The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents




A long-running late night program, the Tonight Show was the first, and for decades the most-watched, network talk program on television. Since 1954 NBC has aired a number of versions of the show which has, as of the mid-1990s, seen four principle hosts and one consistent format except for a brief diversion in its early days. What started out as a music, comedy and talk program first hosted by Steve Allen became, for a time, a magazine-type program, broadcasting news and entertainment segments from various correspondents located in different cities nationally. That short-lived format, however, lacked the appeal of a comedy-interview show revolving around one dynamic host.

Allen also continued something else he had begun on The Tonight Show, on The Steve Allen Show, discovering new talent. Andy Williams, Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence got their starts on The Tonight Show. And on the new show, Allen's man in the street interview segments launched the careers of comedians Bill Dana, Pat Harrington, Louis Nye, Tom Poston and Don Knotts. Dana played the timid Hispanic Jose' Jiminez, and Harrington the suave Italian golfer Guido Panzino.

From mid-1957 until the present, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Jay Leno have all three followed Allen's lead and hosted a show of celebrity interviews, humor and music, each host leading his show with signature style. Late night talk in the first three decades of television was dominated by the Tonight Show, and for the majority of that time by Johnny Carson. However, during the 1980s and early 1990s the late-night landscape began to change as more talk shows took to the air. Change was accelerated by the appeal of David Letterman and a combination of other factors, including inexpensive production, audience interest in celebrity and entertainment gossip, and an overall increased reliance on the talk show as forum for information and debate about the important as well as unimportant issues of the day. The late-night talk genre expanded as network competitors and comrades sought the kind of success that was originally the province of the Tonight Show.

Each of the Tonight Show principal hosts brought his own unique talent and title to the program. All of the shows featured an opening monologue, a sidekick or co-host, in-house musicians and cadre of guest hosts. Steve Allen's Tonight! featured his musical talents and penchant for unique comedy. He was well known for performing his own musical numbers on the piano and for humorous antics such as on-the-street improvisations and bantering with the audience, both of which were forerunners to the kinds of comedy stunts that became a staple much later on Late Night with David Letterman, also on NBC. In 1957 Allen left Tonight! to concentrate on another variety show he hosted on Sunday evenings. Allen's version of the show was immediately followed by the unsuccessful magazine format, Tonight: America After Dark, which lasted only a few weeks. That show was led by Jack Lescoulie, but he was never the central figure Allen had been. Essentially, Lescoulie introduced the segments and correspondents around the nation.

September 1954-January 1957

Steve Allen
Ernie Kovacs (1956-1957)


Gene Rayburn
Steve Lawrence
Eydie Gorme
Pat Marshall (1954-1955)
Pat Kirby (1955-1957)
Hy Averback (1955)
Skitch Henderson and His Orchestra
Peter Handley (1956-1957)
Maureen Arthur (1956-1957)
Bill Wendell (1956-1957)
Barbara Loden (1956-1957)
LeRoy Holmes and Orchestra (1956-1957)

Don Knotts on his regular appearances on The Steve Allen Show and the famed "Man on the Street" recurring sketch that he did with Allen, Louis Nye, and Tom Poston
Who talked about this show

Alan Alda

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Alan Alda on his adoration for comedian Steve Allen and the spontaneity of the "Man in the Street" routines on Steve Allen's Tonight

Steve Allen

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Steve Allen on Pat Weaver deciding to bring The Steve Allen Show to network and re-titling it Tonight
Steve Allen on the crew of his Tonight Show
Steve Allen on reaching a national audience on Tonight and his material for the show; on the first episode
Steve Allen on Tonight Show producer Bill Harbach; on the impact of the show; on booking talent and memorable guests
Steve Allen on the openings, stunts and skits on The Tonight Show
Steve Allen on The Tonight Show regulars - Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence, and Eydie Gorme
Steve Allen on inspiring a section of the film My Favorite Year with his segment on organized crime on The Tonight Show
Steve Allen on shooting outside the studio for The Tonight Show, and on censorship and the Blacklist
Steve Allen on realizing he would have to give up The Tonight Show to stay with his prime-time comedy show
Steve Allen on musical guests on The Tonight Show - Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett, those in jazz and classical music
Steve Allen on sketches on The Tonight Show - The Question Man, Crazy Shots,
Steve Allen on interviews with the audience on The Tonight Show
Steve Allen on The Tonight Show tackling some tough issues - organized crime

Shelley Berman

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Shelley Berman on how he got on Tonight with Steve Allen

Allan Burns

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Allan Burns on being an usher for The Tonight Show with Steve Allen

Tony Charmoli

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Tony Charmoli on appearing on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen

Bill Dana

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Bill Dana on becoming the head writer on The Steve Allen Show in 1956 and a sample from a routine he wrote for Don Adams to perform on that show, which got him discovered by Steve and hired as a writer
Bill Dana on his role on the Tonight Show with Steve Allen and the other writers on the show
Bill Dana on writing the memorable sketches "The Nutley-Hinkley-Butley-Winkley Report" and "The Question Man" with Don Hinkley and Leonard Stern
Bill Dana on the genesis of the "Man on the Street" segments on The Steve Allen Show, and working with Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louis Nye on those sketches
Bill Dana on the "letters to the editor" sketches on The Steve Allen Show

Michael Dann

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Michael Dann on Pat Weaver and the creation of Today, The Home Show, and The Tonight Show

Milton Delugg

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Milton Delugg on the genesis of The Tonight Show with host Steve Allen, and on getting called to be the conductor on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Phyllis Diller

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Phyllis Diller on Steve Allen

Herb Granath

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Herb Granath on working during the beginnings of television on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen

Hal Gurnee

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Hal Gurnee on directing Tonight after Jack Paar and before Johnny Carson, with a series of guest hosts including Jerry Lewis
Hal Gurnee on various guest hosts of Tonight between Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, including Merv Griffin and Jack E. Leonard

Dwight Hemion

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Dwight Hemion on directing early live boxing telecasts and on how he came to direct The Steve Allen Show and Tonight
Dwight Hemion on his early impressions of Steve Allen as host of Tonight and on directing Tonight
Dwight Hemion on the first year of directing Tonight with Steve Allen, and on the show's transition from local to national
Dwight Hemion on the logistics and challenges of directing Tonight with Steve Allen live and on the show traveling to Florida

Skitch Henderson

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Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on becoming the musical director of Tonight, and on working with Steve Allen
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on a typical day putting together Tonight in the '50s when Steve Allen was host
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the end of Steve Allen's stint as the host of Tonight
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on deciding the music that was to be performed on Tonight, and on Tonight announcer Gene Rayburn
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on rehearsing with musical guests of Tonight
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the popularity of Steve Allen's Tonight, and on network interference or censorship with the show
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the style of music on Tonight, and on changing the music up for Jack Paar and Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the sponsors influence over the music of Tonight, and on working with Dave Garroway on Garroway at Large
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on how the music on Steve Allen's Tonight differed from the music on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on the legacy of Steve Allen and his version of Tonight
Lyle "Skitch" Henderson on Steve Allen's man on the street segments on Tonight

Don Herbert

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Don Herbert on appearing on Tonight with Steve Allen

Don Knotts

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Don Knotts on his "nervous man" act that he performed on The Garry Moore Show and Tonight (with Steve Allen)

Ed McMahon

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Ed McMahon on the history of The Tonight Show leading up to Johnny Carson becoming host in 1962

Jayne Meadows

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Jayne Meadows on the accomplishments her husband Steve Allen was most proud of and his legacy

Tom Poston

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Tom Poston on differences between Steve Allen's Tonight  and The Steve Allen Show

Andy Williams

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Andy Williams on Bill Harbach getting him onto Tonight

Jonathan Winters

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Jonathan Winters on working with Steve Allen on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen and his team: Louis Nye, Tom Poston, Pat Harrington

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