The Jay-Conan fiasco is hardly The Tonight Show’s first melodrama. From Jack Paar’s on-air meltdown to Johnny Carson’s Leno snub, WATCH VIDEO of five late nightmares. Plus, Bryan Curtis says good riddance to Conan O'Brien.
Jack Paar Walks off The Tonight Show
Jack Paar, Tonight Show host from 1957 to 1962 and certainly the most underrated talk-show host in television history, almost committed career suicide in early 1960. It was February 11, and Paar, furious at NBC for cutting a joke about a water closet from the previous night’s broadcast, stormed off the set—in mid-broadcast. He wouldn’t return for another month. Below is audio of Paar ranting about NBC (sound familiar?), and sidekick Hugh Downs (!) taking over the show.
Contractual Difficulties Keep Johnny Carson Off The Tonight Show
In 1962, Johnny Carson was chosen to succeed Jack Paar as The Tonight Show’s host, but ABC refused to release Carson from his contract as host of Who Do You Trust? A series of guest hosts filled in, including, in the clip below, Jerry Lewis.
Joan Rivers Goes from Guest Host to Competitor
Until the 1980s, The Tonight Show often featured guest hosts when Johnny Carson had the night off. It was an exciting and unpredictable part of the show—and also a reflection of Carson’s confidence as the king of late night. That changed after “permanent guest host” Joan Rivers jumped ship in 1986 to start The Late Show with Joan Rivers on the then-fledgling Fox Network. The show lasted less than a year, and Carson, who reportedly found out about the show from watching a televised press conference, never spoke to Rivers again. Here’s a clip from the debut episode of Rivers’ show. The first guest? Pee-wee Herman.
NBC Crushes David Letterman’s Dream
It seemed pre-ordained in the 1980s and early 1990s that David Letterman would succeed Johnny Carson. It’s what Letterman wanted, what Carson wanted, and what, till the very last minute, NBC executives wanted. The story of how everything changed was masterfully presented in HBO’s movie version of Bill Carter’s book The Late Shift. Below is the scene in which NBC executive Warren Littlefield, played by Bob Balaban, gives Letterman (John Michael Higgins) the bad news.
Johnny Disses Jay
The message wasn’t very subtle when Carson brought on Letterman just 10 days before The Tonight Show would become Jay Leno’s. Carson does nothing to hide his affection for Letterman.
Conan Mocks His Own Plight
It’s back to the future in this clip from January 11, 2009, when Conan, aware NBC wants to give The Tonight Show back to Jay Leno, goes over his career options. “Leave late night altogether and join a classier business like hard-core porn” is one of them.
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