|The Tonight Show|
Leno's second Tonight Show title card
|Created by||Sylvester L. Weaver, Jr.|
|Presented by||Steve Allen (1954–1957)
Jack Paar (1957–1962)
Johnny Carson (1962–1992)
Jay Leno (1992–2009)
Conan O'Brien (2009–2010)
Jay Leno (2010–present)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||2,000 (before Carson)
4,531 (under Carson)
3,789 (under Leno)
146 (under O'Brien)
|Picture format||480i SDTV (1954–1999)
1080i HDTV (1999–present)
|Original run||September 27, 1954– present|
The Tonight Show is an American late-night talk show that has aired on NBC since 1954. Tonight is the longest currently-running regularly scheduled entertainment program in the United States, and the third longest-running show on NBC, after Meet the Press and Today.
The longest-serving host to date was Carson, who hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 seasons, from the fall of 1962 through the spring of 1992. The current host of the show is Jay Leno, who had previously hosted the show from 1992–2009, and began his current tenure on March 1, 2010.
NBC's Broadway Open House, which began in 1950, first demonstrated the potential for late-night network programming. The format for The Tonight Show can be traced to a nightly 40 minute local New York show hosted by Allen, which premiered in 1953 on what is now WNBC-TV. Beginning in September 1954, it was renamed Tonight! and shown on the full NBC network. Detailed history of hosts can be found here.
|Host||From||To||Notes||# of episodes|
|Steve Allen||September 27, 1954||32||January 25, 1957||35||Variety show||Between all of the hosts from The Tonight Show's debut until the Carson era, 2,000 episodes were made|
|Ernie Kovacs||October 1, 1956||37||January 22, 1957||37||Monday–Tuesday host|
|Jack Lescoulie||January 28, 1957||44||June 21, 1957||44||Format switch to news program Tonight! America After Dark|
|Al "Jazzbo" Collins||June 24, 1957||38||July 26, 1957||38||Replaced Lescoulie, who was moved to Today|
|Jack Paar||July 29, 1957||39||March 30, 1962||43||Format switch to talk show; also called Tonight Starring Jack Paar and Jack Paar Tonight|
|Various hosts||April 2, 1962||N/A||September 28, 1962||N/A||Interlude between Paar and Carson eras. Temporary hosts included Groucho Marx and Jerry Lewis.|
|Johnny Carson||October 1, 1962||36||May 22, 1992||66||The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson||4,531|
|Jay Leno||May 25, 1992||42||May 29, 2009||59||The Tonight Show with Jay Leno||3,789|
|Conan O'Brien||June 1, 2009||46||January 22, 2010||46||The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien||146|
|Jay Leno||March 1, 2010||59||present||The Tonight Show with Jay Leno||See above|
The first Tonight announcer was Gene Rayburn. Allen's version of the show originated such talk show staples as an opening monologue, celebrity interviews, audience participation, and comedy bits in which cameras were taken outside the studio, as well as music, including guest performers and a house band under Lyle "Skitch" Henderson.
When the show became a success, Allen got a prime-time Sunday comedy-variety show in June 1956, 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.
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.
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 significant number of NBC affiliates dropping the show.
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, was marketed as The Jack Paar Show. A combo band conducted by Paar's Army buddy pianist Jose Melis filled commercial breaks and backed musical entertainers. [See music and announcers below.] Paar also introduced the idea of having guest hosts; one of these early hosts was Johnny Carson. In the late 1950s, it was one of the first regularly scheduled shows to be videotaped in color.
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."
Jack Paar left the show in March 1962, citing the fact that he could no longer handle the load of putting on the show five nights a week. The Jack Paar Show moved to prime time (as The Jack Paar Program) and aired weekly, on Friday nights, through 1965.
As for Tonight, Johnny Carson was chosen as Paar's successor. At the time, Carson was host of the weekday afternoon quiz show Who Do You Trust? on ABC. Because Carson was under contract to ABC through September (they held him to his contract until the day it expired, prompting him to make occasional wisecracks on Who Do You Trust? about the situation- "I'd like to welcome you to ABC...the network with a heart"), he could not take over as host until October 1, 1962. 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.
Marx introduced Carson as the new host on October 1, 1962; Ed McMahon was Carson's announcer. The Tonight Show orchestra was for several years still led by Skitch Henderson. After a brief stint by Milton DeLugg, beginning in 1967 the "NBC Orchestra" was then headed by trumpeter Doc Severinsen who played in the Tonight Show Band in the years that 'Skitch' Henderson conducted. [See music and announcers below.] 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 into Studio One of NBC Studios West Coast (although it was announced as coming from nearby Hollywood), for the remainder of his tenure. Carson is often referred to as "The King of Late-Night" because of the great influence he has had on so many well-known talk show hosts and comedians.
Johnny Carson retired on May 22, 1992, and was replaced by 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 successor (despite Leno having been Carson's permanent guest host for several years). 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 The Tonight Show ever since. After Leno's run as host of The Tonight Show, Conan O'Brien took over as host. On March 1, 2010 Jay Leno returned to The Tonight Show, with Wally Wingert as his announcer.
On September 27, 2004, the 50th anniversary of the show's premiere, NBC announced that Jay Leno would be succeeded by Conan O'Brien in 2009. Leno explained that in yielding to Conan, he wanted to avoid repeating the hard feelings that developed between him and David Letterman, and called O'Brien "certainly the most deserving person for the job." The final episode of The Tonight Show with Leno as host aired on Friday, May 29, 2009. O'Brien replaced Leno as host on The Tonight Show on Monday, June 1 from a new studio in Stage 1 of the Universal Studios Hollywood back lot, ending an era (since 1972) of taping the show in Burbank. Leno, meanwhile, went on to host The Jay Leno Show, a prime time talk show.
In their new roles, neither O'Brien nor Leno succeeded in delivering the viewing audiences the network anticipated. On January 7, 2010, multiple media outlets reported that beginning March 1, 2010, Jay Leno would move from his 10pm weeknight time slot to 11:35pm, due to a combination of pressure from local affiliates whose newscasts were suffering, and both Leno's and O'Brien's poor ratings. Leno's show would be shortened from an hour to 30 minutes. All NBC late night programming would be preempted by the 2010 Winter Olympics between February 15 and February 26. This would move The Tonight Show to 12:05am, a post-midnight timeslot for the first time in its history.
On January 10, NBC confirmed they would be moving Jay Leno out of primetime as of February 12 and intended to move him to late-night as soon as possible. TMZ reported that O'Brien was given no advance notice of this change, and that NBC offered him two choices: an hour-long 12:05am time slot, or the option to leave the network. On January 12, O'Brien issued a press release that stated he would not continue with Tonight if it moved to a 12:05am time slot, saying, "I believe that delaying The Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t The Tonight Show." On January 21, it was announced that NBC had struck a deal with O'Brien. It was decided that O'Brien would leave The Tonight Show. The deal was made that O'Brien would receive a $33 million payout and that his staff of almost 200 would receive $12 million in the departure. O'Brien's final episode aired on Friday, January 22, and Jay Leno resumed hosting The Tonight Show on March 1, 2010.
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 six months between the Steve Allen and Jack Paar eras of The Tonight Show. José 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 Conte 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, though the Marsalis-written theme was used throughout the show's run. On March 29, 2004, Leno's long-time announcer Edd Hall was replaced by John Melendez from The Howard Stern Show.
Conan O'Brien announced on the February 18, 2009 episode of Late Night that The Max Weinberg 7 (rechristened as the Tonight Show Band, and adding a second percussionist), the house band on that program, would be accompanying him to The Tonight Show as his version's house band. It was announced February 23, 2009 that former Late Night sidekick Andy Richter would be O'Brien's announcer. Richter replaced O'Brien's former long-time announcer Joel Godard (who stayed behind in New York) when his rendition of The Tonight Show began.
For the second incarnation of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a new bandleader will be selected, though original bandleader Kevin Eubanks will stay for a few weeks in the transition.
The Tonight Show 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 began at 11:15 and another for those who joined at 11:30. By early 1965, only 43 of the 190 affiliated stations carried the entire show. Johnny Carson, who was not happy that Ed McMahon was "hosting" the 11:15 segment when he refused to appear until 11:30 after February 1965, finally insisted that the show's start time be changed to 11:30, eliminating the two-opening practice in December 1966.
When the show began it was broadcast live. 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. Color broadcasts began on September 19, 1960.
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. In September 1991, the show postponed its starting time by five minutes to 11:35, to give network affiliates the opportunity to sell more advertising on their local news. On April 26, 1999, the show started broadcasting in 1080i HDTV, becoming the first American nightly talk show to be shot in that format.
Throughout the years, the time at which The Tonight Show aired and the length has changed multiple times.
|Begin Date||End Date||Nights||Start||End||Notes|
|September 27, 1954||October 5, 1956||Mon-Fri||11:30||1:00||Allen|
|October 8, 1956||January 4, 1957||Mon-Fri||11:30||12:30||Allen|
|January 7, 1957||December 30, 1966||Mon-Fri||11:15||1:00||Allen, Paar, Carson|
|January 2, 1965||January 1, 1967||Sat or Sun||11:15||1:00||Repeats, known as The Saturday/Sunday Tonight Show|
|January 2, 1967||September 5, 1980||Mon-Fri||11:30||1:00||Carson|
|January 7, 1967||September 28, 1975||Sat or Sun||11:30||1:00||Repeats; eventually known as The Weekend Tonight Show|
|September 8, 1980||August 30, 1991||Mon-Fri||11:30||12:30||Carson|
|September 2, 1991||present||Mon-Fri||11:35||12:35||Carson, Leno, O'Brien, Leno|
|Country||TV Network(s)||Weekly Schedule (local time)|
|Australia||The Comedy Channel||Weeknights 12.00am AEST|
|Canada||A & Access||Simulcast with NBC's broadcast|
|Denmark||Canal 9 (as The Tonight Show)||Weeknights 11.30 pm CET|
|Dominican Republic||Cable de Tricom (as Tonight Show)||Simulcast with NBC's ET broadcast|
|Turkey||e2 (as The Tonight Show)||Weeknights 11 pm IST|
|Europe||CNBC Europe||Weeknights 12 am CET, Weekends 9 pm CET|
|India||Zee Cafe||Weeknights 11 pm IST|
|Israel||yes stars Comedy (as Conan O'Brien)||Weeknights 8:00 pm|
|Pakistan||CNBC Pakistan (as Tonight Show)|
|The Philippines||Jack TV (as The Tonight Show)||Tuesday to Saturday 3 pm (via satellite) / Tuesday to Saturday 11 pm (late telecast)|
|Portugal||SIC Radical (as The Tonight Show)||Weeknights 9:30 pm|
|Romania||Antena 3 (as Tonight Show)||Weeknights 12:25 am|
|Sweden||Kanal 9||Weeknights around 11 pm, Daytime|
|Finland||Sub (as Tonight Show)||Weeknights 11:55 pm, Repeated on weekday evenings|
|South Africa||CNBC Africa (as Tonight Show)|
|United Kingdom||CNBC (as The Tonight Show)||Weeknights 11 pm|
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 10.30 pm 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.
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.
o Monologue, September 10, 2004
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The Tonight Show is a popular late night television talk and comedy show in the United States. It appears on the NBC television network. The show started in 1954 and was hosted by Steve Allen. In 1957, Jack Paar became the host, with Ernie Kovacs hosting on some nights.
In 1962, Johnny Carson took over and stayed until 1992, with announcer Ed McMahon as co-host. Carson and McMahon retired from The Tonight Show in 1992, when Jay Leno became host. Leno left the show in 2009, and Conan O'Brien (of Late Night and Saturday Night Live fame) became host from June 2009 to January 2010 before leaving due to controversy with The Tonight Show's timeslot. Jay Leno became the host of the show again on March 1, 2010.
In late 2009, NBC said that they would be moving the Jay Leno Show to 11:35 PM, the time usually slotted for The Tonight Show. The Jay Leno Show would be 30 minutes long. The Tonight Show would be moved to 12:05 AM, but would still be a full hour long. NBC did this because Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien were not getting enough viewers, and they believed that moving The Jay Leno Show to late night would increase their prime time viewers.
After being told this, Conan O'Brien said that he would be leaving The Tonight Show. He said that he believed that moving the show to 12:05 would ruin it, and that it would be unfair to Late Night, which would have been moved to 1:05 AM. The deal was made that O'Brien would receive $33 million and that his staff of almost 200 people would receive $12 million. Conan O'Brien's last show aired on January 22, 2010.