The Tonight Show (1954 – present)

The Tonight Show may be the longest-running – and most durable – franchise TV history with only 6 hosts during the course of its more than 60-year run.

The famed sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer – who I guess was paid to worry about these kinds of things – purportedly  said:

”Johnny Carson has done more to ruin America’s love life than anyone else in the country. On any given night that he’s hosting The Tonight Show, there are 10 times more couples watching his monologue than making love. By the time they’ve exhausted themselves laughing at his jokes, they don’t have the energy for sex and simply turn out the light and go to sleep. Though I wish [Carson’s successor] Jay Leno the best of luck, for the sake of America’s libido I hope he never quite fills the master’s shoes.”

As noted in the photo above below Johnny (who hosted the show from 1962 to 1993) was not Tonight’s first host (see reference below), but he inarguably both perfected the format and brought it to a new level.

The late-night TV landscape has changed a lot over the years.  Here I include two videos: one with Johnny interviewing Robin Williams in 1981 and another from 1967 with him interviewing — believe it or not — the legendary objectivist author and political philosopher Ayn Rand. It is hard to imagine this happening today.


Personal connection: I recall watching Tonight as a kid with my dad — hosted by Steve Allen and Jack Paar before Johnny took the reins. And as an adult, I performed several times with the Minnesota Chorale and Minnesota Orchestra under Johnny’s long-time music director, Doc Severinsen.

Bob Oganovic and Doc Severinsen at a rehearsal in 2006
Bob Oganovic and Doc Severinsen at a rehearsal in 2006