The Tonight Show

The Tonight Show is an American late-night talk show currently broadcast from the NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center in New York City, the show's original location (a tradition interrupted by decades of emanating from various studios in the Los Angeles region) and airing on NBC since 1954. The series has been hosted by six comedians: Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Fallon, and had several recurring guest hosts including Ernie Kovacs during the Steve Allen era and Joan Rivers, Garry Shandling and Jay Leno during Johnny Carson's stewardship (along with dozens of occasional substitutes), although the practice has been abandoned since Carson's departure, with hosts preferring reruns to showcasing potential rivals. The Tonight Show is the world's longest-running talk show, and the longest-running, regularly scheduled entertainment program in the United States. It is the third-longest-running show on NBC, after the news-and-talk shows Today and Meet the Press.

Over the course of more than 60 years, The Tonight Show has undergone only minor title changes. It aired under the name Tonight for several of its early years, as well as Tonight Starring Jack Paar and The Jack Paar Show due to the runaway popularity of its host, eventually settling permanently on The Tonight Show after Carson began his tenure in 1962 albeit with the host's name always included in the title. Beginning with Carson's debut episode, network programmers, advertisers, and the show's announcers would refer to the show by including the name of the host; for example, it is currently announced as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In 1957, the show briefly tried a more news-style format. It has otherwise adhered to the talk show format introduced by Allen and honed further by Paar.

Carson is the longest-serving host to date although not the host with the most episodes. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson aired for 30 seasons between October 1962 and May 1992. Leno, however, has the record of having hosted the greatest number of total televised episodes. Leno's record accounts for the fact that unlike Carson (who only produced new shows three days a week starting in the 1980s), Leno never used guest hosts on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (except Katie Couric, once) and produced new shows five days a week; Leno himself was also Carson's primary guest host for the last five years of Carson's tenure, giving him even more episodes to his credit. Leaving out Leno's five years as permanent guest host, Leno hosted 119 more episodes as full-time host than Carson. During Carson's first four years, the show ran for 105 minutes then was reduced to ninety minutes in early 1967 when Carson stopped appearing for the first 15 minutes because most affiliates were carrying their local news during that time slot as they expanded to half an hour. During Carson's 1980 contract negotiations, the show was shortened to sixty minutes. NBC also broadcast The Best of Carson which were repeats of some of Carson's popular older albeit usually recent shows. Prior to the debut of Saturday Night Live in October 1975, NBC aired The Best of Carson on Saturday nights at 11:30 pm.

Outside of its brief run as a news show in 1957, Conan O'Brien is the shortest-serving host. O'Brien hosted 146 episodes over the course of less than eight months before, with ratings continuously plummeting, Leno was brought back as host, where he served for almost an additional four years. Current host Fallon took the helm on February 17, 2014. Fallon had previously hosted Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and before Late Night he was a popular member of the cast of Saturday Night Live, co-hosting the "Weekend Update" with Tina Fey as well as performing sketches.

The Tonight Show
Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Intertitle
The title card for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the current incarnation of the show
Created by
Presented by
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes
  • 2,000 (before Carson, total)
  • 4,531 (under Carson)
  • 3,775 (under Leno, first tenure)
  • 146 (under O'Brien, 1 unaired)
  • 835 (under Leno, second tenure, 4,610 total)
  • 1,037 (under Fallon)
  • Total: 12,325
(list of episodes)
Running timeVaries
Production company(s)
Original networkNBC
Picture format
Original releaseSeptember 27, 1954 –
Preceded byBroadway Open House (1950–51)
Related shows
External links

Hosting history

From 1950 to 1951 NBC aired Broadway Open House, a nightly variety show hosted primarily by comic Jerry Lester. It was initially not a success (hosting five nights a week quickly burned through all of Lester's material faster than he could create it, and he was given rotating hosting duties for a weekly prime time variety show in 1951); the network scaled back late-night programming to shorter weekly shows. A spinoff, Dagmar's Canteen, aired the following season on Saturday nights; at some other point in the week, Mary Kay's Nightcap (which mostly consisted of previews of the next day's programming) also aired that season.

The format of The Tonight Show can be traced to a nightly 40-minute local program in New York, hosted by Allen and originally titled The Knickerbocker Beer Show (after the sponsor). It was quickly retitled The Steve Allen Show. This premiered in 1953 on WNBT-TV, (now broadcasting as WNBC-TV), the local station affiliate in New York City. Beginning in September 1954, it was renamed Tonight! and began its historic run on the full NBC network.

Host Start date End date Episodes
Steve Allen September 27, 1954 January 25, 1957 2,000[tablenote 1]
Ernie Kovacs October 1, 1956 January 22, 1957
Jack Lescoulie January 28, 1957 June 21, 1957
Al "Jazzbo" Collins June 24, 1957 July 26, 1957
Jack Paar July 29, 1957 March 30, 1962
Various hosts[tablenote 2] April 2, 1962 September 28, 1962
Johnny Carson October 1, 1962 May 22, 1992 4,531[tablenote 3]
Jay Leno (first tenure) May 25, 1992 May 29, 2009 3,775
Conan O'Brien June 1, 2009 January 22, 2010 146
Jay Leno (second tenure) March 1, 2010 February 6, 2014 835
Jimmy Fallon February 17, 2014[1] present 1,037

Notes for hosting history

  1. ^ Includes episodes hosted by all hosts prior to Johnny Carson.
  2. ^ Guest hosts between the end of Jack Paar's tenure and the beginning of Carson's included: Art Linkletter (4 weeks), Merv Griffin (4 weeks), Hugh Downs (2 weeks), Joey Bishop (2 weeks), Robert Cummings, Jack Carter, Jan Murray, Peter Lind Hayes, Soupy Sales, Mort Sahl, Steve Lawrence, Jerry Lewis (2 weeks), Jimmy Dean, Florence Henderson, Arlene Francis, Jack E. Leonard, Groucho Marx, Hal March and Donald O'Connor. The announcer for the show was Hugh Downs, carrying over from Paar's tenure.
  3. ^ Not including guest hosted or Weekend Tonight Show/Best of Carson episodes

Steve Allen (1954–1957)

The first Tonight announcer was Gene Rayburn. Allen's version of the show originated talk show staples such 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 primetime Sunday comedy/variety show in June 1956, leading him to share Tonight hosting duties with Ernie Kovacs during the 1956–57 season. To give Allen time to work on his Sunday evening show, Kovacs hosted Tonight on Monday and Tuesday nights with his own announcer (Bill Wendell) and bandleader.

During the later Steve Allen years, regular audience member Lillian Miller (usually referred to as "Miss Miller") became such an integral part that she was forced to join American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the television/radio performers union. She would continue to perform the same service for most of the major talk shows for decades, including those hosted by Paar, Carson, Merv Griffin (until 1986), and Mike Douglas, among others.

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 dominance of the Sunday night ratings first by CBS's The Ed Sullivan Show then by ABC's Maverick.

Unlike the first installment of Johnny Carson's tenure, which is lost except for audio recordings, a kinescope recording of most of the very first Tonight Show under Allen survives. In this recording, Allen states during his opening monologue that "this show is going to go on forever"; although in context (and as part of a series of jokes) Allen refers to the fact the program is scheduled to run late into the night, his statement has come to refer to the longevity of the franchise.

Tonight! America After Dark (1957)

Rather than continuing with the same format after Allen and Kovacs’s 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 (also an announcer and long-time cast member on the Today morning program, 1952–1967) and then by Al ("Jazzbo") Collins, with interviews conducted by Hy Gardner, and music provided by the Lou Stein Trio (later replaced by the Mort Lindsey Quartet, then the Johnny Guarnieri Quartet). This new version of the show was unpopular, resulting in a significant number of NBC affiliates dropping the show.[2]

Jack Paar (1957–1962)

John F. Kennedy Jack Paar Tonight Show 1959
Jack Paar and Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy (of Massachusetts) in 1959, prior to the presidential election of 1960.

In July 1957, NBC returned the program to a talk/variety show format once again, with Jack Paar (who left his role as morning show host on CBS to join NBC) becoming the new solo host of the show. Under Paar, most of the NBC affiliates that had dropped the show during the ill-fated run of Tonight! 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 Tonight, was also 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 coincidentally was Johnny Carson. It was also one of the first regularly scheduled network shows to be telecast in color beginning sporadically in September 1957, with regular color broadcasts beginning in September 1960.

On February 11, 1960, Jack Paar walked off his show, most unexpectedly in the midst of the program – an absence that lasted almost a month – after NBC censors edited out a segment taped the night before about a joke involving a "WC" ("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 to finish the late-night broadcast himself.[3]

Paar returned to the show on March 7, 1960, strolled on stage after the opening credits, struck a pose, and said, ". . . . As I was saying before I was interrupted . . . "[3] 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 from Paar to Carson (1962)

Citing that he would prefer to do one prime-time show per week rather than five late-night installments, Paar left the show in March 1962. The guests on the last show were Jack E. Leonard, Alexander King, Robert Merrill and Buddy Hackett. Among those appearing in taped farewell messages were Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy, Billy Graham, Bob Hope and Jack Benny. Hugh Downs was the announcer, and Jose Melis led the band. The Jack Paar Show was moved to the evening's prime time (as The Jack Paar Program) and aired weekly on Friday nights through the 1965 season.

Johnny Carson (1925–2005) was chosen as Paar's successor. Carson was host at the time of the weekday afternoon quiz show Who Do You Trust? on the newest and then lowest-rated radio and television network, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC, which, as the "Blue Network," had been separated from NBC in 1943 owing to government pressure). Because Carson was under contract through September to ABC and producer Don Fedderson (who held him to his contract until the day it expired), he could not take over as host until October 1, 1962. The months between Paar and Carson were filled by a series of guest hosts including Art Linkletter (4 weeks), Merv Griffin (4 weeks), Hugh Downs (2 weeks), Joey Bishop (2 weeks), Bob Cummings, Jack Carter, Jan Murray, Peter Lind Hayes, Soupy Sales, Mort Sahl, Steve Lawrence, Jerry Lewis (2 weeks), Jimmy Dean, Florence Henderson, Arlene Francis, Jack E. Leonard, Groucho Marx, Hal March and Donald O'Connor, many of whom later noted they were being led to believe they were auditioning for the job. Griffin was so well received as a guest host that NBC gave him his own daytime talk show, the first of three he would host in his broadcasting career, which debuted the same day Carson took over the late night show, and Lewis's two-week stint was so successful that NBC seriously considered retracting their offer to Carson. Lewis subsequently wound up hosting a lavish 2-hour prime time talk show for ABC entitled The Jerry Lewis Show while also making movies, which was famously unsuccessful.

The show was broadcast under the title The Tonight Show during this interregnum, with Skitch Henderson returning as bandleader. Hugh Downs remained as announcer/sidekick until taking over hosting duties on Today in September, at which point he was replaced by Ed Herlihy.

Johnny Carson (1962–1992)

Tonight Show cast New Years Eve 1962
New Year's Eve 1962, with (L-R) Skitch Henderson, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon.

Groucho Marx introduced Carson as the new host on October 1, 1962. Ed McMahon was Carson's announcer. The Tonight Show orchestra was, for Carson's first four 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 had played in the band during the Henderson era. [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 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 lacked the mercurial, electric personality of Paar, and his version of The Tonight Show never riveted the country's attention the way that Paar's had, but his more predictable approach eventually became part of the cultural landscape by dint of the fact that the viewership, in a basically three-network paradigm, was infinitely more monolithic than it later became. Examples include when he played the game Twister with Eva Gabor in 1966, which sent the relatively unknown game's sales skyrocketing. In December 1973, when Carson joked about an alleged shortage of toilet paper, panic buying and hoarding ensued across the United States as consumers emptied stores, causing a real shortage that lasted for weeks. Stores and toilet paper manufacturers had to ration supplies until the panic ended.

Carson's ratings usually substantially led his timeslot, in spite of the fact that he intermittently faced a litany of other late-night competitors including Les Crane, Bill Dana, David Frost, Regis Philbin, Alan Thicke, Jerry Lewis, Joan Rivers, David Brenner, Pat Sajak, Ron Reagan, Dennis Miller, and most notably Steve Allen, Arsenio Hall, Joey Bishop, Merv Griffin, and Dick Cavett (Carson saw his friend Cavett as his real competition but Cavett was on ABC, a much smaller network at the time).

As primetime variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show faded in prominence over the course of the 1970s, Carson's Tonight Show emerged as a showcase for all kinds of talent, as well as continuing the tradition of a vaudeville-style variety show.[4][5] Carson's show continued Paar's tradition of launching the careers of a number of comedians, in Carson's case including Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, Joan Rivers, Jeff Foxworthy, Ellen DeGeneres, David Brenner, Tim Allen, Drew Carey, and Roseanne Barr.

Jay Leno (1992–2009)

Jay Leno (1993) by Alan Light
Jay Leno in 1993
Laura Bush on The Tonight Show
First Lady Laura Bush and Jay Leno

Johnny Carson retired after three decades in the long-time hosts' chair behind the familiar iconic late-night desk on May 22, 1992, and was replaced by Jay Leno amid national and media controversy. David Letterman not only wanted to move into that earlier time slot from his Late Night spot (which had been broadcast following Carson's program) after The Tonight Show, but was considered personally by Carson (whose opinion was not revealed until several years later) as his natural successor[6] despite Leno having been Carson's permanent guest host for several years.[7] This is a moot point, however, since the network never consulted a Tonight Show host about the choice of his successor: Paar was not consulted about Carson and Leno was not consulted about O'Brien or Fallon. Letterman, having had his heart set on the earlier time slot in spite of Leno's ratings success as recurring substitute host, left NBC (on Carson's advice) and joined rival network CBS. Their new program and entry into the late-night television universe, Late Show with David Letterman, airing in the same slot, competed head to head against The Tonight Show with Leno in the host's chair and behind that iconic desk, for the better part of two decades,[8] although Leno consistently enjoyed higher ratings after the first two years.

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. The network shocked Leno, who had been consistently number one in the time period, when he was told that he would be fired in five years, with O'Brien taking over the slot at that time. Leno told his audience about this unique network decision at the beginning of his next show, mentioning that he'd accepted it, noting that he wanted to avoid repeating the hard feelings that had somehow developed with Letterman, and called O'Brien "certainly the most deserving person for the job" in the wake of his (Leno's) eventual departure. Five years later, what was to have been the final episode of The Tonight Show with Leno as host aired on Friday, May 29, 2009.

Not wanting Leno, who remained number one in the ratings, to move to a competing network, NBC signed the host to a new contract to host a new prime-time talk show beginning in September 2009, entitled The Jay Leno Show, with a format similar to his Tonight Show except that he was contractually prohibited from using a desk on the show. In a departure from network programming conventions of the time, the new show aired every weeknight at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific, competing with expensively produced narrative series on other networks and leading into affiliates' local news broadcasts and O'Brien's Tonight Show.

Conan O'Brien (2009–2010)

Conan O'Brien replaced Leno as host on The Tonight Show on Monday, June 1 from a lavish newly constructed studio inside Stage 1 of the Universal Studios Hollywood back lot, temporarily ending an era (since 1972) of recording the show in Burbank.

2010 timeslot conflict and Leno's return

Im With Coco
O'Brien quickly gained online support during the controversy.[9]

After a strong debut week, O'Brien’s total audience fell precipitously over the summer months, and the program began losing to The Late Show with David Letterman in overall ratings. In contrast, O'Brien's performance in the crucial 18–34 demo was favorable, and it was found that he had brought down the median age of The Tonight Show audience by a decade compared with his predecessor, indicating that a generational shift was taking effect as O'Brien established himself in an earlier timeslot.[10] Taking this into account, columnist Tom Shales assessed in August 2009 that O’Brien was in a better position than Leno had been when he began his Tonight Show run in 1992; Leno consistently lost to Letterman in the ratings for eighteen months before eventually cementing his number one status.[11]

The Jay Leno Show debuted in September 2009, three months into O'Brien's Tonight Show tenure, performing to significantly lower ratings than the primetime dramas it had replaced on NBC and trailing the competition. NBC had expected the drop, having calculated that lower ratings would be balanced by a talk show’s correspondingly lower expense compared to more popular scripted programming.[12] In the 11:35 period, The Late Show would largely maintain its lead over The Tonight Show in total viewers in early Fall, during which Letterman was receiving tabloid attention due to a blackmail scandal. In addition, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien was in the unusual situation of being a talk show following a talk show hosted by its predecessor on the same network, and the booking war that resulted often left The Tonight Show getting second dibs on guests. One publicist reported that the aggression was such that The Jay Leno Show had signaled to potential guests that doing O'Brien's program before Leno's would be punished with secondary placement in the line-up.[13]

Though NBC claimed that the performance of The Jay Leno Show offered no surprises and that O'Brien was meeting expectations as well, the network had failed to anticipate the impact that Leno's weaker 10pm lead-in would have on the local 11pm news, which suffered a drastic drop in ratings (between 25%–50% nationwide) as a demonstrable result. As the affiliates rely on the revenue generated during the news, this generated a furor from the local stations and placed pressure on NBC to quickly fix the 10pm situation, which was contributing to a cascading effect on the ratings of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.[14][15]

On January 7, 2010, multiple media outlets reported that beginning March 1, 2010, Leno would move from his 10 p.m. weeknight time slot back to the traditional Tonight Show slot at 11:35. [16][17] Under this proposal, Leno's show would be shortened from an hour to 30 minutes, which would make the monologue, Leno’s most popular segment, the essence of the program. This would move The Tonight Show to 12:05 a.m., a post-midnight time slot for the first time in its sixty-year history, while Late Night with Jimmy Fallon would be pushed to 1:05am, and Last Call with Carson Daly would likely be cancelled. Under NBC’s (later contested) interpretation of O’Brien’s contract, the host was only guaranteed The Tonight Show in name rather than the 11:35pm slot with which it was synonymous.[18]

On January 10, NBC confirmed they would be moving Jay Leno out of primetime as of February 12 and intended to move him back to late-night as soon as possible.[19][20] TMZ reported that O'Brien was given no advance notice of this change, and that NBC offered him a choice: The Tonight Show in a 12:05 a.m. time slot, or the option to leave the network.[21] On January 12, O'Brien issued a press release that stated he would not continue with Tonight if it was moved to a 12:05 a.m. time slot,[22] 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."

When Oprah Winfrey later quoted this statement to Leno during an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in the aftermath of the fallout (an interview ostensibly meant to help repair Leno's public image), he responded: "Well, if you look at where [Conan's Tonight Show] ratings were, it was already destructive to the franchise".[23] Leno received criticism for his remark, which contradicted his statement that “I think Conan is doing fine” mere months earlier[24], after which O’Brien’s ratings were on an upward trend.[25] Some observers considered the portrayal of O'Brien's ouster as being specifically about the host’s ratings to be spin, as it ignored O'Brien's far less expensive contract (and thus far less expensive buyout), O'Brien's improving ratings before the controversy, and O'Brien's younger demographics, all of which suggested profitability.

After the decision was made to reinstate Leno, NBC executives and Leno maintained in the media that O'Brien's ratings were responsible for his removal from the traditional Tonight Show time slot, while O’Brien’s supporters argued that the incumbent host had been denied the unambiguous transition, network support and time to grow that his predecessor had received. In addition, it was pointed out that Leno’s 10pm program, rather than O’Brien’s performance, had forced the need for line-up changes, while Leno’s penalty clause all but guaranteed his continued presence on NBC late night after the cancellation of his primetime show. O'Brien's ratings surge during the controversy was also seen by some of his proponents as having the potential to be the host's "Hugh Grant moment"[26] – an allusion to an interview fifteen months into The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that aired shortly after the British actor had been caught publicly soliciting a prostitute. Leno’s interview with Grant was widely watched due to the scandal, and Leno’s fortunes in his rivalry with Letterman permanently turned around in its wake.

That O’Brien being the cheaper host to lose was the cardinal factor in NBC’s decision to negotiate his departure was advanced by The New York Post, which claimed that Leno had an "ironclad" guarantee for $150 million if he had been taken off the air, far higher than what it would cost for O’Brien to depart network.[27] Skip Brittenham, an entertainment attorney and partner at the law firm that had authored Leno’s contract, was later asked about this claim in an interview. Though Brittenham refused to comment on the veracity of the publicly reported penalty figure, he allowed that "I think the facts speak for themselves."[28]

On January 21, it was announced that NBC had struck a deal with O'Brien in which he would leave The Tonight Show and receive a $33 million payout – effectively a buyout of his three-year contract, which was reputed to be approximately $12 million a year. NBC’s earlier position that O’Brien did not have time slot protection was seemingly abandoned by implication, as in that scenario O’Brien would have been in breach of contract by refusing to move the show and presumably entitled to no such compensation. O’Brien’s staff of almost 200 would receive $12 million divided in their departure, making the total of the settlement $45 million. O'Brien's final episode aired on Friday, January 22, ending his relationship with NBC after 22 years. Leno resumed hosting The Tonight Show on March 1, 2010.[29][30][31]

O'Brien returned to late-night television on November 8, 2010 (after his non-compete agreement expired) hosting the self-owned Conan on cable channel TBS. Conan remains partnered with TBS, having been renewed by the network through 2022. Leno would step down from The Tonight Show a second time in 2014. Hosting duties were taken over by Jimmy Fallon, who like O'Brien before him was seen as being able to attract a younger audience than Leno.

Leno's second tenure (2010–2014)

Obama On The Tonight Show
Leno and President Barack Obama on the set of The Tonight Show during a break in taping, October 25, 2011.

On March 1, 2010, Jay Leno returned to The Tonight Show, with Wally Wingert as his announcer. On April 12, 2010, bandleader Kevin Eubanks announced his departure after 18 years (15 years as bandleader) on May 28.[32] He was replaced as bandleader by Rickey Minor on June 7.[33] On July 1, 2010, Variety reported that only six months into its second life, Jay Leno's Tonight Show posted its lowest ratings since 1992.[34] By September 2010, Leno's ratings had fallen below O'Brien's when he had hosted The Tonight Show, although O'Brien's ratings had spiked during the show's final days during the media publicity onslaught, and this tally pivots upon that anomalous spike in O'Brien's ratings.[35] NBC ratings specialist Tom Bierbaum commented that due to the host being out of late-night television for a period of time and the subsequent 2010 Tonight Show conflict, Leno's ratings fall was "not a surprise at all."[36] In October 2010, David Letterman beat Leno's program in the ratings, for the first time since Leno returned to hosting The Tonight Show.[37][38] By May 2011, however, Leno regained the lead over Letterman and held it until leaving the show in February 2014.[39] In August 2012, The Los Angeles Times reported that The Tonight Show was in trouble for a number of reasons, notably that NBC was losing money.[40] The Times later elaborated, noting that advertising revenue from The Tonight Show had dropped more than 40% since 2007, from $255.9 million annually to $146.1 million.[41] Still, despite these problems, during 2012–13, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was consistently the highest-ranking late-night show, regularly achieving audiences of over 3.5 million, according to Nielsen ratings. Leno's audience became considerably smaller after its peak 2002–03 season, when it routinely attracted 5.8 million viewers a night. This was partly due to the continuing fragmentation of the TV audience, with an increasing number of cable shows, such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report and Conan O'Brien's new show on TBS,[42] in addition to competition with Letterman on CBS and since January 8, 2013, Jimmy Kimmel Live! on ABC, although Leno continued to lead the time slot.

On April 3, 2013, after a dispute with the network over Leno's joking about the network's poor prime time performance in his monologues, NBC announced that Leno would retire in 2014, with Late Night host Jimmy Fallon taking over The Tonight Show after the conclusion of NBC's coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. It was Leno's suggestion to use NBC's coverage of the Olympics as a springboard for Fallon's tenure.[43] The date was later moved up a week to February 17, midway through the Olympics.[44]

Leno's last Tonight Show aired on February 6, 2014, featuring guests Billy Crystal (Leno's first guest in 1992) and Garth Brooks. Leno gave a tearful goodbye at the end of the program, calling himself "the luckiest guy in the world", and reflecting on his time as host as "the greatest 22 years of my life."[45] He happily moved forward into an online series about his famous hobby, automobiles (like Jerry Seinfeld, he owns aircraft hangars filled with hundreds of cars that he works on and drives), entitled Jay Leno's Garage, and also continues to perform live stand-up comedy.

Jimmy Fallon (2014–present)

Jimmy Fallon November 2013
Fallon in late 2013, months before inheriting The Tonight Show.

Jimmy Fallon (who had hosted The Tonight Show's follow-up show, Late Night, since 2009) assumed The Tonight Show hosting role on February 17, 2014, with his initial guests being Will Smith and the rock band U2, plus an assortment of celebrity cameos, including an appearance by one of Fallon's direct broadcast competitors, Stephen Colbert, and another by former permanent guest host Joan Rivers, making her first appearance on Tonight since cutting ties with Carson in 1986. The show's opening sequence was directed by filmmaker Spike Lee.[46]

As part of the transition to Fallon, The Tonight Show would be brought back to New York City after 42 years in Southern California. Approximately $5 million was budgeted to renovate Studio 6B, where Fallon recorded Late Night.[47] The move also enabled NBC to take advantage of a newly enacted New York state tax credit for talk shows that are "filmed before a studio audience of at least 200, as long as they carry a production budget of at least $30 million and have been shot outside New York for at least five seasons."[48] Studio 6B is also where Jack Paar hosted The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show there for ten years before the show was moved to Burbank in 1972. Lorne Michaels (the producer of Saturday Night Live, in which Fallon appeared prior to hosting Late Night) became executive producer of The Tonight Show.

Fallon's Tonight Show has gone on the road to produce episodes remotely in its first year, spending four days at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida in June 2014 to promote new attractions at NBCUniversal's theme parks there.[49] In February 2015, Fallon presented a special Sunday night show from Phoenix, Arizona airing after NBC's coverage of Super Bowl XLIX,[50] followed by four days of shows in Stage 1 at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles (where Conan O'Brien's version was produced).

Aside from the title change and a new set, Fallon's version of The Tonight Show is nearly identical to the format of Late Night he employed, as he imported many of his signature comedy bits and much of his Late Night staff, including house band The Roots and announcer Steve Higgins. Prior to the transition, Fallon said, "In our heads, we've been doing The Tonight Show for five years. We're just on at a later hour."[51]

Music and announcers

Music during the show's introduction and commercial segues is supplied by The Tonight Show Band. This ensemble was a jazz big band until the end of Johnny Carson's tenure. Skitch Henderson was the bandleader during the Steve Allen and early Carson years, followed briefly by Milton DeLugg (who had previously led the band on Broadway Open House and later became 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 originally provided musical accompaniment during the short run of Tonight! America After Dark, which ran for six months between the Steve Allen/Ernie Kovacs and Jack Paar eras of The Tonight Show, but was later replaced by the Mort Lindsey Quartet, which in turn, was replaced by the Johnny Guarnieri Quartet. José Melis led the band for Jack Paar, and, after a short while of using comic actor Franklin Pangborn, Hugh Downs was Paar's announcer. For most of Johnny Carson's run on the show, the 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. (Newsom also took over when Severinsen was absent from the show.) 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 big band featured several accomplished sidemen in addition to saxophonist Newsom, including trumpeter Snooky Young, pianist Ross Tompkins, drummer Ed Shaughnessy, trumpeter John Audino, 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...?"

When Carson's tenure ended in 1992, the orchestra was axed and replaced by a smaller ensemble. The first bandleader during Leno's tenure was Branford Marsalis. In 1992, The Tonight Show Band also welcomed its first female member, Vicki Randle.[52] In 1995, Marsalis was replaced by Kevin Eubanks, though the Marsalis-written theme was used throughout Leno's first tenure. 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 was selected, though original bandleader Kevin Eubanks returned for a few weeks in the transition. He officially announced his departure after 18 years on April 12, 2010, with his final episode airing May 28. Rickey Minor was announced as his replacement, and took over on June 7. The show also inaugurated a new theme tune composed by Minor.

With the return of Leno's Tonight Show in March 2010, Melendez continued in the writing role, which he was assigned to on the prime-time The Jay Leno Show, although the announcing duty went to Wally Wingert.

Jimmy Fallon began hosting The Tonight Show on February 17, 2014; his house band on Late Night, The Roots, joined him, as did announcer Steve Higgins.

Broadcasting milestones

The Tonight Show began its broadcast at 11:15 p.m. 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.[53] After February 1965, Johnny Carson refused to appear until 11:30, and Ed McMahon "hosted" the 11:15 segment. Carson was not happy with this arrangement since McMahon's monologue covered the same ground as Carson's, and he finally insisted that the show's start time be changed to 11:30. As a result, the two-opening practice was eliminated in December 1966.[54]

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.[55][56] Color broadcasts began on September 19, 1960.[57]

The Tonight Show became the first American television program to broadcast with MTS stereo sound in 1984, at first 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.

On March 19, 2009, The Tonight Show became the first late-night talk show in history to have the sitting President of the United States as a guest, when President Barack Obama visited.


Throughout the years, the time when The Tonight Show aired and the length has changed multiple times.[58]

First run episodes

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, 1967 September 5, 1980 Mon–Fri 11:30 1:00 Carson
September 8, 1980 August 30, 1991 Mon–Fri 11:30 12:30 Carson
September 2, 1991 February 6, 2014[59] Mon–Fri 11:35 12:35 Carson, Leno, O'Brien, Leno
February 17, 2014 present Mon–Fri 11:34 12:37 Fallon

§Note that many NBC affiliates chose not to carry the first fifteen minutes of the show during this period, instead preferring to air a local newscast from 11 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. As of February 1965, Carson refused to host the first 15 minutes of the program, preferring to wait until the full network was in place before delivering his opening monologue; Ed McMahon hosted the program's first 15 minutes instead. This persisted for nearly two years, until the show's start time was finally adjusted to 11:30 p.m. in January 1967.

Weekend repeats

From 1965 to 1975, until the advent of Saturday Night Live, weekend repeats of The Tonight Show were staples of the NBC schedule. These repeats ran in the following time slots:

Begin date End date Nights Start End Notes
January 2, 1965 January 1, 1967 Sat or Sun 11:15 1:00 Repeats, known as The Saturday/Sunday Tonight Show
January 7, 1967 September 13, 1975 Sat or Sun 11:30 1:00 Repeats; known as The Best of Carson and The Weekend Tonight Show

Gags, sketches, and segments


  • Answer Man: Allen would come up with the answer to an unknown question, then read the question, which would invariably be the punchline to a joke.
  • Man on the street interviews: Frequently featured actors as recurring characters, most notably Don Knotts, Louis Nye and Tom Poston, though Allen also performed impromptu bits with non-professional civilians.
  • Crazy Shots: Later known as "Wild Pictures". Allen's supporting cast and guest stars would participate in quick visual gags while Allen played piano accompaniment.


  • Candid Camera: The off-again, on-again show, hosted by Allen Funt since radio's heyday, was a segment on The Tonight Show in 1958.[60]
  • Stump the Band: Audience members are asked to name an obscure song and the band tries to play it. If the band doesn't know the song, it usually breaks into a comical piece of music. This segment went on to become part of Carson's Tonight Show.


  • Carnac the Magnificent: Carson plays a psychic who is given sealed envelopes (that McMahon invariably states, with a flourish, have been kept "hermetically sealed inside a mayonnaise jar underneath Funk & Wagnalls' porch since noon today"). Carnac holds an envelope to his head and recites the punchline to a joke contained within the envelope, he then rips open the envelope and reads the matching question inside. Sample: "Saucepan... Who was Peter Pan's wino brother?" If a joke falls flat with the audience, Carnac invariably passes a comedic curse upon them (e.g., "May a bloated yak change the temperature of your jacuzzi!"). Carnac appears to be modeled after one of Allen's earlier gags, "The Question Man," in which Allen is given an answer to which he then provides the punchline in the form of a question.
  • The Tea Time Movie:, with "Art Fern" and the Matinée Lady (originally Paula Prentiss, then a parade of one shots including Edy Williams, Juliet Prowse and Lee Meredith, then for many years Carol Wayne, then Danuta Wesley, and finally Teresa Ganzel). Carson once said that Art Fern was his favorite character: "He's so sleazy!" Huckster Art usually wore a loud suit, lavish toupee, and pencil mustache, and spoke in the high, nasal approximation of Jackie Gleason's "Reginald van Gleason III" character. A parody of 1950s-style, fast-talking advertising pitchmen, the Tea Time Movie consists of a rapid-fire series of fake advertisements for products and companies supposedly sponsoring a mid-afternoon movie. Invariably the jokes refer to his buxom Matinée Lady assistant, and at least once in every skit a variation of the "Slauson Cutoff" joke is made (e.g., "You can find our store by heading down Hwy. 101 until you get to the Slauson Cutoff. Get out of the car, cut off your slauson, get back in the car."), as is a reference to "Drive until you get to... (a map is unfolded to reveal a table fork) the fork in the road!" Art would then return us to today's movie (like "Tarzan and Cheetah Have to Get Married" or "Rin Tin Tin Gets Fixed Fixed Fixed," etc.), followed by an antique, four-second film clip. Back to Art, caught necking with the Matinée Lady before announcing another movie and another commercial.


  • Headlines (Monday): Humorous print items sent in by viewers. These real-life headlines and advertisements usually contain typographical errors, double entendres, mismatched juxtapositions and/or unintentionally inappropriate items (wedding announcements with peculiar name combinations were a recurring theme). The segment usually starts out with a fake, humorous Headline during the introduction for the segment, such as Arabs Wish Bush "A Happy Shoe Year!", usually reflecting some current event.
  • Jaywalking: A prerecorded segment, "Jaywalking" is a play on the host's name and the illegal practice of jaywalking. Leno asks people questions about current news and other topics in public areas around Los Angeles (usually Hollywood Boulevard, Melrose Avenue or Universal Studios). Most responses are outrageously incorrect; for example, one person believed that Abraham Lincoln was the first president, and another could not identify a picture of Hillary Clinton. Sometimes the questions are of the "What color is the White House?" level, such as asking in what country the Panama Canal is located. Up to 15 people are interviewed in an hour or less for each segment, with about nine interviews used on the air.
  • Stuff We Found on eBay: Outrageous, real-life items available on the auction Web site E-Bay are shown, with the audience asked to guess whether or not the item was sold.
  • Unusual Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas gifts: Gift items appropriate for holidays are shown; some real, some phony, but all unusual


  • Twitter Tracker: In this sketch, Conan is interrupted by an overzealous announcer (voiced by show writer Brian McCann) while lamenting the increasing number of celebrities who are using Twitter. The announcer attempts to prove to Conan that celebrity tweets are exciting by reading some of his favorites, which all describe mundane activities. The sketch is always accompanied by increasingly elaborate animations in which the bird from the Twitter logo is repeatedly killed. It also includes the announcer trying to persuade Conan to play a game by using a rhyming sentence in which he refers to him as CoCo.
  • Wax Fonzie/Wax Tom Cruise: While visiting a warehouse full of poor quality celebrity wax figures, Conan identified two as his favorite and purchased them. One was of Henry Winkler as his Happy Days character Arthur Fonzarelli (whose hand positioning caused Conan to comment that he had just finished up at the urinal), and the other was a creepy-looking figure of Tom Cruise. Both wax figures made several appearances on the show, most notably by both being shot out of a cannon used for a bit. Wax Tom Cruise for the most part survived, while Wax Fonzie's face became irreplaceable. Wax Fonzie ultimately met its final fate when it was obliterated in an explosion, part of a contest involving blowing up the contest winner's old car.
  • Ridiculously Expensive Sketches: As an act of mock revenge for NBC forcing him out of The Tonight Show's traditional time slot, O'Brien spent the last few episodes debuting sketches that ostensibly would cost NBC an extremely large amount of money. The sketches used rare and expensive props (usually on loan) and contained media with unusually high licensing fees.


Many of Fallon's sketches moved over from Late Night.

  • Pros & Cons: Fallon weighs the positives and the negatives on a particular topic of current events, with the "Pro" setting up the punch line, in the form of the "Con".
  • Tonight Show Suggestion Box: Fallon responds to written suggestions, purportedly submitted by audience members, about ways to improve the show. As a result, the segment usually features three or four unrelated short comedy bits.
  • Tonight Show Hashtags: Fallon puts out a call on Twitter each Wednesday for actual viewers to submit funny or absurd tweets based around a particular hashtag topic. Fallon then reads a few of the most comedic responses on Thursday's show.
  • Thank You Notes: Noting that Friday is when he usually takes care of "personal stuff" and that he ran out of time during the day, Fallon writes his weekly "thank you notes" on the air. Fallon thanks people in the news, current events, inanimate objects, and other random subjects to comedic effect. Each note is accompanied by reflective piano music from The Roots' James Poyser, and usually results in a comedic exchange between Fallon and Higgins.
  • Tonight Show Superlatives: Usually done as a tie-in to that week's Sunday Night Football game, Fallon shows photos of athletes and gives them captions styled like those that might be used in a high school yearbook.
  • Screen Grabs: Similar to Leno's Headlines bit, viewers submit actual screen shots from various media (phones, internet, television, radio, etc.) that contain typos or similar errors with humorous results.
  • Do Not Read List: Jimmy shares real published books found in actual libraries that have awkward titles &/or subject matter, an ironic author's name, or contain some other humorous element.
  • Ew!: Jimmy portrays to be a teenage girl named Sara and invites many celebrities to be in Jimmy's basement. Through the sketch, all "girls" say "ew" a lot. The most popular segment of this sketch is with Seth Rogen and Zac Efron.


The Tonight Show airs on E! Australia[61] and ABC Comedy[62] in Australia, CTV 2 & Access in Canada, E! Europe in the UK, CNBC in Europe, Comedy Central in India, CNBC in Pakistan, Jack TV in the Philippines, OSN in the Middle East and North Africa, and CNBC in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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 p.m. 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 1990s 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.[63] However, for the Jimmy Fallon edition of the show, Comedy Central has been airing the show 12 hours after the US broadcast since October 27, 2014.[64]

In addition to its broadcast on CNBC Europe, The Tonight Show airs on One in Germany, with German subtitles, weekdays at 11:00 p.m., one day after its American broadcast.

In India and Sri Lanka The Tonight Show airs on Comedy Central India on Weeknights at 11pm IST/SLST – within 24 hours of the U.S Broadcast.[65]

Also, in Sri Lanka CNBC Asia (CNBCLife) airs back-to-back editions of the show on weekends.[66]

An early attempt at airing the show by London Weekend Television in the United Kingdom during the early 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) OK, we're gonna have to cut away. We're just gonna see a commercial. We sell things occasionally. It's not like the British telly, you know. You just go forever, ten or twelve [minutes]. British television ends when they – you know, when they want to.

McCartney: (jokingly) Yeah, you're just mad because they didn't like your show.[67]

See also


  1. ^ De Moraes, Lisa (December 30, 2013). "UPDATE: NBC "Taking Every Precaution" In Wake of Russian Violence Walking Up To Sochi Olympics". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2013-12-31.
  2. ^ "Show Business: Late-Night Affair". Time Magazine. August 18, 1958. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
  3. ^ a b Susman, Gary (January 27, 2004). "Tonight Show icon Jack Paar dies". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
  4. ^ "A Johnny Carson timeline". 8 May 1992.
  5. ^ O'connor, John J. (20 May 1986). "JOHNNY CARSON'S TWO NEW RIVALS". The New York Times – via
  6. ^ "Carson Feeds Letterman Lines". New York Post. January 20, 2005. Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2006-12-17.
  7. ^ Carter, Bill (June 7, 1991). "NBC Appoints Jay Leno To Replace Johnny Carson". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
  8. ^ Carter, Bill (January 15, 1993). "Going Head to Head Late at Night: Letterman on CBS, Leno on NBC". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
  9. ^ "I'm With Coco": Inside the Conan O'Brien support movement, a 13 January 2010 PopWatch article from Entertainment Weekly
  10. ^ Carter, Bill (July 5, 2009), "'Tonight Show' Audience a Decade Younger", CBC News
  11. ^ Shales, Tom (August 25, 2009), "Tom Shales on TV: Three Months On, Conan O'Brien's 'Tonight' Still Has Kinks", The Washington Post
  12. ^ Carter, Bill (October 11, 2009), "Debate Over Effects of Leno's Show", The New York Times
  13. ^ "Late-night booking wars heat up", The Hollywood Reporter, August 13, 2009
  14. ^ Malone, Michael (December 19, 2009), "Affiliates' 'Leno' Optimism Flagging", Broadcasting & Cable
  15. ^ Carter, Bill (January 7, 2009). "NBC May Be Considering Reinstating Leno on 'Tonight Show'". Media Decoder. The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  16. ^ LA Times article: "Future For NBC's Tonight Show Up In The Air".
  17. ^ Access Hollywood article: "Jay Leno Heading Back To Late Night, Conan O'Brien Weighing Options".
  18. ^ "NBC ON THE HOT SEAT: Will It Be Jay AND Conan In Late Night? What's The Reason For Leno's Anti-NBC Monologue Tonight?". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
  19. ^ Hibberd, James (January 10, 2010). "NBC confirms Jay Leno out of primetime, network going 'back to basics'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2010-01-12. Retrieved 2015-06-26.
  20. ^ The New York Times article: "Update: NBC Plans Leno at 11:30, Conan at 12".
  21. ^ TMZ article: "NBC to Conan O'Brien-The Choice Is Yours".
  22. ^ Conan Won't Do "The Tonight Show" Following Leno,, January 12, 2010
  23. ^ "Jay Leno on 'Oprah': Admits to lying, ridicules Conan's 'Tonight Show': This is damage control?". Entertainment News. Retrieved July 30, 2018.
  24. ^ Malone, Michael (November 1, 2009), "Jay Leno Talks Back: An Exclusive Interview With B&C", Broadcasting & Cable
  25. ^ "Conan Beats Dave With 18–49 Viewers in 4th Quarter", TV By The Numbers, January 4, 2010
  26. ^ Adalian, Josef (January 14, 2010), "Conan's Ratings Up Again: Is This His Hugh Grant Moment?", TheWrap
  27. ^ Shain, Michael (January 20, 2000), "Conan's $32m leap for joy", The New York Post
  28. ^ "Leno vs Conan (Skip Brittenham)", Youtube, February 7, 2012
  29. ^ "NBC Announces That Jay Leno Will Return To Host "The Tonight Show" Beginning March 1-Ratings". TVbytheNumbers. 2010-01-21. Retrieved 2011-12-22.
  30. ^ NBC Universal Confirms Conan O'Brien Exit Deal Signed Archived January 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine from Bloomberg via Business Week
  31. ^ "Conan O'Brien, NBC reach deal", CBC News, January 21, 2010, archived from the original on 2010-01-25, retrieved 2015-06-27
  32. ^ "Kevin Eubanks To Leave 'Tonight Show' In May". Access Hollywood. Retrieved 2012-06-28.
  33. ^ Permalink (2010-04-13). "Rickey Minor ('American Idol') Named the New Music Director of 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno'". Archived from the original on 2011-08-22. Retrieved 2011-12-22.
  34. ^ Levine, Stuart (2010-07-01). "'Kimmel,' 'Nightline' show demo increase". Variety.
  35. ^ Pike, Julie (September 7, 2010). "Tonight Show Ratings Plummet-Jay Leno Sinks Beneath Conan O'Brien Numbers". The National Ledger. The National Ledger, LLC. Archived from the original on September 7, 2012. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
  36. ^ Piccalo, Gina (October 24, 2010). "Comedians Laugh as Leno Sinks". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  37. ^ Poniewozik, James (November 5, 2010). "Letterman Defeats Leno! Stewart Defeats Both!". Time magazine. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  38. ^ Hibberd, James (November 4, 2010). "Letterman Beats Leno in All Measures". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  39. ^ Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon Finish #1 vs. ABC and CBS Competition in the May 2011 Sweep Archived December 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine NBCUniversal. June 3, 2011. Retrieved June 4, 2011.
  40. ^ Collins, Scott (August 27, 2012). "'The Tonight Show' experiences dark days – The NBC program starring Jay Leno suffers a ratings slide and layoffs amid instability in the TV business – and after network missteps. And the stakes are rising". Los Angeles Times.
  41. ^ Flint, Joe (March 21, 2013). "Jimmy Fallon will inherit real estate that has lost a lot of value". Los Angeles Times. Advertising for NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has fallen by more than 40% since 2007, according to Kanter Media, an industry consulting firm. In 2007, The Tonight Show took in $255.9 million. Last year, that figure was $146.1 million.
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  46. ^ Fallon Tonight [@FallonTonight] (18 February 2014). "Thanks to @SpikeLee for shooting our new Tonight Show opening! #FallonTonight #ASpikeLeeJoint" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  47. ^ "NBC Dumps $25 Million Jimmy Fallon NYC 'Tonight Show' Studio". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
  48. ^ "Tonight Shows' NYC Move To Save NBC $20 Million in Tax Credits". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2014-02-07.
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  52. ^ Heldenfels, R.D. (March 16, 2008). "Who's that lady?". Tulsa World.
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External links

2010 Tonight Show conflict

The 2010 Tonight Show conflict was a media and public relations conflict involving American television network NBC and two of its then-late-night talk show hosts, Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno. Leno, the host of long-running franchise The Tonight Show since 1992, and O'Brien, host of Late Night since 1993, were strong ratings leaders for the network for much of the decade. When O'Brien's contract neared its end and he was courted by other networks in 2001, NBC extended his contract and guaranteed him he would be the fifth host of The Tonight Show. The network neglected to let Leno know this until his contract extension in 2004, when they informed him he would remain host for five more years and then transition the show to O'Brien in 2009. When that time arrived, other networks conveyed interest in Leno; NBC, in an effort to keep both of its late-night stars, offered Leno a nightly primetime show before the local news and O'Brien's Tonight Show.

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and The Jay Leno Show failed to attract immediate viewers, and NBC affiliates, seeing their viewership decline, grew restless. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker, alongside chairman Jeff Gaspin and executive Rick Ludwin, created a remedy: move Leno back to his 11:35 pm start time and bump O'Brien a half-hour later, to 12:05 am. O'Brien and his staff were both disappointed and furious; when it became clear O'Brien would not agree to the proposed changes, the situation grew heated. Though not a breach of either host's contract, the change resulted in a public outcry and public demonstrations largely in support of O'Brien.

O'Brien's public statement that he would "not participate in the destruction of The Tonight Show" led to negotiations with NBC for a settlement. O'Brien and his staff received US$45 million to walk away from the network, with his final Tonight Show airing January 22, 2010; Leno was reinstated as host that March, while after a contractual seven-month ban on appearing on television, O'Brien moved to TBS to host Conan. The controversy surrounding the scheduling move and the reinstatement of Leno was described by media outlets as "embarrassing" for the network and a "public relations disaster".

Conan O'Brien

Conan Christopher O'Brien (born April 18, 1963) is an American television host, comedian, writer, and producer. He is best known for hosting several late-night talk shows; since 2010, he has hosted Conan on the cable channel TBS. O'Brien was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, and was raised in an Irish Catholic family. He served as president of The Harvard Lampoon while attending Harvard University, and was a writer for the sketch comedy series Not Necessarily the News.

After writing for several comedy shows in Los Angeles, he joined the writing staff of Saturday Night Live. O'Brien was a writer and producer for The Simpsons for two seasons until he was commissioned by NBC to take over David Letterman's position as host of Late Night in 1993. A virtual unknown to the public, O'Brien's initial Late Night tenure received unfavorable reviews and remained on a multiweek renewal cycle during its early years. The show generally improved over time and was highly regarded by the time of his departure in 2009. Afterwards, O'Brien relocated from New York to Los Angeles to host his own incarnation of The Tonight Show for seven months until network politics prompted a host change in 2010.

Known for his spontaneous hosting style, which has been characterized as "awkward, self-deprecating humor", O'Brien's late-night programs combine the "lewd and wacky with more elegant, narrative-driven short films (remotes)". He has hosted Conan since 2010 and has also hosted such events as the Emmy Awards and Christmas in Washington. O'Brien has been the subject of a documentary, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011), and has also hosted a 32-city live comedy tour.

With the retirement of David Letterman on May 20, 2015, O'Brien became the longest-working of all current late-night talk show hosts in the United States, at 25 years.

Doc Severinsen

Carl Hilding "Doc" Severinsen (born July 7, 1927) is an American jazz trumpeter who led the band for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Ed McMahon

Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr. (March 6, 1923 – June 23, 2009) was an American announcer, game show host, comedian, actor and singer. McMahon and Johnny Carson began their association in their first TV series, the ABC game show Who Do You Trust?, running from 1957 to 1962. Then afterwards, McMahon would make his famous thirty-year mark as Carson's sidekick, announcer and second banana on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from 1962 to 1992.

He also hosted the original Star Search from 1983 to 1995, co-hosted TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes with Dick Clark from 1982 to 1998 and also presented sweepstakes for the direct marketing company American Family Publishers (not, as is commonly believed, its main rival Publishers Clearing House). McMahon annually co-hosted the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon from 1973 to 2008. In the 1970s and 80s, he anchored the team of NBC personalities conducting the network's coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

McMahon appeared in several films, including The Incident, Fun With Dick and Jane, Full Moon High and Butterfly, as well as briefly in the film version of Bewitched. He also performed in numerous television commercials. According to Entertainment Weekly, McMahon is considered one of the greatest "sidekicks".

Jack Paar

Jack Harold Paar (May 1, 1918 – January 27, 2004) was an American author, movie actor, radio and television comedian, and talk show host. He is best known for his stint as the second host of The Tonight Show from 1957 to 1962. Time magazine's obituary of him notes, "His fans would remember him as the fellow who split talk show history into two eras: Before Paar and Below Paar."

Jay Leno

James Douglas Muir "Jay" Leno (; born April 28, 1950) is an American comedian, actor, writer, producer, and television host. After doing stand-up comedy for years, he became the host of NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno from 1992–2009. Beginning in September 2009, Leno started a primetime talk show, titled The Jay Leno Show, which aired weeknights at 10:00pm ET, also on NBC.

After The Jay Leno Show was canceled in January 2010 amid a host controversy, Leno returned to host The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on March 1, 2010. He hosted his last episode of The Tonight Show on February 6, 2014. That year, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. Since 2014, Leno has hosted Jay Leno's Garage.

Jimmy Fallon

James Thomas Fallon (born September 19, 1974) is an American comedian, actor, television host, singer, writer, and producer. He is known for his work in television as a cast member on Saturday Night Live and as the host of late-night talk show The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and before that Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He grew up with an interest in comedy and music, moving to Los Angeles at 21 to pursue opportunities in stand-up comedy.

He was commissioned to join NBC's Saturday Night Live as a cast member in 1998, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Fallon remained on SNL for six years between 1998 and 2004, co-hosting the program's Weekend Update segment and becoming a celebrity in the process. He left the program for the film industry, starring in films such as Taxi (2004) and Fever Pitch (2005).

Following his film career, Fallon returned to television as the host of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on NBC in 2009, where he became well known for his emphasis on music and games. He moved from that program to become the sixth permanent host of the long-running The Tonight Show in 2014. In addition to his television work, Fallon has released two comedy albums and five books.

Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band

Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band was the house band for Conan O'Brien's late-night talk show Conan from its debut on November 8, 2010 to the final episode of its 60-minute format October 4, 2018. Guitarist and arranger Jimmy Vivino is the group's leader. The group was originally formed and led by drummer Max Weinberg in 1993, and played under the name The Max Weinberg 7 when it was the house band for Late Night with Conan O'Brien in New York through 2009. The band then played under Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band during their brief 2009–2010 stint on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien in Los Angeles. They were then briefly known as The Legally Prohibited Band during their participation with O'Brien in the 2010 The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.

During The Max Weinberg 7 days, the band included Jimmy Vivino on guitar, Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg on trombone, Scott Healy on keyboard, Mike Merritt on bass guitar, Mark "Love Man" Pender on trumpet and acoustic guitar, and Jimmy's older brother Jerry Vivino on woodwinds. When the group moved to Los Angeles to become The Tonight Show Band, they added an eighth member, James Wormworth, on percussion. Wormworth had often substituted as drummer when Weinberg toured with Bruce Springsteen as a member of the E Street Band, prior to being made a permanent fixture in the band; Jimmy Vivino had served as the band's leader during those periods. Weinberg did not participate in the Legally Prohibited Tour and his departure from the group and from O'Brien was made official in September 2010.

The band's final appearance on Conan was on the show's last hour-long episode on October 4, 2018. With the show switching to a half-hour format, it was announced the band would not be returning in 2019.

Johnny Carson

John William Carson (October 23, 1925 – January 23, 2005) was an American television host, comedian, writer, and producer. He is best known as the host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–1992). Carson received six Emmy Awards, the Television Academy's 1980 Governor's Award, and a 1985 Peabody Award. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.During World War II, Carson served in the Navy. After the war, Carson started a career in radio. Although his show was already successful by the end of the 1960s, during the 1970s, Carson became an American icon and remained so even after his retirement in 1992. He adopted a casual, conversational approach with extensive interaction with guests, an approach pioneered by Arthur Godfrey and previous Tonight Show hosts Steve Allen and Jack Paar. Former late-night host and friend David Letterman has cited Carson's influence.

Late Night with Seth Meyers

Late Night with Seth Meyers is an American late-night talk show hosted by Seth Meyers on NBC. The show premiered on February 24, 2014 and is produced by Broadway Video and Universal Television. It is the fourth iteration of NBC's Late Night franchise. The show also stars bandleader Fred Armisen and the 8G Band, the show's house band. Late Night is produced by former Saturday Night Live producer Mike Shoemaker and executive-produced by Lorne Michaels. The show records from Studio 8G at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

The program generally airs new episodes Monday through Thursday nights at 12:37 a.m. ET/PT, with repeat airings on Friday nights. The show opens with Meyers' topical monologue, which he delivers from his desk. The program also contains comedy bits, sketches, interviews with a myriad of guests, and a musical or comedy performance. "A Closer Look", a signature segment in which Meyers explores contemporary current events in depth, has given the show a politically-driven edge. The show attracts an average of 1.5 million viewers nightly.

On January 13, 2016, NBC renewed Meyers' contract to remain as host through 2021.

Steve Allen

Stephen Valentine Patrick William "Steve" Allen (December 26, 1921 – October 30, 2000) was an American television personality, radio personality, musician, composer, actor, comedian, writer, and advocate of scientific skepticism. In 1954, he achieved national fame as the co-creator and first host of The Tonight Show, which was the first late night television talk show.

Though he got his start in radio, Allen is best known for his extensive network television career. He gained national attention as a guest host on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. After he hosted The Tonight Show, he went on to host numerous game and variety shows, including his own The Steve Allen Show, I've Got a Secret, and The New Steve Allen Show. He was a regular panel member on CBS's What's My Line?, and from 1977 until 1981 wrote, produced, and hosted the award-winning public broadcasting show Meeting of Minds, a series of historical dramas presented in a talk format.

Allen was a pianist and a prolific composer. By his own estimate, he wrote more than 8,500 songs, some of which were recorded by numerous leading singers. Working as a lyricist, Allen won the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Original Jazz Composition. He also wrote more than 50 books, including novels, children's books, and books of opinions, including his final book, Vulgarians at the Gate: Trash TV and Raunch Radio (2001).

In 1996 Allen was presented with the Martin Gardner Lifetime Achievement Award from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP). He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Hollywood theater named in his honor.

The Roots

The Roots are an American hip hop band, formed in 1987 by Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The Roots currently serve as the house band on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, having served in the same role on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon from 2009–2014.

The Roots are known for a jazzy and eclectic approach to hip-hop featuring live musical instruments and the group's work has consistently been met with critical acclaim. ThoughtCo ranked the band #7 on its list of the 25 Best Hip-Hop Groups of All-Time, calling them "Hip-hop's first legitimate band." Although the band no longer tours extensively due to their Tonight Show obligations, their live shows are frequently regarded as the best in the genre.In addition to the band's music, several members of the Roots are involved in side projects, including record production, acting, and regularly serving as guests on other musician's albums and live shows.

The Tonight Show Band

The Tonight Show Band is the house band that plays on the American television variety show The Tonight Show. From 1962 to the 1990s, during the years the show was known as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, the band was a 17-piece big band, and was an important outlet for jazz on American television. During the Carson era, the band was always billed as "The NBC Orchestra" (not to be confused with the NBC Symphony Orchestra) and sometimes "Doc Severinsen and the NBC Orchestra".

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is an American late-night talk show hosted by Jimmy Fallon, on NBC. The show premiered on February 17, 2014, and is produced by Broadway Video and Universal Television. It is the seventh incarnation of NBC's long-running Tonight Show franchise, with Fallon serving as the sixth host. The show also stars sidekick and announcer Steve Higgins and house band The Roots. The Tonight Show is produced by Katie Hockmeyer and executive-produced by Lorne Michaels. The show records from Studio 6B in Rockefeller Center, New York City. This was where The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was filmed until 1972.

The program airs weeknights at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT. The show opens with Fallon's topical monologue, then transitions into comedic sketches/games, concluding with guest interviews and musical performance. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon attracted high ratings from its 2014 premiere. Many moments from the series have generated viral videos. The show has been nominated for nine Primetime Emmy Awards, winning two.

On August 13, 2015, NBC announced that Fallon signed a contract to remain as host until at least 2021.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson is an American talk show hosted by Johnny Carson under the Tonight Show franchise from October 1, 1962 through May 22, 1992.It originally aired during late-night. For its first decade, Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show was based at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, with some episodes recorded at NBC-TV's West Coast studios in Burbank, California; on May 1, 1972, the show moved to Burbank as its main venue and remained there exclusively after May 1973 until Carson's retirement. In 2002, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was ranked No. 12 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, and in 2013 it was ranked No. 22 on their list of 60 Best Series.

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien is an American late-night talk show that featured Conan O'Brien as host from June 1, 2009, to January 22, 2010, as part of NBC's long-running Tonight Show franchise. O'Brien previously hosted NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien, which followed The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for 16 years, until his brief succession over Leno.

Many members of the Late Night cast and crew made the transition to The Tonight Show. The Max Weinberg 7, the house band from O'Brien's Late Night, served as the house band under the new name, Max Weinberg and The Tonight Show Band. Andy Richter returned to the show as announcer, and also began resuming his role as sidekick, shortly before the show's conclusion. The opening and closing theme song from Late Night was also carried over to Tonight, in a slightly altered form.

In January 2010, after the show had been on the air for seven months, it was announced that NBC was intending to move Jay Leno from primetime back to his original timeslot at 11:35 pm, with O'Brien's show starting shortly after midnight. In response to the announcement, O'Brien released a press statement saying that he would not continue as host of The Tonight Show if it was moved to any time after midnight to accommodate The Jay Leno Show. He feared it would ruin the long and rich tradition of The Tonight Show, which had been on after the late local newscasts from the beginning. After two weeks of negotiations, NBC announced that they had paid $45 million to buy out O'Brien's contract, ending both his tenure as host as well as his relationship with NBC after 22 years.

Conan O'Brien's final Tonight Show was broadcast on January 22, 2010, with Jay Leno officially resuming his role as host on March 1, 2010, immediately following the conclusion of the 2010 Winter Olympics. It later received four Primetime Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series, the first time The Tonight Show received a nomination for this particular award after 2003.

At only 146 episodes (145 aired) over the course of seven months and three weeks, it is the shortest-running iteration in the sixty-year history of The Tonight Show.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is an American late-night talk show hosted by Jay Leno that first aired from May 25, 1992, to May 29, 2009, and resumed production on March 1, 2010 until its ending on February 6, 2014.

The fourth incarnation of the Tonight Show franchise debuted on May 25, 1992, three days after Johnny Carson's retirement as host of the program. The program originated from NBC Studios in Burbank, California, and was broadcast Monday through Friday at 11:35 p.m. in the Eastern and Pacific time zones (10:35 p.m. Central/Mountain time). Unlike Carson or his predecessor Jack Paar, Leno only once used a guest host, preferring to host the series in person.

The series, which followed the same basic format as that of its predecessors (an opening monologue followed by comedy routines, interviews and performances), ran until May 29, 2009, after which Leno was succeeded by Conan O'Brien. NBC signed Leno to a new deal for a nightly talk show in the 10:00 pm ET timeslot. The primetime series, titled The Jay Leno Show, debuted on September 14, 2009, following a similar format to the Leno incarnation of Tonight.Neither O'Brien's version of the program, which premiered June 1, 2009, nor The Jay Leno Show generated the ratings NBC had expected. The network decided to move a condensed 30-minute version of Leno's show to O'Brien's time slot, and O'Brien's Tonight Show a half-hour later. This decision met with opposition from O'Brien, whose stint on The Tonight Show ended January 22, 2010, after which he began his own talk show, Conan, on TBS. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno then began its second incarnation, the sixth of the franchise, on March 1, 2010. Leno left The Tonight Show for good on February 6, 2014 and on February 17, was succeeded by Late Night host Jimmy Fallon, at which time the series returned to New York for the first time since 1972.

Tonight Starring Jack Paar

Tonight Starring Jack Paar (in later seasons The Jack Paar Tonight Show) is an American talk show hosted by Jack Paar under the Tonight Show franchise from 1957 to 1962. It originally aired during late-night.

During most of its run it was broadcast from Studio 6B (formerly the home of Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater series) inside the RCA Building (now called the Comcast Building) in New York City. The same studio would also host early episodes of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Its theme song was an instrumental version of "Everything's Coming Up Roses", and the closing theme was "So Until I See You" by Al Lerner.

Tonight Starring Steve Allen

Tonight Starring Steve Allen is an American talk show hosted by Steve Allen. It was the first version of what eventually became known as The Tonight Show. Tonight was the first late-night talk show, as well as the first late night television series of any time to achieve long-term success. Allen's run as host of the show lasted for two and a half seasons, beginning in fall 1954 and ending with Allen's departure in January 1957.

During its run it originated from the Hudson Theatre in New York City.

The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show Band
Recurring sketches
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Key people / organizations
Directly affected television series
Inspired works
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