Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show in May of 1992, after hosting the show for thirty years. I remember it well. It was like watching a good friend slowly fading away.
That last show, with the emotional song by Bette Midler and Johnny's simple farewell, delivered in front of the famous curtain, sitting on a stool are TV moments I will always remember.
I started watching The Tonight Show during the Steve Allen years, when people had no clue how much a part of the American experience the show would become.
I didn't watch it much during the Jack Paar years. I never really liked Paar much and even today, watching reruns (specifically shows when Judy Garland was the guest), I still don't enjoy watching him.
But when Johnny took over after Paar quit in 1962, I began watching again. I don't know how long it took before it became part of my nightly ritual. The day ended with The Tonight Show, whether watched downstairs, or in bed (in the years when my back still let me sleep in a bed!) before turning out the light.
On Carson's retirement, I was torn. It was really a toss-up between Letterman and Leno. Letterman, in the beginning, was more entertaining (in my opinion), but for some reason I continued to watch The Tonight Show, more out of habit (and because in this area, Letterman comes on an hour earlier than Leno and conflicted with other things I was watching at the time.
His early shows weren't all that good. He was trying to be Johnny Carson -- and he was no Johnny Carson. When he took a couple of weeks off, redid the studio to reflect more of his own stand-up comedy and changed the format of the show, he began to make it his own.
I enjoy Jay Leno. But he has never had the appeal for me that Carson did. I don't record shows if I'm not home to watch. Walt's favorite segment was Monday night's headlines.
If he was going to be missing it, I would often (but not always) record it for him.
I also enjoyed the "Jay Walking" and marveled at how ignorant supposedly intelligent people could be.
But I just never "bonded" with Leno. He was never Carson. Leno is everyman; Carson was class.
In May of 1992, I recorded every single Tonight Show broadcast and still have them. I haven't even watched Leno this month, unless it was late night and I was working at my desk. So I won't be shedding tears over Leno's last Tonight Show broadcast.
And as for Conan O'Brien? He's a nice guy, but not my cuppa tea, so when Friday night's show rolls around, it could well be the last time I watch the Tonight Show, other to check in and see how O'Brien is beginning to reshape it in his own image.I'm glad that I was part of the golden age of The Tonight Show, which ended in 1992.