September 27: The Tonight Show

Tonight_with_Steve_AllenIf you had turned your television dial to NBC at 11:15PM on the evening of September 27, 1954, you would have seen comedian Steve Allen sitting at a piano, welcoming you to the first episode of Tonight Starring Steve Allen, saying that the show “is going to go on forever.” Of course, Allen was just referring to that particular episode of the program (which was going to be 105 minutes long, with commercials), but he could have just as easily been talking about The Tonight Show’s future as a television institution.

The Tonight Show launched alongside The Today Show as an attempt to create original television programming for the early morning and late night hours. Shockingly, many people in the tv industry thought that this endeavor was doomed to fail, assuming that Americans had no desire to watch television before going to work or heading to bed. They turned out to be wrong.

The premier episode of The Tonight Show aired live, so naturally there were many hiccups. The cameraman hired to film the opening credits (which were supposed to be broadcast live from Times Square) didn’t shoot them properly, and the NBC affiliates kept cutting to commercials at the weirdest times, often leaving Allen stuck trying to explain to the audience what was going on. However, the show managed to go on as Allen welcomed guests Wally Cox and Willie Mays (via remote broadcast) to the inaugural Tonight Show. It’s fascinating how many of the now de rigueur late night features appeared in the first Tonight Show. In addition to the celebrity interviews, Allen’s show featured an opening monologue, comedy sketches, pre-recorded off-site pieces and a couple of musical numbers.

Allen stayed on as host of The Tonight Show for two and a half years, with Ernie Kovacs hosting the Monday and Tuesday night episodes during that last half-year. After Allen left the show, NBC changed the comedy and chat program into a serious news program hosted by two veteran newsmen called Tonight! America After Dark. This format change only lasted six months, primarily because many NBC affiliates dropped the program entirely due to a lack of public interest. So, NBC was forced to return The Tonight Show to its old format, but with new host Jack Paar at the helm in July of 1957, and although the hosts have changed over the years, The Tonight Show remains the same as it was in 1964, albeit with fewer technical errors.

So, if you’re up late watching The Tonight Show, or any other late night tv, perhaps you might want something that’ll help you stay up late. In that case, how about a Late Night Reviver? It’s a coffee based shooter with a nice hit of Grand Marnier that’ll keep you up until the start of that show Carson Daly does at 1:30AM.

Late Night Reviver

  • 1 ounce fresh espresso
  • 1 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 1 teaspoon of whipped cream

Place the Grand Marnier and espresso into a large shot glass and stir. Top with the teaspoon of whipped cream and garnish with a little bit of shredded chocolate or powdered cinnamon.

Tomorrow: Football under the lights.



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