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Lot # 1147 (of 1389)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

The Tonight Show Clock from Johnny Carson's Final Show!

Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $6,000

Original studio clock used on the Tonight Show during its entire twenty-year run (1972-1992) at NBC's Studio One in Burbank, California, including Johnny Carson's final telecast on May 22, 1992. This clock quite literally marks the end of one of the most epic careers in television history, as it was turned off just moments after Carson uttered his final words to the audience: "I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight."

Although this clock was never seen on the air, it was an integral part of the set design for Carson and was located just off camera, next to the couch on Johnny's right. The clock, a large, round General Electric clock (GE owned NBC) with a sweep second hand, was mounted just below Carson's television monitor and allowed him to gauge the time without relying on cues from his producer. Interestingly, the clock was always set to the actual time the show would normally air in each market (the show ran from 11:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. initially, and was later shortened to an hour in 1980), not the current time in California when the show was being taped. Ideally, the clock is accompanied by outstanding provenance in the form of a one-page, typed-signed letter, on Tonight Show letterhead, from Peter A. Steen, program coordinator for the show. In full:

This clock, set to airtime, was on the set of THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON in Studio #1, NBC Burbank. It ran from 1972, when the show moved to California from New York until May 22, 1992, Mr. Carson's last program. It was turned off just seconds after he left the stage that day.

As noted in Steen's letter, the clock has been stopped 35 seconds following the end of the broadcast at 12:30, marking the last time Carson would appear as host of the venerable late-night talk show. In addition to the LOA, this very clock can be seen in a 1992 news segment that aired on WFLA (a Tampa Bay NBC affiliate). The station covered Carson's last week on the air and in the segment one of the reporters is seen sitting at Carson's desk as the camera pans over different behind-the-scenes props, including the offered clock. That segment can be viewed on YouTube at the following link: Specifically, the clock can be seen prominently at approximately the 3:54 and 4:06 marks in the video.

This clock originally appeared at auction in 2005, along with a few other significant set pieces from the Tonight Show, including Carson's desk, microphone, and the floor segment upon which he stood when he delivered his opening monologue. It realized $10,755 at that time and has been consigned to this auction by the original purchaser. It should also be noted that aside from those few other items that came to market in 2005 with this clock, we cannot recall having seen any other important Tonight Show set props at public auction. The fact that this clock both literally and symbolically marks the end of Carson's legendary career on television makes it one of the most significant artifacts extant relating to the Tonight Show. As such, it would be equally deserving of display in either the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., or the Museum of Radio and Television in New York City.

The clock (13 inches in diameter) has been mounted in a shadowbox display together with Steen's LOA (7 x 9) and a hard-bound copy of the book Johnny Come Lately by Fred De Cordova (Cordova was Carson's longtime executive producer on the Tonight Show). None of the items has been examined out of frame, but the clock appears to be in Excellent condition overall (we assume that it would still work if it were plugged in and turned back on, but we cannot guarantee it). The letter displays moderate creasing in the upper right corner but is otherwise in apparent Excellent to Mint condition. The original auction listing for this collection in 2005 noted that the accompanying book was signed on the interior by both Carson and Cordova, but we have no way to verify that information (the signatures were not pictured by the auction house). Total dimensions: 21 x 32 x 4 inches. SOLD FOR $6,000

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