Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready. The most important question is: Are you ready? Johnny Carson ‘49

Johnny Carson was an innovator in the emerging medium of his day—television. When he graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1949, the U.S. was in the midst of a media revolution. Radio was the still the dominant medium, but television was what everyone was talking about. Only two million homes had TV sets. Suddenly, things changed when 15 television stations on the East Coast and in the Midwest were linked by the first, long-distance coaxial cable. Television sales and viewership exploded.

Carson’s education at Nebraska prepared him to succeed in an era of change. Now, the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts is prepared to do the same for students today.

Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show
Photos courtesy of Carson Entertainment Group.

Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, on Oct. 23, 1925, and grew up in Norfolk, Neb. He served in World War II in the Navy as an ensign before enrolling at the University of Nebraska in 1947. He received a bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech with a minor in physics in 1949.

One of television’s best known personalities, Carson is often called “the king of late night.” In 1962, Carson replaced Jack Paar as host of “The Tonight Show” for an Emmy Award-winning run that lasted three decades.

Carson’s “Tonight Show” launched the careers of many performers, especially comedians and musicians. For a comedian, getting Johnny to laugh and being invited to the guest chair were high honors. Among the notable careers he launched were David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Allen and Drew Carey, among many others.

His final appearance in May 1992 attracted an estimated 50 million viewers. He received six Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993, where the Cornhusker Marching Band paid tribute to him and his Nebraska roots.

Carson died in 2005.

Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts

On Nov. 6, 2015, the University announced a $20 million gift from the Johnny Carson Foundation, the charitable arm of the late entertainment icon, to help create an academic program and facility focused on interdisciplinary learning, creativity and research in emerging media. The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019.

To learn more about his philanthropy at Nebraska, visit https://arts.unl.edu/theatre-and-film/johnny-carsons-gifts.