2013)
It is another biography of Carson written by his lawyer, Henry Bushkin, who showed Carson’s character, from his early struggles at radio to the rise on the TV with late-night shows, with a clarity that nobody else could. The book not only revealed how Carson truly was but why.
3. Johnny Carson in the World of Music
The famous American musician, Brain Douglas Wilson, was an avid fan of The Tonight Show and wrote a song titled “Johnny Carson” in 1977 as a tribute. It was released in the album, Beach Boys Love You.
Carson did not only inspire musicians but was also himself a rockstar. Here are some of the songs by Carson
- The Train of Love (1960)
- Joke Construction (2001)
- The Tears Came Rolling Down (2010)
- Likeability (2001)
- Writing Jokes (2001)
Meanwhile, read our article about another iconic host, Oprah Winfrey, and how she changed the world.
4. Johnny Carson Gifts and Merchandise
Johnny Carson is a legend who humored his way into the hearts of people and remains one of the favorite TV show hosts of many people. Over time, many brands crafted the goods related to Carson, mainly because of the sheer love people have for him.
The legend is still a part of the lives of many people, in the form of Johnny Carson T-shirts, posters, stickers, home decor, and more. Additionally, Carson also had his line of polyester suits in the 70s, which was a huge success.
5. Another Fun Incident Marking the Impact of Carson on Pop Culture
Carson’words had a giant influence on the people and media, which became clear in a somewhat humorous way. In 1973, Carson joked in his show that there was apparently a shortage of toilet paper in the U.S. His statement sent the entire country into a panic, and toilet paper disappeared from the shelves of stores across America when people desperately tried to stock them.
Bidding Farewell to the Kind of Late-night TV
Johnny Carson, the socially uncomfortable TV host, tucked millions of Americans into bed with his humorous, engaging, and friendly show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He had and still has an impact on pop culture, and is also credited with giving vital breaks to a legion of musicians, singers, writers, and stand-up comedians. In those times, appearing on Carson’s show and making him laugh was considered an honor. Overall, his shows included everything, from silly sketches to intellectual and deep thoughts and current events and politics. His departure left a permanent hole in the hearts of many, and as Leno said, “It’s hard to believe he’s actually gone. It’s a tremendous loss for everyone who Johnny made laugh for so many years.”