The Tonight Show

The Tonight Show

infobox television
show_name = The Tonight Show

caption = First Lady Laura Bush and Jay Leno.
rating = TV-14
format = Talk show, Variety show
runtime = varies
creator = Sylvester L. Weaver Jr.
starring = Jay Leno
(1992– present)
Johnny Carson
Jack Paar
Steve Allen
country = United States
network = NBC
picture_format = 1080i HDTV (since 1999)
first_aired = September 27, 1954 | last_aired = present
num_episodes = 4,531 (under Carson)
3,489 (under Leno) as of February 1, 2008
imdb_id = 0103569|

"The Tonight Show" is a long-running American late-night talk and variety show airing on NBC whose current incarnation has been hosted by Jay Leno since 1992. Now in its 54th seasonupdate after|2008|9|26 , "The Tonight Show" is the third longest-running entertainment program in U.S. television history (after the soap opera "Guiding Light" and "Hallmark Hall of Fame)."

"The Tonight Show" can date its origins to a local New York program called "Broadway Open House", which started in 1950; its format can be traced to New York show hosted by
Steve Allen and which premiered in 1953 on what is now WNBC-TV. The show was hosted by Steve Allen (1954-57), Jack Paar (1957-62), Johnny Carson (1962-92), and Jay Leno (1992-present). Conan O'Brien is currently slated to take over the reins from Leno on June 1, 2009. The longest-serving host to date was American comedian Carson, who hosted "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" for 29 years.


teve Allen

The original host of "Tonight" was Steve Allen; his announcer was Gene Rayburn. When the show became a success, Allen got a primetime Sunday comedy-variety show, leading him to share "Tonight" hosting duties with Ernie Kovacs during the 1956–1957 season. To give Allen time to work on his Sunday evening show, Kovacs hosted "Tonight" on Monday and Tuesday nights, with his own announcer and bandleader.

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

Allen and Kovacs departed "Tonight" in January 1957 after NBC ordered Allen to concentrate all his efforts on his Sunday night variety program, hoping to combat CBS's "Ed Sullivan Show"'s dominance of the Sunday night ratings.

'Tonight! America After Dark"

Rather than continuing with the same format after Allen and Kovacs' departure from "Tonight", NBC changed the show's format to a news and features show, similar to that of the network's popular morning program "Today". The new show, renamed "Tonight! America After Dark", was hosted first by Jack Lescoulie and then by Al "Jazzbo" Collins, with interviews conducted by Hy Gardner, and music provided by the Lou Stein Trio. This new version of the show was not popular, resulting in a number of NBC affiliates dropping the show.

Jack Paar

In July 1957, NBC returned the program to a talk/variety show format once again, with Jack Paar becoming the new solo host of the show. Under Paar, most of the NBC affiliates which had dropped the show during the ill-fated run of "America After Dark" began airing the show once again. Paar's era began the practice of branding the series after the host, and as such the program, though officially still called "The Tonight Show"fact|date=July 2008, was marketed as "The Jack Paar Show". Paar also introduced the idea of having guest hosts; one of these early hosts was Johnny Carson. In the late 1950's, it was one of the first regularly scheduled shows to be videotaped in color.fact|date=July 2008Quote box
quote = An English lady is visiting Switzerland. She asks about the location of the "W.C." The Swiss, thinking she is referring to the "Wayside Chapel", leaves her a note that said (in part) "the W.C. is situated nine miles from the room that you will occupy... It is capable of holding about 229 people and it is only open on Sunday and Thursday... It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband... I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by everyone."
source = —Censored joke dropped from the February 11, 1960 show.fact|date=July 2008
width = 50%
align = right
On February 11, 1960, Jack Paar walked off his show for a month after NBC censors edited out a segment, taped the night before, about a joke involving a "W.C." (water closet, a polite term for a flush toilet) being confused for a "wayside chapel." As he left his desk, he said, "I am leaving "The Tonight Show". There must be a better way of making a living than this." Paar's abrupt departure left his startled announcer, Hugh Downs, to finish the broadcast himself.

Paar returned to the show on March 7, 1960, strolled on stage, struck a pose, and said, "As I was saying before I was interrupted..." After the audience erupted in applause, Paar continued, "When I walked off, I said there must be a better way of making a living. Well I've looked and there isn't."

Transition to Carson

Jack Paar left the show in March 1962, and Johnny Carson was chosen as his successor. For contractual reasonsspecify, Carson could not take over as host until October 1, 1962, and the months between Paar and Carson were taken by a series of guest hosts, including Groucho Marx and Mort Sahl. The show was broadcast under the title "The Tonight Show" during this interregnum.

Johnny Carson

Marx introduced Carson as the new host on October 1; Ed McMahon was Carson's sidekick. For all but a few months of its first decade on the air, Carson's "Tonight Show" was based in New York City. In May 1972 the show moved to Burbank, California, (although it was announced as coming from nearby Hollywood) for the remainder of his tenure.

Jay Leno

Johnny Carson retired on May 22, 1992, and was replaced by current host Jay Leno amid controversy. David Letterman not only wanted to move into that earlier time slot from his late night spot after "The Tonight Show", but was considered by Carson and others as the natural successorfact|date=July 2008 (despite Leno having been Carson's permanent guest host for several years). In the years following his retirement until his death in 2005, Carson never appeared as a guest on Leno's "The Tonight Show". Letterman, having had his heart set on the earlier time slot, left NBC and joined CBS. "Late Show with David Letterman", airing in the same slot, has been competing head to head against Leno's "The Tonight Show" ever since. Conan O'Brien slid into the late night time slot vacated by Letterman, and has himself enjoyed success. Carson died on January 23, 2005. Leno, now the last living host of "The Tonight Show", paid tribute to Carson soon after.Unlike Carson and Paar before him, Leno has rarely utilized guest hosts, reruns are broadcast during Leno's absence.

Conan O'Brien

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. It was then that Leno explained that he did not want to see a repeat of the hard feelings and controversy that occurred following Carson's retirement when he was given the show instead of Letterman.fact|date=July 2008 It has also been speculatedwho that NBC asked Leno to do this so that Conan would not accept a more lucrative offer. It was rumored that at the time of the announcement ABC was talking to O'Brien about possibly replacing Jimmy Kimmel.fact|date=July 2008

Since the announcement of the 2009 move, Leno's feelings on the matter have been questioned, though he later said he will leave the network once he leaves the show. Sources say he could also move to ABC or FOX to host a new late-night show. [cite news | author= | title=la-fi-leno | url=,0,7297816.story | work=The Los Angeles Times | date=25 October | accessdate=2008-03-11]

Leno will tape his last show from Burbank on Friday, May 29, 2009.update after|2009|6|1 O'Brien replaces Leno the following Monday, June 1 from a new studio in the Universal Studios backlot, ending an era during which the show will have been taped from Burbank since 1972 (Universal Studios and NBC are both owned by NBC Universal).

Music and announcers

Music during the show's introduction and commercial segues is supplied by the Tonight Show Band. Skitch Henderson was the band leader during the Steve Allen and early Carson years, followed briefly by Milton DeLugg (who later went on to become the musical director of "The Gong Show"). Gene Rayburn served as Allen's announcer and sidekick and also guest-hosted some episodes. The Lou Stein Trio provided musical accompaniment during the short run of "Tonight: America After Dark", which ran for seven months between the Steve Allen and Jack Paar eras of the "Tonight Show". Jose Melis led the band for Jack Paar, and Hugh Downs was his announcer. For most of Johnny Carson's run on the show, the "Tonight Show"'s band, then called "The NBC Orchestra" was led by Doc Severinsen, former trumpet soloist in Henderson's band for Steve Allen. When McMahon was away from the show, Severinsen was the substitute announcer and Tommy Newsom would lead the band. On the rare occasions that both McMahon "and" Severinsen were away, Newsom would take the announcer's chair and the band would be led by assistant musical director Shelly Cohen. Severinsen's band featured several accomplished sidemen in addition to saxophonist Newsom, including trumpeter Snooky Young, pianist Ross Tompkins, drummer Ed Shaughnessy, trumpeter Bobby Shew, trumpeter Conti Candoli, saxophonist Pete Christlieb and jazz trumpet legend Clark Terry. The band frequently appeared on camera in the "Stump the Band" segments, where an audience member would dare the band to play some obscure song title, and the band would comically improvise something appropriate. The routine was played for full comedy value and the band was not really expected to know the songs, but on two occasions the band did answer correctly, much to the maestro's surprise. Severinsen was heard to ask incredulously, "You mean we "actually"...!"

The first bandleader during Leno's tenure was Branford Marsalis; he was replaced by Kevin Eubanks in 1995. On March 29, 2004, Leno's long-time announcer Edd Hall was replaced by John Melendez from "The Howard Stern Show".

"The New York Post" has reported that Max Weinberg will be joining O'Brien in Los Angeles, though there has been no news whether the rest of The Max Weinberg 7 will accompany him. [ Max to Keep Beat in L.A.]

Broadcasting milestones

When the show began it was broadcast live. It began its broadcast at 11:15 pm ET, following an affiliate's 15-minute news broadcast. As more affiliates lengthened their local news programs to 30 minutes, the show began doing two openings, one for the affiliates that joined at 11:15 and another for those who joined at 11:30.

On January 12, 1959, the show began to be videotaped for broadcast later on the same day, although initially the Thursday night programs were kept live. ["Paar Set On Tape", "The Washington Post", Jan. 11, 1959, p. G3. "Visitors to the TV Studios", "New York Times", Feb. 22, 1959, p. X14.] Color broadcasts began on September 19, 1960. ["Hollywood Tie-Line", "The Washington Post", Sept. 18, 1960, p. H5.]

In the late 1960s Johnny Carson insisted that the show's start time be changed to 11:30, eliminating the two-opening practice.

"The Tonight Show" became the first American television show to broadcast with MTS stereo sound in 1984, although sporadically. Regular use of MTS began in 1985. On April 26, 1999, the show started broadcasting in 1080i HDTV, becoming the first American nightly talk show to be shot in that format.


"The Tonight Show" is also seen around the world. It is broadcast on CNBC Europe, usually three nights after it has been shown in the U.S. The show is screened at 11:00pm AEDST weeknights on The Comedy Channel in Australia, where new episodes are shown hours after its American broadcast. In Sweden, Kanal 5 has shown "The Tonight Show" (as "Jay Leno Show") since the late '90s with one week's delay. Since October, 2006, it is also being aired in India on Zee Cafe 12 hours after the show is shown in the USA. [ Essel Group Corporate Communications & Information Services of ZEE Convergence Group ] ]

An early attempt at airing the show in the United Kingdom during the 1980s was unsuccessful, sparking jokes by Carson. On the October 23, 1984 broadcast, guest Paul McCartney had this to say of the show's British run:

"Carson: (throwing to commercial) ...we have to pay some bills here. It's not like British television which just goes and goes till they end it.McCartney: Oh you're just mad because they didn't like your show."

Shows such as "Des O'Connor Tonight" and "Wogan" were considered by many to be the UK equivalent of the show.

See also

*List of late night network TV programs


External links

* [ The Tonight Show] from the Museum of Broadcast Communications website
*imdb title|0046652|Tonight! (1953)
*imdb title|0050070|Tonight! America After Dark (1957)
*imdb title|0050030|The Jack Paar Show (1957)
*imdb title|0055709|The Tonight Show interregnum (1962)
*imdb title|0055708|The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962)
*imdb title|0103569|The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992)
* [ "The Tonight Show] on Hulu

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