Johnny Carson and Dick Van Dyke Once Competed for a Famous Prize

Pop culture icons late-night host Johnny Carson and sit-com star Dick Van Dyke achieved legendary television fame on different avenues. Born only months apart in 1925, the two might have had a slightly similar appeal to some observers.

Van Dyke was the beloved lead of The Dick Van Dyke show for five years and went on to enjoy a lasting acting career after that. On the other hand, Carson hosted The Tonight Show for 30 years and retired to the mostly private life in 1992.

But before they’d ever really broken into the spotlight, they were once in competition for something that may surprise some fans. What coveted prize did they both want and which one of them ended up with it?

Dick Van Dyke cracks up with Mary Tyler Moore and Johnny Carson on 'The Tonight Show'
(L-R) Dick Van Dyk, Mary Tyler Moore, and Johnny Carson | Bettmann/Getty Images

Johnny Carson was second-in-line for the lead on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’

When most people think of The Dick Van Dyke Show, they probably think of Van Dyke as patriarch Rob Petrie and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife, Laura. But if things had turned out differently, King of Late Night Carson would have taken the lead.

As reported by Parade, Carl Reiner wrote the show and lead character based on his own experiences. However, producer Sheldon Leonard didn’t feel Reiner was right for his own part. So, it eventually came down to Carson and Van Dyke.

In the end, Van Dyke ended up with the role and five years of work thanks to his experience on Broadway. The Dick Van Dyke show premiered in 1961 and would go on to become a beloved classic, of course. Even long after the last episode aired in 1966, Van Dyke has enjoyed a long career in acting, leading shows like Diagnosis Murder and movies like Mary Poppins.

Notably, Van Dyke has won five Primetime Emmys, a Tony, and a Grammy. His net worth in 2021 is $50 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

But needless to say, things didn’t seem to turn out too bad for Carson, either.

Johnny Carson on ‘The Tonight Show’

The next year, Carson took over as host of The Tonight Show and cemented his place in pop culture history. From 1962 to 1992, he was a steadfast and comforting presence in millions of living rooms on any given night.

During his time as host, Carson received six Emmy Awards as well as the Television Academy’s Governor’s Award in 1980, and a 1985 Peabody Award.

By the mid-1970s, Carson was the highest-paid television personality in the business and brought home about $4 million a year, according to Celebrity Net Worth. At the peak of his show’s popularity in 1991, he earned a $25 million yearly salary, the equivalent of about $40 million in 2021.

Carson retired in 1992 and died on Jan. 23, 2005. His death was caused by respiratory failure related to 20 years of emphysema. His net worth at his time of death was $300 million.

Johnny Carson revolutionized late-night

While Van Dyke won the role on The Dick Van Dyke Show, he and Carson both went on to make impactful contributions to television. Van Dyke helped recreate the television patriarch as a loving and attentive family man.

Carson is credited with changing the late-night television format during his time on The Tonight Show. He did this in part by bringing together the monologue, interview, performance format with a host seated behind a desk beside a variety of more exposed guests.

As opposed to some other hosts who would sit beside their guests to create an appearance of intimacy, Carson was known to be a little more business-like with his guests. Some noted that staying behind the desk most of the time showed his social discomfort (per MSN).

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