The Tonight Show

Template:Infobox television

The Tonight Show is NBC's long-running late-night talk and variety show. The hour-long show premiered September 27, 1954 in a 90-minute format hosted by Steve Allen. The show features at least two guests each night, usually including a comedian or musical guest.

Now in its 51st year (though its roots date back to a local New York program called Broadway Open House in the early 1950s), The Tonight Show is the second longest-running entertainment program in US television history (after the soap opera Guiding Light). During Johnny Carson's 30-year run as the host of the program, his name was synonymous with the Tonight Show.

A kinescope exists of the very first broadcast of The Tonight Show (then called simply, Tonight), and Steve Allen welcomed viewers with the warning, "This show is going to last forever." So far, he has yet to be proven wrong.



Host From To Notes
Steve Allen September 27, 1954 January 1957 variety show
Ernie Kovacs October 1, 1956 1957 hosted on Mondays and Tuesdays
Jack Paar July 1957 March 30, 1962 format switch to talk show; also called The Jack Paar Show
Various hosts April 1962 September 1962 interlude between Parr and Carson eras. Temporary hosts included Groucho Marx.
Johnny Carson October 2, 1962 May 22, 1992 -
Jay Leno May 25, 1992 2009 (announced) -
Conan O'Brien Tentatively scheduled to take over in 2009 -
Missing image
A black-and-white still image from the December 21, 1989 episode with Red Skelton, Bob Hope and Carson as host.

During the later Steve Allen years, regular audience member Ms. Miller became such an integral part, she was forced to join AFTRA the television/radio performers union.

Music is provided by The Tonight Show Band, led since 1995 by Kevin Eubanks (no relation to Bob Eubanks of "The Newlywed Game" fame), who replaced Leno's original musical director, Branford Marsalis. In 2004, the long-time announcer Edd Hall was replaced by John Melendez, who started out on The "Howard Stern Show".

For most of Johnny Carson's run on the show, the Tonight Show Band was led by Doc Severinsen and the show's announcer was Ed McMahon. By the end of the Carson years, Severinsen had become the primary substitute announcer when McMahon was absent. When Severinsen was absent or filling in for McMahon, Tommy Newsom would lead the band.

In 1987 Johnny Carson's guest host Joan Rivers jumped ship and abruptly left the Tonight Show for her own show on the new Fox Network. This move infuriated Carson so much that he permanently banned Rivers from the Tonight Show. Unfortunately for Joan Rivers, her new show flopped and was immediately cancelled, and when she tried to call Johnny Carson he refused to speak to her. In an interview on CNN the day Carson died, Rivers revealed that Carson never spoke to her again.

The show's full name is currently The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. During the Carson years, it was known as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

On September 27, 2004, the 50th anniversary of the show's premiere, NBC announced that Jay Leno will be succeeded by Conan O'Brien in 2009. Leno explained that he did not want to see a repeat of the hard feelings and controversy that occurred when he was given the show following Carson's retirement, which is why he named his successor right away.

The death of Carson on January 23, 2005, made Jay Leno the last surviving host of The Tonight Show.

Missing image

Recurring gags (Jay Leno)

  • Headlines (either Monday or Tuesday): Humorous print items sent in by viewers.
  • Jaywalking: Jay Leno and a camera crew ask people questions in a public area like a street corner.
  • Ask the Fruitcake Lady: Marie Rudisill, an outspoken older woman, responds to questions about relationships, sex and family. She was originally on the show to promote her cookbook about fruitcake.

Classic gags

Programming history

The Tonight Show has been scheduled at various times throughout its history on NBC. All times shown are Eastern.

  • September 1954-January 1957: Monday-Friday 11:30 P.M.-1:00 A.M.
  • January 1957-December 1966: Monday-Friday 11:30 P.M.-1:15 A.M.
  • January 1967-September 1975: Saturday or Sunday 11:30 P.M.-1:00 A.M. (reruns)
  • January 1967-September 1980: Monday-Friday 11:30 P.M.-1:00 A.M.
  • September 1980-August 1991: Monday-Friday 11:30 P.M.-12:30 A.M.
  • September 1991-present: Monday-Friday 11:35 P.M.-12:35 A.M.

External links

sv:The Tonight Show


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