From Johnny Carson to Today: The Legacy of Late-Night Talk Shows
(From Johnny Carson to Today: The Legacy of Late-Night Talk Shows/Image Credits:The Chant

The Tonight Show made its debut in 1954. Since then a lot has changed in the world of television. However, after 70 years and 13 presidential administrations, it continues to be a significant late-night TV show.

One reason for its enduring relevance is its ability to adapt over the years. Each Tonight Show host has brought their touch to the program five nights a week with the company of various celebrities, musical guests, and sidekicks.

The show has had a total of six hosts since its inception. These hosts include Steve Allen from 1954 to 1957 Jack Paar from 1957 to 1962 Johnny Carson from 1962 to 1992 Jay Leno from 1992 to 2009 and again from 2010 to 2014 Conan O'Brien in 2009 and Jimmy Fallon starting in 2014. Throughout the show's history, guest hosts, sidekicks, or co-hosts have also existed. One of the figures among them was Ed McMahon, who was Carson's long-time partner. Each host brought their strengths and talents to the show. Steve Allen was recognized for his abilities along with his musical skills. Jack Paar received praise for his skills. Johnny Carson on the other hand completely transformed the tone and style of the show by returning it to its roots and relocating it from New York City to Burbank, California. During his three-decade reign as the "king of late night," Carson became one of the most beloved figures in American television history.

Johnny Carson

From Johnny Carson to Today: The Legacy of Late-Night Talk Shows
(Johnny Carson/Image Credits:CNBC

Johnny Carson holds the record for being the running host of The Tonight Show. He sat behind the desk from October 1962 to May 1992—a duration of over 29 years. Enough Carson actually hosted another show called "Who Do You Trust?" before taking on this role. During that time, he met Ed McMahon, who became his trusted announcer and sidekick throughout his tenure, on The Tonight Show.
Johnny Carson, the host of The Tonight Show, was famous for his signature phrase, Heeere's Johnny!

According to Mike Zanella, who had the privilege of working as a talent coordinator and personal assistant on Carson's show when that red light illuminated it was like Carson came alive. Despite being naturally shy and reserved, he admired New York City. Lived for the thrill of performing on his show.

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Jay Leno

From Johnny Carson to Today: The Legacy of Late-Night Talk Shows
(Jay Leno/Image Credits:Decider)

Jay Leno, a renowned standup comic had the honor of being the host of The Tonight Show before Jimmy Fallon took over. Interestingly Leno held this position not once but twice.

Initially, Leno became the guest host, towards the end of Carson's tenure. Then officially took over from 1992 to 2009. After a period where he hosted his show at 10 p.m. he made a triumphant return for a second stint from 2010 to 2014.

Over the course of his time as host Leno successfully helmed more than 4,600 episodes of The Tonight Show – a testament to his passion for the job.

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Conan O’Brien

From Johnny Carson to Today: The Legacy of Late-Night Talk Shows
(Conan O’Brien /Image Credits:IndieWire)

Conan O'Brien, who previously worked as a writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons stepped into the shoes of The Tonight Show host after hosting Night with Conan O'Brien from 1993 to 2009. O'Brien brought along his trusted colleagues such as sidekick Andy Richter and his talented house band led by Max Weinberg, known drummer from E Street Band.

O'Brien's reign as host spanned from 2009 to 2010 before he embarked on a journey with his talk show Conan on TBS. Currently he delights fans with his podcast titled "Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend."

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Jimmy Fallon

From Johnny Carson to Today: The Legacy of Late-Night Talk Shows
(Jimmy Fallon/Image Credits:IndieWire)

Similar to O'Brien's trajectory Jimmy Fallon also gained experience as the host of Late Night before ascending to become the current host of The Tonight Show. His inaugural episode aired on February 17th in 2014.
Fallon relocated the show to Studio 30 Rockefeller Center. Shifted the airing time to 11;35 p.m. He joined forces with his house band, The Roots and announcer Steve Higgins.

Similar to hosts Fallon has added his distinctive touch to the conventional late night format. He incorporates his musical abilities, along with his fondness for games and expertise in media. Additionally he serves as the host of That's My Jam, a game show, on NBC.