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Heeeeere's ... to 50 years!
September 27, 2004 12:17 PM   Subscribe

The Tonight Show celebrates its 50th anniversary of national broadcast, it was a local New York show staring in 1953 tonight. Steve Allen was its first host, blazing the trail for all late nights to come (did you know his announcer was Gene Rayburn?). Then came Jack Parr. The world was a better place with Johnny Carson making us laugh nearly every night for thirty years. Jay Leno's rise to host was certainly not easy. And, it seems, on the show's 55th anniversary, it'll be Conan inheriting the throne! Happy anniversary to one of the most entertaining, groundbreaking American institutions ever.
posted by WolfDaddy (51 comments total)

 
"The Tonight Show" and it's grand tradition ended when Johnny Carson left. I feel sorry for the kidlings here who missed it.
posted by RavinDave at 12:25 PM on September 27, 2004


Right now, David Letterman is burning his forearm with his cigar.
posted by solistrato at 12:28 PM on September 27, 2004


Holy shit, I applaud the Conan decision and all... but in 2009? Isn't it little early to announce this? Are they trying to prevent Conan from going to another network in the next 5 years?
posted by Stan Chin at 12:31 PM on September 27, 2004


Right now, David Letterman is burning his forearm with his cigar.

Actually, he's doing it to Joan Rivers.
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:33 PM on September 27, 2004


Actually, he's doing it to Joan Rivers.

"Can we talk???"
posted by solistrato at 12:40 PM on September 27, 2004


Stan: yes. It's in, you know, the linked article.

I surely do miss Johnny Carson. I was verklemmt. He said he'd retire out of the public spotlight. It was hard to imagine, but he certainly did, didn't he? Not a peep in 12 years.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:40 PM on September 27, 2004


I think Conan's show is funnier than the Tonight Show already. I'd be disappointed if Conan had to "water down" his show's comedy to fit in the Tonight Show role/time slot.
posted by stifford at 12:45 PM on September 27, 2004


Right now, David Letterman is burning his forearm with his cigar.

I doubt it. Letterman, unlike Leno, owns The Late Show. It's his life, and while he has to pay attention to the ratings, I think he's more concerned with not having a show at all than how many people are watching it versus Jay Leno.

Despite that, I sincerely doubt Letterman's going to renew his contract again. He's 57, and has a child he probably is going to start wanting to raise one of these days. In 2009, when he's even risk going against O'Brien, he'd be 63. Carson retired at 66.

I love Letterman and always will, but I'm excited about the potential future. With Conan officially committed to CBS, anytime you imagine Letterman retiring, you have to consider that CBS, which owns Comedy Central, has got to have its eye on Jon Stewart. That's gonna be a ratings war.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:48 PM on September 27, 2004


happy for conan who deserves a bigger audience
very sad for dave who got screwed once again.

and this time he will definately suffer in the ratings.
posted by tsarfan at 12:48 PM on September 27, 2004


Conan committed to NBC, I mean.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:51 PM on September 27, 2004


Holy shit, I applaud the Conan decision and all... but in 2009? Isn't it little early to announce this? Are they trying to prevent Conan from going to another network in the next 5 years?

That's exactly what they're doing, Stan. This couldn't be any better for NBC. Conan guarantees to stay with NBC with the future promise of The Tonight Show. The threat of him leaving NBC is now completely off the table. Conan gets job security, and every other network gets the signal that they're not getting Conan.

Like I said, fine by me. If/when Letterman ever retires, CBS should just give Jon Stewart an 11:30 network slot.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:00 PM on September 27, 2004


Good news, sort of. Does anyone really watch these late night shows? They seem nauseatingly bland. Letterman's a little amusing when he's at his most hateful and bitter.

Jay Leno in particular is unfuckingwatchable.
posted by xmutex at 1:01 PM on September 27, 2004


Conan's still pretty much the only piece of network television worth watching, and even then it's a crapshoot.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:07 PM on September 27, 2004


Damn, I miss Johnny Carson.

There was something truly remarkable in The Tonight Show under Carson. Sure, from time to time, he did have the latest acts doing recent hits and modern stars promoting newer films, but what struck me was the way The Tonight Show could appeal to an audience across an entire generation (or two) without dumbing down. He'd talk to a upstart singer like Tori Amos, then after the break, we'd have another visit from Buddy Hackett. Lines of genre didn't really matter. If he had any political bent, it was rarely apparent. Instead, he seemed to talk to America from a Mid-West mindset still shielding his eyes from the Malibu sun. When he was serious, you knew it was true. When he made a mistake, he never tried to cover with cool. And when something was funny, he'd practically fall out of his chair.

And then there was the monologue. Letterman's monologue is -- or was when last I checked -- chuckle-worthy, and Jon Stewart does a stunning job of ramping up the Daily Show, but Carson's monologues were the stuff of entertainment legend. He had the timing, he had the patter, his writing staff knew everything and anything that happen'd throughout the day worldwide and so did he, and even though you knew that every night would bring another jibe at Doc Severinson's attire or another poke at Ed McMahon's weight, you loved it and you laughed.

Leno? Not even worthy of carrying Carson's invisible golf clubs.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:09 PM on September 27, 2004


Skimming articles instead of reading them has its disadvantages.

Okay, next question, will Andy Richter be sufficiently humbled enough to be the McMahon in 5 years? I was never up to speed on whether Andy quit or was fired, but would Conan even want him back? He seems to be getting better at just doing the show himself.
posted by Stan Chin at 1:13 PM on September 27, 2004


anytime you imagine Letterman retiring, you have to consider that CBS, which owns Comedy Central, has got to have its eye on Jon Stewart.

Stewart would be such a great replacement when the times comes, and it wouldn't be surprising if Letterman himself picked him as successor. When Stewart's first late-night show went under, Letterman was right there on the final night to lend moral support.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:18 PM on September 27, 2004


"Oh, oh you know, it is sooooo fashionable to take a shot at Jay Leno. The fact is that the man's out there every bloody night with fresh material, and he's charming."

~ Stewie Griffin
posted by dhoyt at 1:28 PM on September 27, 2004


Conan is a great choice... for Triumph to poop on.
posted by psmealey at 1:28 PM on September 27, 2004


Johnny got out at the right time. There will never be another Johnny because there will never be another U.S. "popular culture" -- we've fragmented into dozens of different popular cultures that don't overlap. Attempts to find a common middle ground result in the bland plug-fest we know today as Jay Leno's Tonight Show. Don't blame Leno, by the way -- he was a lot more "edgy," whatever that means, earlier in his career. He & NBC just made a business decision to go for the middle, and the result is a show that's inoffensive to everyone -- not to say that doesn't appeal to a plurality -- but interesting to (just about) no one. Letterman resisted that, to the extent possible, and he pays for it in ratings.

The question is whether Conan will be pressured to go in a similar direction at 11:30 in five years. My guess is they'll let Conan be Conan, abandon any pretense to a "general interest" show, and let the audience fragment even more. What choice do they have? Will a Leno-style show have more appeal or less appeal, as the 500-channel generation gets older, and the three-network generation dies off? My guess is, less.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:33 PM on September 27, 2004


I've never really liked Leno since he came off as a complete asshole with Tori Amos. With Letterman and Conan for example there is a sense that they are playing off of their guests rather than talking over them. Conan seems obvious to move into the slot and would be an improvement in my opinion.

I also agree with the earlier prediction that Letterman might gracefully step aside. He's not getting any younger and has been plagued by a fair number of health concerns. Ironically, this has led to some nice magic. The Late Show episode hosted by Bill Cosby during Letterman's bout with the shingles turned into the best hour of television I've ever seen. Although I can imagine the producer tearing her hair out with frustration as Bill's monologue kept getting longer and longer and funnier and funnier.

Letterman's best talent is that he's like a funhouse mirror in interacting with and around other people. His funniest stuff comes from bouncing off of people who are not seasoned entertainers like Biff, "Monty", Rupert, and the audience members.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:37 PM on September 27, 2004


I heard Joey Lawrence and Patrick Duffy are scheduled to be Jay's final guests.
posted by keswick at 1:39 PM on September 27, 2004


My guess is that this will lead to Conan either watering down his comedy, or NBC being disappointed by the ratings.
posted by drezdn at 2:00 PM on September 27, 2004


Given The Tonight Show's history and importance to NBC, you'd think that they could at least do a prime-time special. Not that I want more Leno, but it would be nice to see some clips from the Allen, Paar and Carson years.

But noooo, tonight it's just more Fear Factor.

Whatever. I watch Letterman now.
posted by pmurray63 at 2:07 PM on September 27, 2004


Stewart in Letterman's slot would absolutely pulverize Conan in Leno's slot.

I have no doubt in my mind about that.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:17 PM on September 27, 2004


I've never really liked Leno since he came off as a complete asshole with Tori Amos.

I Googled that and came up short. What was the incident?
posted by dhoyt at 2:32 PM on September 27, 2004


I think the thing that made me finally ignore Leno was his tendency to not really care about the audience. When Letterman goes out to quiz someone in the audience, he'll ask what they do, make a joke about it, and actually remember it a minute later. Leno seems to steamroll through the introductory banter and usually cuts them off halfway through whatever they're saying.
posted by mikeh at 3:00 PM on September 27, 2004


God, can't they just dump Lamo NOW, not tease us about what might happen in five years???

Whatever. None of the above (post-Carson) is worthy of tying Stewart's shoes.
posted by rushmc at 3:02 PM on September 27, 2004


Apropos of nothing, I am in favor of Elvis Costello taking Dave's place once a year.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:13 PM on September 27, 2004


This Jon Stewert, is it something that you'd need to be American to understand?

In New Zealand we only get Letterman and I lurve him...
posted by meech at 3:35 PM on September 27, 2004


dhoyt: It wasn't particularly newsworthy, and it happened about 10-11 years ago so my memory might be fuzzy. Tori Amos has a rather idiosyncratic posture for her piano performance, usually sitting on one corner of the bench working the pedals with her left foot and her right leg rotated out towards the audience. She's also very animated when she performs and the result can be sexy as heck. (I had the good fortune to see a show on the Little Earthquakes tour with just her and a piano, and she had the audience eating out of her hand.)

Anyway, she plays her number and sits down for the interview and already it is obvious that there is not much chemestry between her and Leno. For some reason, Leno decides to open the conversation with a lewd suggestion about a sexual relationship between her and the piano bench. The rest of the interview proceeds with Leno leering at Amos and Amos giving the polite but chilly responses.

Granted, I was probably a biased viewer then and memory is not helping much so it might have went down very differently. But it seems like a basic rule of the business. If the guest wants to go there, milk it for all you can on network TV. But when the guest is obviously squirming for an escape, you should probably start switching to a bland, safe backup topic.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:41 PM on September 27, 2004


I aspire to tying Stewart's shoes.
posted by Cedric at 3:43 PM on September 27, 2004


Why has noone mentioned as a Leno replacement the other true Carson of late night - Carson f'in Daly baby! Yeah!
posted by adamms222 at 4:03 PM on September 27, 2004


I heard Joey Lawrence and Patrick Duffy are scheduled to be Jay's final guests.

Yeah. That Leno's a Company man, to the bitter fuckin' end.
posted by chicobangs at 4:19 PM on September 27, 2004


I do believe Jon Stewart just re-upped with Comedy Central until 2009 himself. The pieces are all in place.

If we make it that far, the next decade could conceivably be a relatively good one for American TV comedy.
posted by chicobangs at 4:23 PM on September 27, 2004


At the risk of having things thrown at me, I think Johnny Carson is extremely overrated. Leno's pretty funny (funny enough that I don't turn the channel after watching the evening news on the local NBC station), and I'm really happy Conan O'Brien is taking over in five years.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:44 PM on September 27, 2004


lenos problem is hes to paranoid about keeping the ageold torch lit, -- its ok, jay, just be yourself, the sharp wit is just not there -- i never feel like im a part of the show watching leno, no connection at all -- and that weekly newspaper bloopers is the only thing he has going, i mean -- theres funny shit in every newspaper printed.
posted by Satapher at 4:44 PM on September 27, 2004


Hopefully Jon Stewart will be President by 2009.
posted by tapeguy at 5:37 PM on September 27, 2004


Stewart is under contract to The Daily Show for another 4 years. He was under contract to Worldwide Pants(Letterman's company) for a few years and almost got his own show after Letterman (after filling in for Tom Snyder many times), but eventually went to The Daily Show.

I'd love to see him at 11:30, or even 12:30. Maybe the timing will be right in 2009. Leno will be gone, the 12:30 spot at NBC will be open, and maybe Letterman will be retired/ready to retire by then and they'll be a spot at CBS, so they'll be openings galore.

I miss Johnny too - still, after all these years - and when Letterman retires it will just as much of a bummer to me as that was.
posted by braun_richard at 6:17 PM on September 27, 2004


Oh, and Leno is so fucking terrible that he makes me long for the days of Chevy Chase and Pat Sajak's late night efforts.
posted by braun_richard at 6:18 PM on September 27, 2004


grabbingsand, you said exactly what I was going to say -- but better (and faster!).
posted by davidmsc at 7:27 PM on September 27, 2004


Okay, next question, will Andy Richter be sufficiently humbled enough to be the McMahon in 5 years?

Actually, I was under the impression that Andy Richter's been building a decent career, and certainly he's been getting the critical respect. (To say he's about 1000 times as funny and interesting as Ed McMahon ever was is damning him with faint praise.)

It took a decade for America to really get Conan's brand of funny. He'll have middle America prepared to bring him into their homes every night by the time the opportunity comes up. You'll see.

It took Letterman a while to warm the world up to his schtick too, right?
posted by chicobangs at 10:50 PM on September 27, 2004


I think it would be hilarious if they kicked Kilborn off the post-Letterman show and gave Stewart his slot.
posted by kindall at 11:15 PM on September 27, 2004


i really dont like kilborn either
posted by Satapher at 11:35 PM on September 27, 2004


It took Letterman a while to warm the world up to his schtick too, right?

Actually, I recall Letterman finding his audience rather quickly. Of course, I'm not counting his initial foray into morning TV. Even though it was quite good, that sort of humor was doomed at that timeslot. Once they put him on nights, it took off rather quickly. Letterman benefited from VCRs and probably would have tanked if people couldn't have taped him in those early days.

If Letterman had a problem back then -- it was that he was unmerciful toward many of his guest and basked in their discomfort. I don't think it dawned on him (until Cher called him an "assh---") that he couldn't keep that up long before running out of recognizable guest willing to appear on the show.

PS. I miss the late Brother Theodore ...
posted by RavinDave at 11:46 PM on September 27, 2004


kindall and Satapher: killborn quit last month.

dont worry, nobody else noticed either.
posted by tsarfan at 2:59 AM on September 28, 2004


This raises the important question, kiss my Funk & Wagnall's.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:44 AM on September 28, 2004


Don't know if you all remember, but Jon Stewart once had his own late night talk show.
posted by glenwood at 5:52 AM on September 28, 2004


Why would it be so great for Jon Stewart to leave the Daily Show and take over another show? How about he just stays with the Daily Show? Some of you are treating these shows like political offices or something. Conan's going to be neutered. Picture Leno's viewers trying to adjust to the likes of Triumph. That ain't gonna be pretty.
posted by picea at 6:24 AM on September 28, 2004


We're talking years down the road here, picea. Carson (Johnny, not Daly, I hasten to add) was a freak of nature to stay in the same chair for an hour a night for 30 years.

It gets increasingly difficult to be funny and engaging in the same format for years at a time. Eventually, all the things you do to be funny are done to death, at which point you must either change your audience or find a new format within which to work.

All the successful late-night hosts have dealt with this issue: Letterman went from standup to weather to a morning show to late night to not-so-late night (the 11:30 audience and the 12:30 audience are rather different demographics), Leno did standup and acting for a long time before finally settling into The Tonight Show, Conan was a writer-for-hire, hell, Kilborn even started on ESPN, fergodsake.

Everybody moves, eventually. Jon Stewart was a journeyman before he started his capital-G Great run on the Daily Show. He doesn't have to leave of course, but if he wanted to step up, he's going to get a golden opportunity in a few years.
posted by chicobangs at 7:18 AM on September 28, 2004


He said he'd retire out of the public spotlight. It was hard to imagine, but he certainly did, didn't he? Not a peep in 12 years.

Y'know, this is the one thing that gives me hope for the media. He said "I vant to be alone," basically, and the media has let him alone. Amazing.

I miss Carson terribly. His retirement being coincident with the fall of the Iron Curtain signaled the end of a significant era to me.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:42 AM on September 28, 2004


Has it really been 12 years since I watched the Tonight Show?

Never liked Lamo (thanks rushmc ;), so never watched it after Johnny C retired.
Give me Letterman any day.

And Jon Stewart? I tied his shoes. No, really!






okay, i fib
posted by kamylyon at 3:28 PM on September 30, 2004


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