Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story

Explore the career of Doc Severinsen, bandleader to “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

  • Fred Vigeant
Watch Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story on American Masters Friday, April 2 at 9:00pm on WITF. You can stream WITF TV live on our website and through the PBS Video app on Roku, Apple TV and iPhone and Android smartphones. The program is also available on-demand through the PBS Video app.

After more than 30 years as the colorful bandleader of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, master trumpeter Doc Severinsen continues to defy nature well into his 90s with a grueling schedule of touring, performing and teaching. An engaging new documentary, American Masters – Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story, traces the life and groundbreaking career of the unstoppable musical icon, revealing his personal trials and underscoring a remarkable journey of inspiration and obsession.

The film features original interviews with friends, colleagues and famous fans inspired by the music icon, including Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon bandleader Questlove, master trumpeters Chris Botti and Arturo Sandoval and comedians Bob Saget and Martin Mull, as well as intimate conversations with the irreverent, irrepressible Severinsen and his family members. Archival and vibrant new concert footage along with hilarious clips from The Tonight Show showcase Severinsen’s unparalleled musical virtuosity and comedic flair.

The son of a dentist, Carl H “Little Doc” Severinsen was born in 1927 in rural Oregon and quickly became obsessed with the trumpet, wining the Music Educator’s National Contest at the age of 12. The film traces the musician’s childhood, early marriages and fledgling career in big band, leading to his incredible, decades-long tenure on The Tonight Show where he became beloved by millions of American viewers for his unforgettably flashy wardrobe, fearless leadership of the band and camaraderie with host Johnny Carson.

In 1992, when Carson retired from The Tonight Show, Severinsen moved to Mexico with his third wife. However, the band leader couldn’t give up performing; he even formed a new band, The San Miguel Five. The nonstop touring ultimately ended his marriage. Severinsen shares a glimpse into his new life with trumpet player Cathy Leach, someone who loves the trumpet as much as he does and understands his passion to play.

Watch Never Too Late: The Doc Severinsen Story on American Masters WITF Friday April 2 at 9:00pm. You can also watch American Masters on-demand through the PBS Video app.

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