On This Day: Johnny Carson Takes Over as Host of ‘The Tonight Show’ in 1962

by Keeli Parkey

Today (Friday, Oct. 1) marks an important day in the history of television. It was on this day in 1962 that Johnny Carson took over as the host of “The Tonight Show.” Needless to say, late-night television was never the same. And the show made Carson a huge star.

The significance of what Carson did with “The Tonight Show” was described in his obituary that appeared in The New York Times following his death on Jan. 23, 2005, according to History.

“Throughout his career, Mr. Carson was instrumental in changing some of the bedrock ways television operated. His move to Burbank meant a realignment of American pop culture from East Coast to West Coast, from Broadway to Hollywood. And once the ‘Tonight’ show ceased to be televised live from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. and began being taped in the early evening, it lost some of the spontaneity and sense of danger that live performance brings (and also, eventually, a half-hour of its running time). The practice of taping is now the norm, and virtually all live entertainment programming on national television has become a thing of the past,” the obituary read.

Johnny Carson Took Over for Jack Paar as Host of ‘The Tonight Show’

Johnny Carson took over the hosting duties of “The Tonight Show” from Jack Paar. He wasn’t completely new to the show. In 1958, Carson hosted in place for Paar while the host was out. “The Tonight Show” first aired in 1951. At that time, it was a radio show that had Steven Allen as its host. It was based out of Los Angeles.

It was in 1954 that the show began airing on television. Paar started his tenure as the show’s host in 1956. When Johnny Carson took over from Paar, the show was filmed in New York City. This was the case for 10 years. Then, in 1972, the show moved from the Big Apple to Burbank, California.

Johnny Carson’s road to his seat behind “The Tonight Show” desk began in Corning, Iowa. It was in that Midwest town that he was born on Oct. 23, 1925. However, the place where he grew up was Norfolk, Nebraska.

Like many people of his generation, Carson served in the United States military. During the 1940s, he was part of the U.S. Navy. He also went on to study at the University of Nebraska.

By the time the 1950s rolled around, Johnny Carson was living in California. At this point, he was working in both radio and television. Television, of course, was just growing in popularity. Carson moved to New York City. It was during 1957 that he became the host of the game show, “Who Do You Trust?”

After he took over as host of “The Tonight Show,” it grew exponentially in popularity. And, on Dec. 17, 1969, 58 million people watched the episode. That is a number unheard of in today’s world of streaming and on-demand viewing.