PBS will air "Johnny Carson: King of Late Night" this Monday night as a part of their "American Masters" series. The documentary chronicles Carson's entire life and career. Director Peter Jones wanted to do this project since he started his production company in 1987. He wrote to Johnny once a year for his blessing and cooperation.
Jones' moving portrait of Johnny starts with interviews of many celebrities that his life touched such as David Letterman, Jay Leno, Steve Martin, JerrySeinfeld, Joan Rivers, Carl Reiner, David Steinberg, Don Rickles, Ray Romano, and Drew Carey. Talk show hosts Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon also reflect his influence. All of these interviews are sprinkled throughout the film. The most profound segment of it is when the comedians recall their first appearances on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and what that meant to them and their careers. A lot of them got very emotional.
The documentary covers Carson's personal life, as well. From a childhood growing up with an indifferent mother to his marriages and subsequent divorces, no stone is left unturned. This film definitely delves deeper than anything previously produced about Johnny. He was a notoriously private man. The filmmakers were tremendous access to his television library, close friends, and relatives.
The controversy about who would take over "The Tonight Show" after he retired was also covered. He was never consulted by NBC about their Letterman vs. Leno decision as was deeply hurt by it. Being Letterman's mentor and friends, Johnny helped Dave decide how to handle the debacle. When Letterman went to CBS, Carson would send in jokes for him in his remaining years.
"Johnny Carson: King of Late Night" is the ultimate portrait of the legend. Tune in and you'll get to find out what was his personal 'Rosebud'.