Staying Up Late

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.


"The Legend"

The Tonight Show, 1962-1992

ASSOCIATED ACTS Ed McMahon (announcer/sidekick), “The NBC Orchestra” (house band), Skitch Henderson, Doc Severinsen (bandleaders)

CURRENT GIG Unfortunately, Carson passed away in 2005

AGE 79

PREVIOUS GIG(S) Radio announcer, TV comedy writer, The Johnny Carson Show (host), Who Do You Trust? (host)


  • McMahon’s signature opening phrase, “Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”
  • Carnac the Magnificent - Carson plays a psychic who clairvoyantly divined the punchline to a joke contained in a sealed envelope. For example: “Camelot” / “Where do Arabians park their camels?” If laughter fell short, “Carnac” would bestow a comic curse on the audience.

NOTABLE MOMENT Moved the show from New York City to Burbank, CA (1972)


"The Icon"

The Tonight Show, 1992-2009, 2010-present

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)

AGE 63

PREVIOUS GIG(S) TV sitcom writer, Actor, Stand-up comic, The Tonight Show guest host


  • Jaywalking - A pre-taped segment in which Leno conducts man-on-the-street interviews with people in Los Angeles, asking them questions about current news.
  • Headlines - A segment showcasing outrageous newspaper headlines from around the country.

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.


"The Innovator"

Late Night, 1982-1993

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

AGE 66

PREVIOUS GIG(S) Indianapolis weatherman, Stand-up comedian, The Tonight Show guest host, The David Letterman Show (host)


  • Top 10 Lists - List topics inspired by current events and pop culture
  • Stupid Pet Tricks - Mini-pet shows, with pre-selected participants and their owners performing an unusual talent or stunt on air

NOTABLE MOMENT Famously snubbed for the spot as Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show successor in 1992 (position went to Jay Leno)

Barack Obama David Letterman Fist Bump Barack Obama and David Letterman Fist Bump


"The Feisty Redhead"

Late Night, 1993-2009; The Tonight Show, 2009-2010

ASSOCIATED ACTS Andy Richter (Announcer), “The Max Weinberg 7” (house band)

CURRENT GIG Conan (host), TBS

AGE 50

PREVIOUS GIG(S) Improv actor, Saturday Night Live (writer), The Simpsons (writer)


  • Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog - O’Brien’s puppet sidekick
  • Clutch Cargo - O’Brien “interviews” celebrities whose images appear on a screen with moving lips superimposed

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.


"The Goofball"

Late Night, 2009-present, Incoming at The Tonight Show (2014)

ASSOCIATED ACTS Steve Higgins (Announcer), The Roots (house band)

CURRENT GIG Late Night (host)

AGE 38

PREVIOUS GIG(S) TV writer, Film actor, Saturday Night Live cast member, Host of “The Weekend Update”


  • Late Night Hashtags - Early in the week, Fallon posts a question to his personal Twitter account, and during the segment he reads the best responses received with his designated hashtag.
  • Slow-Jam the News - The Roots provide background beats as Fallon and various guests narrate a current event in the style of an R&B “slow jam.” Guests involved have included President Barack Obama and NBC newsman Brian Williams.

NOTABLE MOMENT A star-studded collaboration with fellow late-nighter Stephen Colbert and other celebrities to parody the internet sensation, “Friday.”


"The New Kid"

Incoming at Late Night (2014)

ASSOCIATED ACTS Amy Poehler (co-host, "Weekend Update")

CURRENT GIG Saturday Night Live (Cast member, Head writer), “The Weekend Update” (host)

AGE 39

PREVIOUS GIG(S) Improv actor, Film actor


  • Writing Tina Fey impressions of presidential candidate Sarah Palin during 2008 presidential election cycle
  • Promoted from staff writer to head writer for SNL in less than 5 years
  • Northwestern University graduate

NOTABLE MOMENT Announced as Jimmy Fallon’s successor for Late Night in May 2013