Late night television has been America’s bedtime story for years. It’s how we unwind, catching up with the latest headlines and learning more about our favorite celebrities in a lighthearted way. NBC has provided some of the wackiest and most memorable personalities in its history - perhaps most importantly the hosts who tuck us in with a laugh.
The Tonight Show was the network’s original late night program, first airing in 1954. It is the longest currently running, regularly scheduled entertainment program in the United States (2014 will mark its 60th anniversary), occupying the 11:35pm EST time slot. Tonight was originally hosted by comedian Steve Allen, followed by his pal Jack Paar, before its longest-serving host, Johnny Carson, took over in 1962. Since Carson’s reign, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien have each taken a seat behind the Tonight hosting desk, with Jimmy Fallon slated to take over in 2014.
Late Night is another of NBC’s most popular late-night talk and variety shows, airing on the network since 1982 and occupying the 12:35pm EST time slot. Originally hosted by David Letterman, the program has also been led by Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon. Seth Meyers made headlines in May 2013 when it was announced that he would take over Fallon’s seat at the beginning of 2014.
Politics have played a large role in the shift of hosting duties over the years: replacements, renegotiations and returns were commonplace for both programs. A few big names even made the move to other networks as a result. No matter what, these comedians and conversationalists never ceased to make us smile.
ASSOCIATED ACTS Ed McMahon (announcer/sidekick), “The NBC Orchestra” (house band), Skitch Henderson, Doc Severinsen (bandleaders)
CURRENT GIG Unfortunately, Carson passed away in 2005
PREVIOUS GIG(S) Radio announcer, TV comedy writer, The Johnny Carson Show (host), Who Do You Trust? (host)
NOTABLE MOMENT Moved the show from New York City to Burbank, CA (1972)
ASSOCIATED ACTS Edd Hall, John Melendez, Wally Wingert (announcers) “The Tonight Show Band” (house band), Branford Marsalis, Kevin Eubanks, Rickey Minor (bandleaders)
CURRENT GIG The Tonight Show(host)
PREVIOUS GIG(S) TV sitcom writer, Actor, Stand-up comic, The Tonight Show guest host
NOTABLE MOMENT Made what he thought was his final appearance on The Tonight Show in May of 2009, moving to host The Jay Leno Show, a prime-time program also on NBC. Following the frighteningly low ratings experienced by both this new program as well as O’Brien (Leno’s replacement), he returned to The Tonight Show in March 2010.
ASSOCIATED ACTS Bill Wendell, Alan Kalter (Announcer), Paul Shaffer (Bandleader), The World’s Most Dangerous Band, CBS Orchestra (house bands)
CURRENT GIG Late Show with David Letterman (host), CBS
PREVIOUS GIG(S) Indianapolis weatherman, Stand-up comedian, The Tonight Show guest host, The David Letterman Show (host)
NOTABLE MOMENT Famously snubbed for the spot as Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show successor in 1992 (position went to Jay Leno)
ASSOCIATED ACTS Andy Richter (Announcer), “The Max Weinberg 7” (house band)
CURRENT GIG Conan (host), TBS
PREVIOUS GIG(S) Improv actor, Saturday Night Live (writer), The Simpsons (writer)
NOTABLE MOMENT O’Brien moved from Late Night to The Tonight Show amidst Leno’s ratings slump in 2009. However, continued numbers struggles led to his ousting less than a year later, and saw Leno’s return to the show. O’Brien’s supporters - self-dubbed “Team Coco” - supported him all the way to the cable station TBS, where he returned to late night in November 2010.
ASSOCIATED ACTS Steve Higgins (Announcer), The Roots (house band)
CURRENT GIG Late Night (host)
PREVIOUS GIG(S) TV writer, Film actor, Saturday Night Live cast member, Host of “The Weekend Update”
NOTABLE MOMENT A star-studded collaboration with fellow late-nighter Stephen Colbert and other celebrities to parody the internet sensation, “Friday.”
ASSOCIATED ACTS Amy Poehler (co-host, "Weekend Update")
CURRENT GIG Saturday Night Live (Cast member, Head writer), “The Weekend Update” (host)
PREVIOUS GIG(S) Improv actor, Film actor
NOTABLE MOMENT Announced as Jimmy Fallon’s successor for Late Night in May 2013