On May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson said goodbye to The Tonight Show. He never did another talk show, though he did make one last appearance in 1994 (and it wasn’t on Leno’s show):
Carson made a few funny appearances on Letterman’s show over the years. In 1993, when Letterman went over to CBS, he called Carson to ask him a question:
It’s telling that Carson didn’t go on Leno’s show. Carson even provided some jokes for Letterman’s monologue, something Letterman revealed after Carson passed away in 2005. He got a kick out of hearing his jokes in a monologue again even if he wasn’t the one delivering them.
Here’s Letterman on Tonight in 1991, after it was announced that Leno would be taking over for Carson. Note how Letterman says he can’t imagine doing his show for more than 10 years. He just passed the 30 year mark and signed a new contract:
PBS is running an American Masters about Carson’s life right now, and it’s well worth watching. Also check out Bill Carter’s two excellent books on late night talk show history, The Late Shift and The War For Late Night.