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American Masters: Johnny Carson: King of Late [Blu-ray]

4.8 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Quite possibly the biggest star that television has ever produced, Johnny Carson was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone else in American history. With unprecedented and unrestricted access to Johnny's personal and professional archives, two-time Emmy-winning filmmaker Peter Jones explores the life and career of one of the most beloved yet enigmatic icons in American entertainment history. Narrated by two-time Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey, "Johnny Carson: King of Late Night" features more than 40 original interviews, including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Pbs (Direct)
  • DVD Release Date: July 17, 2012
  • Run Time: 120 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B007T40EXS
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,842 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on May 17, 2012
Format: Blu-ray
The great Johnny Carson is, of course, the perfect subject to be profiled in PBS's long-running "American Masters" series. An intensely private person, perhaps it was fitting and respectful that they waited a full seven years after his death before putting together this pretty comprehensive biography. Carson, to me, was always an extremely complicated and enigmatic man. He was uncomfortable disclosing the personal side of his life, and yet somehow managed to create a TV persona that you welcomed into your home on a nightly basis. He was a comfort, a friend, a routine. He changed the landscape of television talk shows, was (and is) beloved by the industry and the public, but was always wary of revealing his true self. It's a complicated dichotomy, and one that this profile attacks head-on. Having seen so many of the "American Masters" series, this may well be one of my favorites.

"King of Late Night" works on a number of different levels. It spends, obviously, a great deal of time revolving around "The Tonight Show" which makes sense since Carson hosted the program for over 30 years. In a world where the TV audience was not as fragmented as it is today, Carson was a late night staple for the masses. For nostalgia factor alone, "King of Late Night" is wildly entertaining for its wide array of clips from that program. Carson had both an urban wit and a boyish charm which was, in my opinion, a large part of his appeal. When he was on, he was on! And this program shows him at his best, as the consummate host. The documentary looks at some of the more heartfelt and sentimental segments from the show, but doesn't skimp on laughs.
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* I just finished watching this spectacular PBS American Masters documentary that captures the genius and sometimes bewildering paradox behind America's most popular late-night talk show host (NBC's "The Tonight Show," 1962-1992).

* What's wondrous about this slick and even-handed presentation is that all of the major players are featured - from David Letterman to Joan Rivers to Jerry Seinfeld to Jay Leno to Peter Lassally to the late Ed McMahon and Fred de Cordova - all whose lives were changed, for good or for ill - by a man Americans thought they knew - who was also terrifyingly aloof, shy and distant to his closest associates and wives - as well as to his very own children.

* The take away I got is that nearly every genius we know on earth - must also have some nebulous insecurity or flaw that somehow acts as a propeller to greatness. The clips, interviews and research footage are perfectly integrated to draw a complete picture of why Carson was #1 - tracing the roots of his shyness and awkwardness to his parents - in particular to his stern and hard-to-please mother.

* The irony of this is underlined when after her death at 85, Carson discovered that his mother had kept every single clip and notice of her son's titanic career hidden in a box, withholding her pride from her son. The picture that emerges of Carson is a man who wielded incredible power - but who was not so much a "lonely man" - as much as he was a man who loved "being alone."

* This documentary is enriched by many golden interviews, some of them quite emotional, such as, for example, comedian Drew Carey's tearful recollection of his debut on the Tonight Show - and then being shocked - when he was "called over" to sit and chat with Johnny, changing his life forever.
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Format: DVD
My fellow Amazon reviewer, K Harris, has already done a fine detailed review of this two-hour documentary which aired earlier this year on PBS' American Masters series, so I won't repeat much of what he has already written but I hope to add some info re: the Standard DVD release of the film.

I have to admit that I was not a REGULAR viewer of Carson's Tonight Show but certainly watched it a few times each year. And I have seen all the "Specials" where they replay classic moments like the Ed Ames' tomahawk sequence or what was probably the funniest answer to a Carnac the Magnificent question. (Both of those moments are repeated here, along with some - such as the one night that Ed McMahon showed up drunk. - that I didn't remember.

There's a nice balance of "funny" and "serious" in the film and so don't expect to laugh all the way through. Carson had many personal "demons" (his relationship with his mother - and his four wives - are just a few). But writer/producer/director Peter Jones presents these with directness. And just about everyone who was connected with Carson is included in the interviews: His various biographers, his protégé's (Drew Carey, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Gary Shandling, Joan Rivers among them), and his various Producers. Sadly both Director Fred DeCordova and (even more relevant) Ed McMahon had died before this project was started. (We do hear from McMahon's daughter.)

One annoyance - at least to me - in the film is that - unless a person is being interviewed, they are not identified on the screen. There are clips from the show where many younger viewers would have no idea who guest sitting next to Johnny is. Other than that small gripe, the film will serve as a document to Carson's legacy to television history.
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