NBC’s long-running “Tonight Show” will be inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame during Monday’s NAB 2005 Television Luncheon. Current “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno will be on hand for the event, which also will feature a video tribute to previous hosts Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.
In April 2004 Jay Leno announced a new deal with NBC that would keep him on the show until 2009. In September, just as the show was celebrating its 50th anniversary on the air, Mr. Leno announced he will step down when the deal expires.
Some “Tonight Show” trivia:
Mr. Leno in 1993 took the show on the road for the first time, for a live telecast out of Boston’s Bull & Finch Pub marking NBC’s final “Cheers” episode.
In Mr. Leno’s early days on the show, he often featured as many as four guests. Now his opening monologue has expanded to 10 or 11 minutes, and only two or three guests appear.
Mr. Leno uses two shifts of writers-a daytime team and a nighttime group. He typically begins his workday at 8:15 a.m., shoots the show from 4:30 p.m. until 5:30 or 6, then works until 1 or 2 a.m. preparing at least half of the next day’s monologue.
Mr. Leno attributes his work ethic partly to his dyslexia-and his mother’s early advice that because of it, he would have to work a little harder than everyone else.
Jay Leno was born James Douglas Muir Leno on April 28, 1950, in New Rochelle, N.Y., and raised in Andover, Mass. His father was Angelo Leno, an insurance salesman, and his mother was Cathryn Leno, a homemaker.
Mr. Leno owns about 80 cars, including the one he drove while dating his wife, Mavis, 25 years ago. In 2005, he got the first lithium I-Cell-powered sports car, a Chrysler Crossfire fitted with a new EV system created by Hybrid Technologies. The retrofitted roadster can top 90 mph and has a range of 100 miles to a charge.
“The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” has won two Emmy Awards-the first in 1995 for Outstanding Comedy, Variety or Music Series and the second in 1999 for Outstanding Technical Direction. In 1999 and 2000 “The Tonight Show” took home the trophy for Favorite Late Night Show in the TV Guide Awards.
“There’s this big pie in show business, and you physically can’t eat the whole pie. If you give everybody a slice of pie, you will still have more than enough. The real trick is not to try to get the whole pie, but to keep the biggest slice.”
-Jay Leno, in O Magazine, February 2003
Mr. Leno is the first person to drive the pace car for all major NASCAR events.
”The Tonight Show” has won 36 sweeps months in a row, dating to 1996.
“The Tonight Show” was the brainchild of NBC’s programming guru, the late Sylvester (“Pat”) Weaver, father of actress Sigourney Weaver. Mr. Weaver also came up with the idea for “Today.”
The late Johnny Carson hosted “The Tonight Show”
for 30 years, from 1962 into the 1990s. The show’s three other long-term hosts, Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Mr. Leno, have hosted for a total of about 22 years, so far.
Mr. Carson debuted on “The Tonight Show” Oct. 1, 1962, with Ed McMahon as his announcer and Skitch Henderson as his bandleader. His first guests were Rudy Vallee, Joan Crawford, Tony Bennett, Mel Brooks, the Phoenix Singers and Groucho Marx, who introduced the host to open the show. Groucho’s opening lines: “Don’t be alarmed, I’m only going to be out here for a few minutes. The fact is I happened to be walking past and Johnny Carson sent his suit out to be cleaned and pressed. It didn’t get back yet, so he asked me if I’d come out here.”
Mr. Paar was appalled to learn that sound technicians recorded the laughs he earned on “The Tonight Show” for use as canned laughter on sitcoms. He wrote that he considered the practice “dishonest” and “sad.”
NBC Universal Chairman and CEO Bob Wright developed close relationships with both Mr. Carson and Mr. Leno. He traveled with Mr. Carson to Russia and Tanzania and said he was amazed by his friend’s ability to learn near-fluent Russian and Swahili for those trips.
”The Tonight Show,” in its various incarnations, is credited with being by far the most influential arbiter of America’s comedy talent. Comedians who got a major career push from the show under Mr. Allen and Mr. Paar include Jonathan Winters, Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Don Adams, Carol Burnett and Woody Allen.
Comics owing Mr. Carson a significant debt of gratitude for their career advancement are too numerous to mention. Typical is Drew Carey, whose first “Tonight Show” performance was Nov. 21, 1991. “I was in show business the very next day,” he said.
Steve Allen was perhaps best known on the show for his remote improvisational routines, such as the time he stopped a cab driver outside the NBC studio, flung a 3-foot salami into the backseat and ordered the driver to take it to Grand Central Station.
Ed McMahon, part of the familiar on-camera “Tonight Show” team during Johnny Carson’s era, was the focus of a minor dispute between the network, which wanted him to appear on the show whenever Mr. Carson took a night off, and Mr. Carson, who wanted him there whenever Mr. Carson appeared. NBC eventually agreed to let Mr. McMahon perform whenever Mr. Carson was there. In addition, his contract, which required him to stay with the show for six months after Mr. Carson’s retirement, was rewritten, allowing him to leave on Mr. Carson’s last night.
In 1998 astronauts John Glenn, Curtis Brown and Steve Lindsey appeared on the show live from the Space Shuttle Discovery.