The Tonight Show

The Tonight Show Cast

Series Description

The Tonight show is a talk show/comedy series on NBC where the host starts the program with a standup routine. That is followed by a myriad of interviews with famous guest stars, comedy skits, musical performances, and just about anything else that is entertaining.


The Tonight Show Hosts:

Steve Allen .... 1954-1956 and Wed-Fri: 1956-1957
Ernie Kovacs .... Mon and Tues: 1956-1957
Jack Paar .... 1957-1962
Johnny Carson .... 1962-1992
Jay Leno .... 1992-2009, 2010-
Conan O'Brien .... 2009-2010

The Tonight Show Bandleaders:

Skitch Henderson .... 1954-1956, Wed-Fri 1956-1957, 1962-1966
LeRoy Holmes .... Mon and Tues: 1956-1957
Jose Melis .... 1957-1962
Milton Delugg .... 1966-1967
Doc Severinsen .... 1967-1992
Tommy Newsom .... 1968-1992 (Regular Substitute For Doc; Band Member 1962-1992)
Branford Marsalis .... 1992-1995
Kevin Eubanks .... 1995-2009
Max Weinberg .... 2009-

The Tonight Show Announcers:

Gene Rayburn .... 1954-1956 and Wed-Fri: 1956-1957
Bill Wendell .... Mon and Tues: 1956-1957
Hugh Downs .... 1957-1962
Regis Philbin .... 1962
Jack Haskell .... 1962
Ed McMahon .... 1962-1992
Edd Hall .... 1992-2004
John Melendez .... 2004-2009
Andy Richter .... 2009-

The Tonight Show Recurring Guest Hosts:

David Letterman (1978-1980)
Joan Rivers (1983-1986)
Jay Leno (1987-1992)

The Tonight Show Trivia

As with all great comedians, Johnny Carson had his ways of getting past a joke that bombed. Sometimes he would pull the microphone down from over his head and say, "Attention K-Mart shoppers"! Another method was where he would start doing a "soft shoe" dance while the band played the song "Tea for Two"! In other words, if you don't like my jokes, maybe you'll like my dancing better.

Due to a contract negotiation in 1979, all of The Tonight Show episodes that aired after 1980 are owned by "Carson Productions".

The Tonight Show was aired live for 90 minutes until the 1970s. When the Tonight Show moved from New York City to Burbank, California, the length was reduced to one hour and the shows began being taped (although on the same day as they were broadcast).

When it was first announced that Johnny Carson would be the new host of The Tonight Show, he was hounded by reporters looking for an interview. Johnny never cared much for that part of show business, so he provided the press with a list of answers that they could apply to any question of their choosing in order to construct an interview without his participation. Those answers were: "Not a bit of truth in that rumor. Yes, I did. I can do either, but prefer the first. Only twice in my life, both times on Saturday. NO. Kumquats. I can't answer that question. Turkestan, Denmark, Chile, and the Komandorskie Islands. As often as possible, but I'm not very good at it yet. Toads and tarantulas. I need much more practice. It happened to some old friends of mine, and it's a story I'll never forget."

Beginning in the 1980s, offensive language went from being "bleeped out" to being "overdubbed" with some innocent nonsensical word.

Johnny Carson reined over the Tonight Show while the U.S. went through six Presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Herbert Walker Bush).

Johnny Carson absolutely dominated late night television during his tenure on the Tonight Show. Those who tried (and failed) to overthrow him with their own shows include Steve Allen, David Brenner, Jimmy Breslin, Dick Cavett, Chevy Chase, Merv Griffin, Arsenio Hall, Robert Klein, Ron Reagan Jr., Joan Rivers, Pat Sajak, Ross Schaefer, and David Susskind.

The cast member who has been with the Tonight Show the longest is not Ed McMahon or Johnny Carson. Band member and "fill-in" bandleader Tommy Newsom gets that distinction! When Jack Paar left as host, there was a 3-month period where there were rotating hosts (including Johnny Carson). Tommy Newsom was hired during that time, however, and stayed with the show till Johnny and Ed left so he has the record!

When the Tonight Show moved to Burbank, Johnny began taking off every Monday night. Joan Rivers became his fill-in on Mondays in September of 1983 but before that time, many different guest hosts appeared. In order of their frequency, they were Joey Bishop (Joey Bishop Show - 177 times), Joan Rivers (93 times - until becoming permanent), Bob Newhart (Bob Newhart Show - 87 times), John Davidson (87 times), David Brenner (70 times), McLean Stevenson (M*A*S*H - 58 times), Jerry Lewis (52 times), and David Letterman (51 times). Jay Leno only guest hosted a few times during that period. The very last cigarette commercial on television aired at one minute before midnight on January 1, 1971 on the Tonight Show before the law banning cigarette advertising went into effect. The ad was for Virginia Slims.

On the final show hosted by Johnny Carson, Bette Midler (Bette), sang a show tune parody. On the first show hosted by Jay Leno, Billy Crystal (Soap), also sang a show tune parody.

In 1999, The Tonight Show became the first late-night show to be broadcast in High Definition.

In a break from Johnny Carson's endless list of guest hosts, Jay Leno hosted the Tonight Show for over a decade before taking a night off (Thanks to Katie Couric).

Jay Leno was working the night club circuit 300 nights per year when he got signed as the host of the Tonight Show. As early as 1976, Jay was also taking on occasional acting roles. That year he appeared on an episode of "Good Times" and also appeared in a TV pilot for the series, "Holmes and Yo-Yo" which never found its way onto the air. He was an "extra" in the movie "Fun With Dick and Jane" the following year and played a character called "Mookie" in the 1978 film, "American Hot Wax". An episode of "Alice" and a couple of episodes of "Laverne & Shirley" came after that. During that time Jay also appeared on 14 shows as himself, the comedian and, of course, a bunch of guest host jobs on the Tonight Show.

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