Tonight began in June 1953 as a local show on WNBT-TV,
the NBC flagship station in New York. Steve Allen was
the original host, and remained with the show when it
moved to the network 15 months later. Under Allen,
Tonight was very informal. He would open each evening
seated at the piano, chatting and playing some of his
own compositions. He then went to his desk, where he
talked about anything that seemed to interest him.
There were guest stars, in addition to his semi-
regulars, but the emphasis was on Steve and his
comedic ad-libbing. The entire one hour and fourty
five minute show was done live.
When Allen's prime-time series premiered in the
summer of 1956, he cut back his Tonight appearances
to Wednesday through Friday. A series of guest hosts
filled in on Mondays and Tuesdays until Ernie Kovacs
took over as Monday-Tuesday host on October 1, 1956.
When Steve Allen left in January 1957, Tonight was
replaced by a totally different type of program called
"Tonight! America After Dark." The show lasted six
months with hosts Jack Lescoulie and Al Collins.
The show was not successful with viewers or critics,
so it was decided to return to a format closer to
the original, thus The Jack Paar Show began. When
Paar ended his run on March 30, 1962, The Tonight
Show aired with a succession of substitute hosts,
while awaiting the arrival of Johnny Carson on
October 2, 1962. Carson remained the host for
three decades until he turned the show over
to Jay Leno on May 25, 1992.