Little Bits of History

Tonight

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 27, 2010

September 27, 1954: Tonight!, starring Steve Allen, premieres on national television on the NBC network. Steve Allen hosted the variety show until 1957 with Ernie Kovacs sitting in the host chair on Mondays and Tuesdays for the last four months. In January of 1957, Jack Lescoulie took over, the name changed to Tonight! America After Dark and the format switched to news. Six months later, Al Collins took the helm for a month.

Tonight Show hosts

On July 29, 1957, Jack Paar became the host of the newly formatted talk show now entitled Tonight Starring Jack Paar. He remained as host until March 30, 1962 when a series of guest hosts took over while a permanent host was sought. On October 1, 1962 Johnny Carson opened The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and he remained on the job for almost thirty years, retiring on May 22, 1992. Jay Leno took over and the show again changed names to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Jay has announced plans to retire in 2009 with a scheduled take over by Conan O’Brian. Conan arrived, Jay moved, it didn’t work out for all concerned and Jay is back on late night television.

The years as a news show simply didn’t work out and the show returned to the variety format with an announcer/straight man at the host’s side and a bandleader off to the side of the stage. Jack Paar was censored for a bathroom joke in February 1960 and the next night he abruptly left the show in protest leaving his announcer to carry on. Four weeks later he came back and said, “As I was saying before I was interrupted …” and carried on to rousing applause.

The multiple hosts of the program have left an indelible mark on the social consciousness of the American audience. Steve Allen’s “Man on the Street” interviews, Carnac the Magnificent (in which Carson posed as a psychic) Carson’s introductory golf swing, Leno’s newspaper headlines – all have become part of the legacy left by the show.

“Radio is the theater of the mind; television is the theater of the mindless.” – Steve Allen

“If variety if the spice of life, marriage is the big can of leftover Spam.” – Johnny Carson

“He couldn’t ad-lib a fart after a baked-bean dinner.” – Johnny Carson

“Politics is just show business for ugly people.” – Jay Leno

“I think high self-esteem is overrated. A little low self-esteem is actually quite good. Maybe you’re not the best, so you should work a little harder.” – Jay Leno

Also on this day, in 1540 the Society of Jesus was formed.

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