Tonight Show, The


Tonight Show, The

▪ American television program
      long-running American television late-night talk show. Airing since 1954 on the National Broadcasting Co (National Broadcasting Co., Inc.). (NBC) network, it is the standard against which others of its genre are judged.

      Except for a brief (and unpopular) switch to a magazine-type news program in 1957, the format of the show has been remarkably consistent throughout its history. In many ways resembling a variety show, The Tonight Show combines a nightly monologue by the host, comedy sketches, musical guests, and celebrity interviews, all permeated by the signature style and persona of the show's host, thus creating a nightly, topical entertainment program with a pop-culture focus. The program has had four principal hosts in its history: Steve Allen (Allen, Steve) (1954–57), Jack Paar (1957–62), Johnny Carson (Carson, Johnny) (1962–92), and Jay Leno (1992– ), as well as numerous guest hosts and sidekicks or co-hosts, the most significant of whom was Ed McMahon, Carson's long-time partner. Each host has brought his own strengths and talents to the show: Allen was known primarily as a gifted comedian with improvisational and musical skills, whereas Paar was praised more for his skills as a conversationalist. Carson brought a completely different tone and style, returning the show to its comic roots, moving it from New York City to Burbank, Calif., and becoming one of the most-beloved figures in American television history during his 30-year tenure as the “king of late night.”

      After Carson's retirement, Leno took over as the host amid some controversy, as David Letterman (Letterman, David) (another well-known comedian, with a late-night show of his own airing on NBC after The Tonight Show) was considered by many (including Carson himself) to be Carson's natural heir. Disappointed at not being chosen, Letterman left NBC for rival network the Columbia Broadcasting Co. (CBS) and received his own late-night show opposite The Tonight Show, called Late Night with David Letterman (1993– ). During a period in which late-night talk shows proliferated (Arsenio Hall, Chevy Chase, Magic Johnson (Johnson, Magic), and others had less-than-successful shows of their own), Letterman proved to be the first serious challenger to the late-night dominance of The Tonight Show. The two programs, quite similar in format, have been locked in a struggle for ratings supremacy ever since.

      The Tonight Show has won multiple Emmy Awards, four of which (1995–97, 1999) were awarded to the show during Leno's tenure. It was also chosen as “Favorite Late Night Show” by readers of TV Guide in 1999 and 2000. Conan O'Brien, host of his own late-night talk show (airing after Leno) on NBC, is scheduled to take over host duties at The Tonight Show in 2009.

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Universalium. 2010.

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