The Tonight Show -- a combination of comedy, conversation and music -- made its debut on Sept. 27, 1954. From the very start, the show broke new ground for late-night TV, inventing conventions such as the opening monologue, putting the man on the street on the spot, the out-of-town show and, of course, audience participation.

May 15, 1992

Saying Good Night to Johnny

Johnny Carson

As the Johnny Carson era of The Tonight Show winds down, Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales, Tonight Show co-producer Jim McCauley and writer Calvin Trillen talk about what they most loved about the show.

 
Jan. 31, 2004

Jack Paar: Master of Spontaneity

Jack Paar

TV critic David Bianculli reflects on the legendary Jack Paar, who improvised his Tonight Show monologues and mastered the art of ad-libbing. Paar also made stars out of Woody Allen and Bill Cosby, and established the "desk and couch" standard of talk show TV.

 
Dec. 29, 2000

A Conversation with the Original Talk Show Innovator

Steve Allen

Steve Allen kicked off the very first Tonight Show. Allen claimed that being a talk show host was "the easiest job in show business." But fans and critics appreciated his innovative use of audience participation and improvisation. Iris Mann reports.

 
Nov. 28, 2002

Leno on Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Wackiness

Jay Leno Before he was the host of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno was a struggling stand-up comic. He talked to Terry Gross about his chilhood travails, early comedy stints at prisons, and his role as host of the most popular late night talk show.

 


   
   
   
null


 

Editor's Picks

 
 

Most Frequent 'Tonight Show' Guest Hosts

  • Joey Bishop (177 times)
  • Joan Rivers (93 times)
  • Bob Newhart (87 times)
  • John Davidson (87 times)
  • David Brenner (70 times)
  • McLean Stevenson (58 times)
  • Jerry Lewis (52 times)
  • David Letterman (51 times)

Source: johnnycarson.com

 
 

About NPR Replay

Replay mines some of our favorite stories from the NPR archives. A new edition appears weekly.

To listen to additional NPR stories, visit our advanced search page. Many shows have seven years of archived material.

 

Browse Topics

Services

Programs

PBS logo