Our Articles on The Tonight Show
I’ve covered The Tonight Show a lot on Wait! What’s a Dial?. As the longest running late night talk show, it holds a special place in my heart. Regardless of what you think of Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, those who came before them: Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson were masters of the medium. Because Jimmy Fallon recently took over NBC’s signature late night talk show, here is a round up of the articles I have written about the hosts of The Tonight Show (with a video to make up for the lack of Jack Paar coverage).
If you’re over 30, you probably think of The Tonight Show as Johnny Carson’s show. However, Steve Allen was the first host of the show. He hosted it from 1954 to 1957.
As the first host of a national late night talk show, Steve Allen directly influenced David Letterman. Letterman has influenced Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon, so some of Allen’s attitude and antics can still be seen on current late night talk shows. For the rest of the article, see “TV Shows You Should Know: The Tonight Show Starring Steve Allen.”
Jack Paar was by far the most temperamental of The Tonight Show hosts and the one most often forgotten. (We literally have no articles on him and he’s not mentioned once before this on WWAD?) His run is most famous for him walking out and quitting the show because of this joke:
“An English lady, while visiting Switzerland, was looking for a room, and she asked the schoolmaster if he could recommend any to her. He took her to see several rooms, and when everything was settled, the lady returned to her home to make the final preparations to move. When she arrived home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a “W.C.” [water closet, a euphemism for bathroom] around the place. So she immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him if there were a “W.C.” around. The schoolmaster was a very poor student of English, so he asked the parish priest if he could help in the matter. Together they tired to discover the meaning of the letters “W.C.,” and the only solution they could find for the letters was letters was a Wayside Chapel. The schoolmaster then wrote to the English lady the following note:
I take great pleasure in informing you that the W.C. is situated nine miles from the house you occupy, in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and it is open on Sunday and Thursday only. As there are a great number of people and they are expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early: although there is plenty of standing room as a rule. You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good number of people bring their lunch and make a day of it. While others who can afford to go by car arrive just in time. I would especially recommend that your ladyship go on Thursday when there is a musical accompaniment. It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the W.C. and it was there that she met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat ordinarily occupied by one. It was wonderful to see the expression on their faces. The newest attraction is a bell donated by a wealthy resident of the district. It rings every time a person enters. A bazaar is to be held to provide plush seats for all the people, since they feel it is a long felt need. My wife is rather delicate, so she can’t attend regularly. I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you if you wish, where you will be seen by all. For the children, there is a special time and place so that they will not disturb the elders. Hoping to have been of service to you, I remain,
If you read all of that congratulations, it’s only slightly easier to take when Jack Paar says the joke and the internet has decided not to bless us with that gem, which is only interesting because of its historical value. Despite Paar quiting in the middle of a show, he was allowed to return a little less than a month later.
Here is a clip of Jack Paar talking with then-Senator John F. Kennedy:
Johnny Carson was the master of his genre. NBC wouldn’t have kept him as the host of The Tonight Show for 30 years, if he wasn’t. Last year, I compiled a list of his memorable moments.
I have a love-hate relationship with Jay Leno as demonstrated by the articles: “Jay Leno Lives Off His Stand Up Money” and “Jay Leno Says Goodbye to The Tonight Show.” Either way, I wish Leno the best in his post-Tonight Show career.
I love Conan. Looking back, way too many “Cool TV Videos of the Day” were dedicated to Late Night with Conan O’Brien. However, no articles were dedicated to his 7 months on The Tonight Show. They were pretty terrible. Everything that made his late night so much fun disappeared because he was trying to meet the high standards of The Tonight Show, which provided a stark contrast to Conan’s sense of humor. The following clips are mostly from Late Night (one is from the Emmys), but they show why The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien didn’t work: Conan Entertains in a Blackout, Conan’s Emmy Opening, and Conan’s Wronged a Guy Dressed Like Edgar Allan Poe.
Posted on March 13, 2014, in Late Night, NBC, Network Television, Talk Shows and tagged conan o'brien, history, jack paar, jay leno, jimmy fallon, johnny carson, late night talk show, steve allen, the tonight show. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.