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American Masters (2012 Season) – "Johnny Carson: King of Late Night"
Air date: 05/12/2012

THIRTEEN’s American Masters receives unprecedented access to Johnny Carson’s personal and professional archives, including all existing episodes of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962-1992)

Emmy-winning filmmaker Peter Jones’s new documentary features 45 original interviews, including Letterman, Leno, Conan, Cavett, DeGeneres, Fallon and Seinfeld

Johnny Carson: King of Late Night premieres Monday, May 14 on PBS

Connect with other cultural icons at pbs.org/americanmasters

Johnny Carson (10/23/1925 – 1/23/2005) was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone else in American history. Over the course of 30 years, 4,531 episodes and 23,000 guests, he became a fixture of national life and a part of the zeitgeist. In a 2007 TV Land/Entertainment Weekly poll, Americans voted Carson the greatest icon in the history of television. Two-time Emmy®-winning filmmaker Peter Jones explores his life, career, complexities, and contradictions in the two-hour documentary American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night premiering nationally Monday, May 14, 2012 at 9 pm (ET) on PBS (check local listings). 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Carson taking over The Tonight Show from Jack Paar and the 20th anniversary of his retirement.

Narrated by two-time Oscar®-winner Kevin Spacey, the film features 45 original interviews with Carson’s friends, family and colleagues, including his second wife, Joanne, Dick Cavett, Doc Severinsen, and other The Tonight Showstaff. Performers who appeared, or began their careers, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson are also interviewed, including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Drew Carey, Garry Shandling, Steve Martin, Angie Dickinson, Ellen DeGeneres, Carl Reiner, Don Rickles, Bob Newhart,Joan Rivers, and David Steinberg. Late night TV hosts Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien also discuss Carson’s influence on their careers.

For 15 years Jones wrote an annual letter to Carson requesting his cooperation in the production of a documentary. His appeals went unanswered until 2003, when he received a telephone call from Carson himself: “You write a damn fine letter, Peter, but I don’t have anything more to say.” Following Carson’s death in 2005, Jones directed his letters to Johnny’s nephew, Jeff Sotzing, who controls his uncle’s archives. Finally, in 2010, Sotzing agreed to cooperate and the Carson Entertainment Group granted unprecedented access to Johnny’s personal and professional archives, including family photo albums, home movies, memorabilia, and all existing episodes of The Tonight Show from 1962 until his retirement in 1992. His simple reason: “I didn’t want people to forget Johnny Carson.”

Quite possibly the biggest star that television has ever produced, Carson commanded, at his peak, a nightly audience of 15 million viewers – double the current audience of Leno and Letterman – combined. Rarely giving interviews, Carson chose to remain a very private man whose public persona made him an American superstar. He once revealed, “I can get in front of an audience and be in control. I suppose it’s manipulation. Offstage, I’m aloof because I’m not very comfortable.” American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night explores this dichotomy and enigma, unearthing clues about Carson’s childhood, early days in the business, and personal and professional life.

“Carson has been one of the holy grails for documentary filmmakers, but there’s such a protective veil surrounding Johnny that I was beginning to wonder if this would ever happen,” says Jones, whose films for PBS include the Peabody Award-winning Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times (2009) and American Masters: Goldwyn(2001).

“I am thrilled that the 20-year process of Johnny Carson taking his rightful place in American Masters has come to fruition at last!” remarks Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer. “There is no one who touched more entertainment careers than Johnny. All of us are actually in his debt to some degree.”

In 2011, American Masters earned its eighth Emmy® Award for Outstanding Primetime Nonfiction Series in 11 years. Now in its 26th season, the series is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET, the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations, and operator of NJTV. For nearly 50 years, WNET has been producing and broadcasting national and local documentaries and other programs to the New York community.

Johnny Carson: King of Late Night is a co-production of Peter Jones Productions, Inc. and THIRTEEN’s American Masters for WNET.Writer/Director/Producer: Peter Jones. Director/Editor/Producer: Mark Catalena. Producer: Brian Tessier. Narrator: Kevin Spacey. Music: Earl Rose. American Masters Series Creator and Executive Producer: Susan Lacy.

To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories and personalities of masters past and present, the companion website (pbs.org/americanmasters) offers streaming video of select films, interviews, essays, photographs, outtakes, and other resources.

American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Jack Rudin, Vital Projects Fund, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.

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About WNET
New York’s WNET is America’s flagship public media outlet, bringing quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. The parent company of public television stations THIRTEEN andWLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as NatureGreat PerformancesAmerican MastersNeed to KnowCharlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the MathNoah Comprende and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through SundayArtsReel 13NJ Today and the new online newsmagazineMetroFocus.

Photos
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Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show set. Credit: The Carson Entertainment Group

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Angie Dickinson, actress, Johnny Carson’s friend and The Tonight Show guest, is one of 45 interviewees featured in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. Credit: Photograph by Mark Daniels / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

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Late night talk show host Conan O’Brien, former host of The Tonight Show (2009-2010), is interviewed by filmmaker Peter Jones in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. Credit: Photograph by Mark Catalena / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

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Carl Reiner, actor/writer/comedian and frequent The Tonight Show guest, is one of 45 interviewees featured in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. Credit: Photograph by Mark Daniels / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

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Comedian and host of The Price is Right Drew Carey had a successful appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1991) early in his career. Carey is one of 45 interviewees featured in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. NO CREDIT

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(l to r) The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson bandleader Doc Severinsen is one of 45 people interviewed by filmmaker Peter Jones in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. Credit: Photograph by Mark Catalena / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

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Garry Shandling, comedian and frequent guest host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson is one of 45 interviewees featured in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. Credit: Photograph by Mark Daniels / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

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Current The Tonight Show host Jay Leno is interviewed on The Tonight Show set in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. Credit: Photograph by Mark Daniels / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

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Jerry Seinfeld, comedian and The Tonight Show guest, is one of 45 interviewees featured in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. Credit: Photograph by Jessica Betz / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

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American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night filmmaker Peter Jones seated at Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show desk after his interview with Leno. Credit: Photograph by Mark Daniels / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

Brian Tessier, Mark Catalena, Peter Jones, Jeff Sotzing

(l to r) American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night producers Brian Tessier, Mark Catalena and Peter Jones with Johnny Carson’s nephew Jeff Sotzing. Sotzing served as a producer on The Tonight Show and is now president of Carson Entertainment Group. He granted unprecedented access to Carson’s personal and professional archives, including all existing episodes of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962-1992), and is interviewed in the film. Credit: Photograph by Mark Daniels / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

Peter Lassally, Jeff Sotzing, Peter Jones

(l to r) American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night interviewees Peter Lassally (longtime producer of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson) and Jeff Sotzing (Carson’s nephew, The Tonight Show producer, and president of Carson Entertainment Group) with filmmaker Peter Jones Credit: Photograph by Mark Catalena / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

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Actor/comedian Ray Romano, who got his big break on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1991, is interviewed by filmmaker Peter Jones in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. Credit: Photograph by Mark Daniels / Courtesy Peter Jones Productions

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Johnny Carson portrait, circa 1960s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Johnny Carson, circa 1967 Credit: Courtesy Omaha World-Herald

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Johnny Carson (1967) returning to the NBC Studios in the RCA Building for the taping of his first post-strike Tonight Show

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Johnny Carson performing The Tonight Show monologue, circa 1960s. Ed McMahon (right) looks on in distance. Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Johnny Carson as The Great Carsoni. Date unknown. (AP Photo/, Lincoln Journal Star)

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Johnny Carson as a young magician Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Johnny Carson as a young magician Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Portrait of Johnny Carson as a young entertainer Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Johnny Carson, circa 1950s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Johnny Carson at The Tonight Show desk, circa 1970s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson in Florida, circa 1960s Credit: Courtesy Pam McMahon

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Johnny Carson with his second wife Joanne Carson, circa 1960s. Joanne was instrumental in getting NBC to consider Johnny as host of The Tonight Show after Jack Paar left in 1962. Credit: Courtesy Joanne Carson

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Johnny Carson, circa late 1940s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Teenage Johnny Carson, circa early 1940s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Young Johnny Carson (center) with his sister Catherine (left) and his brother Dick (right), circa 1930s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Johnny Carson (far right) in the writer’s room, circa 1950s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Johnny Carson playing the drums, circa 1960s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Johnny Carson with his first wife Jody, circa 1950s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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Johnny Carson relaxing in director’s chair, early 1960s Credit: Courtesy Carson Entertainment Group

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(l to r) Comedian/Director David Steinberg and Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. One of Carson’s most popular guests and guest hosts, Steinberg made 140 appearances—second only to Bob Hope—on The Tonight Show and is interviewed in American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night. Credit: NBC/Carson Entertainment Group