Tag Archives: The Tonight Show


9 Jan

16 years ago tonight, on Monday, January 9, 1995 “The Late Late Show” with host Tom Snyder premiered after David Letterman’s “Late Show” on CBS’s late night lineup.  It would make Snyder the first and only person ever to follow both Johnny Carson and David Letterman on the late night schedule.               

1970s bumper sticker for "Tomorrow" (Between Tonight and Today).

Tom Snyder previously hosted “Tomorrow” (aka “The Tomorrow Show”) on NBC from October 1973 until January 1982. It aired right after Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” Both “Tomorrow” and Snyder’s version of “The Late Late Show” were unlike today’s post-11:30 talk shows. They had no audience and no band.  They were talk shows, with the emphasis on TALK, although “Tomorrow” expanded its format in its later years. But let’s not talk about that disaster.

Tomorrow” went off the air in 1982 partly to make room for “Late Night with David Letterman.” Perhaps that’s why Letterman selected Snyder to host the new program slated to run after his “Late Show” in 1995. “The Late Late Show” was, and still is, produced by Letterman’s company Worldwide Pants.

Snyder would host “The Late Late Show” until March 1999, when he was replaced by Craig Kilborn. Kilborn left the show in August 2004 and current host Craig Ferguson took over in January 2005.

CBS must have picked January 8th to premiere “The Late Late Show” because the network had had such good luck with the date 6 years earlier. That was when “The Pat Sajak Show” hit TV screens across America.


17 Dec

41 years ago tonight on Wednesday, December 17, 1969 an unprecedented spectacle took place on television when novelty singer Tiny Tim married his teenage bride, Miss Vicki (Victoria Budinger), during a telecast of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

The show was taped at 6:30pm in New York City and broadcast in “The Tonight Show’s” regular 11:30pm timeslot. The non-denominational ceremony was performed by the Reverend William Glenesk of Spencer Memorial Church in Brooklyn Heights. Tiny Tim’s manager, Joseph Cappelluzzo, was the best man. The bride’s sister, Mrs. Gene Bramlett was Matron of Honor.

According to the December 29, 1969 issue of VARIETY, that episode of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” scored a 39.4 rating and an 84 share in New York City. Nationwide nearly 40-million people tuned in to see the “wedding of the century decade year.”

The marriage would produce a daughter, Tulip, now 39, but the couple split in 1972, and finally divorced in 1977. Tiny Tim died in November 1996. Miss Vicki now lives a simpler life in Tennessee, which you can follow on her blog; missvickinow.blogspot.com.


6 Dec

37 years ago tonight, on Thursday, December 6, 1973 Freddie Prinze became a star.

Freddie Prinze with Johnny Carson on a later "Tonight Show" appearance, circa 1975.

That was the night the young comedian made his first appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Throughout Carson’s 30 year reign, stand-up comedians vied for a coveted spot on “Tonight” because one good performance could literally give you a career. And while Carson rarely invited a new comedian to sit down after their first appearance, a simple “OK” sign from the “King of Late Night” was like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Publicity photo of Freddie Prinze sent to fans of "Chico and the Man"

On December 6, 1973 Sammy Davis Jr. was seated to Johnny’s right as 19-year old Freddie Prinze came on stage for the most important performance of his life. While the audience loved him, and Carson was impressed, some say it was Davis’s fawning over the comic that prompted Johnny to wave Freddie over to the chair.

Publicity photo of Freddie Prinze sent to fans, circa 1974.

While better gigs and more money did follow for Prinze, it was more important that producer James Komack, was watching “The Tonight Show” that night.  Komack was in the process of creating the sit-com “Chico and the Man” and that confluence of circumstances would change Prinze’s life. Nine months after that fateful “Tonight Show” appearance “Chico and the Man” starring Freddie Prinze and veteran actor Jack Albertson premiered on NBC.

Letter to fans that accompanied the previous photos.

And so, a good performance on “The Tonight Show” literally gave Prinze a career. I don’t mean to suggest that he didn’t earn it; rather I’m trying to emphasize the power of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” especially in the 1970s.

Autograph sign by Freddie Prinze on September 27, 1974, after a taping of "The $25,000 Pyramid"

Freddie Prinze became a sit-com star, a Vegas headliner, and a guest host on “The Tonight Show.” He recorded a comedy album and starred in a TV movie. Prinze also had a drug problem. And in January 1977 Freddie Prinze died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. 

Publicity photo of Prinze in "Chico and the Man" that was sent to NBC stations.

Few know that Prinze was not making his network debut that December evening. Months earlier he had performed on Jack Paar’s late night show on ABC without much notice. But it was “The Tonight Show” that mattered and Prinze would always refer to his December 6, 1973 appearance as his TV debut. Sadly, viewers only got to enjoy Freddie Prinze for a little more than 3 years before his career and his life came to a tragic end.

But that story, dear friends, is best saved for another date in TV history.


4 Nov

Closeup of Conan from the Happy Happy Good Show, 1988

I first met Conan O’Brien and saw him perform in the summer of 1988 in Chicago. He was in town to do a sketch comedy show with my old college friend, Robert Smigel and several other former members of the local improv group All You Can Eat. With the Writer’s Guild on strike at the time, Smigel combined part of his old improv group with fellow SNL writers, Conan O’Brien and Bob Odenkirk to create the Happy Happy Good Show

Program from the Happy Happy Good Show (including Conan O'Brien), 1988

In the program for the show (above), which was performed at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Studio Theater, you’ll see a photo of the cast with an arrow pointing to Conan.

 Inside the program (below) you can read Conan’s bio, in which he refers to his rich uncle Conius C. Coneworthy, and the bios of Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel which are also highlighted by arrows. In addition to this trio of now well-known performers, several others in the cast have continued their careers in entertainment. Dave Reynolds, in fact, went on to co-write the classic Disney film “Finding Nemo.” 

The inside of the program from the Happy Happy Good Show, 1988

In a review of the show that appeared in the July 15, 1988 edition of “The Reader,” a Chicago alternative weekly newspaper, critic Tom Valeo wrote, “If any television executives see Happy Happy Good Show, they may decide to let the writers’ strike go on forever.” He also declared the show “remarkably unfunny” and said “almost nothing works.” On the bright side Valeo does call the performances “pretty skillful.” And in referring to one sketch with Conan and Bob Odenkirk, the critic says they are “wonderfully manic as ‘bithespians’ who team up to give a single performance.” 

Conan fans may remember that this was the summer Conan famously roomed with another unknown comedian named Jeff Garlin, now on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” On another occasion I will describe my 1987 encounters with Garlin and perhaps show a clip of the standup video I hired him to host that year.

NBC bio given out at the Press Conference introducing Conan O'Brien to the media, May 3, 1993.

 When he was selected to host “Late Night” in 1993 Conan O’Brien was best known as a writer and not a performer, so NBC included his Happy Happy Good Show experience in his official bio (see above). Months before his version of “Late Night” premiered I showed Conan the old program from Happy Happy Good Show and he was excited to see it. Apparently he never saved a copy for himself. So if he still wants one… he knows where to find me.

All items are from the collection of Paul Messina. ©Paul Messina


23 Oct

Steve Martin autograph written on October 23, 1976

34 years ago on Saturday, October 23, 1976 comedian Steve Martin hosted “Saturday Night Live” for the first time. It was a partnership that would flourish and, to this day, Martin is closely associated with the show. The autograph seen above was signed by Steve Martin on that day at the NBC studio in Brooklyn, where that week’s show was originating. Below you can what’s on the other side of the paper Steve autographed: The date, written on my admission slip to the PSAT exam. (I went straight from the exam to the studio).

What's on the other side of Steve Martin's autograph? The date on my admission slip for the PSAT exam, which was administered that morning.

In fact, for three weeks that October, SNL (then called “NBC’s Saturday Night”) for the first time, performed the show away from Studio 8H at 30 Rock. Why? NBC News had turned 8H into “Election Headquarters” for the upcoming Presidential election, so SNL had to find another temporary home. In addition to Martin’s debut the other SNL episodes done in Brooklyn were on October 16, hosted by Karen Black, and on October 30, with host Buck Henry.

Also on this date in TV history

Johnny Carson, circa 1960

85 years ago on Friday, October 23, 1925 Johnny Carson, the “King of Late Night,” was born in Corning, Iowa. Carson was born to Homer and Ruth, and he would go on to leave a giant imprint on the world of television.

Although born in Corning, Iowa the Carson family moved quite a bit due to Homer’s job with a utility company. After several stops in other Iowa towns, the family settled for good in Norfolk, Nebraska, where Johnny grew up. It was in this classic version of small-town America that the future star began performing. After learning magic young Johnny appeared around town as The Great Carsoni and built the foundation for his career.

Unused ticket for "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" for April 9, 1992.

Johnny Carson went on to host “The Tonight Show” from 1962 to 1992, almost 30 full years, and turned “The Tonight Show” into an institution. It became a nightly “must-see” for many and Carson himself became a barometer of public opinion.

Offices for "The Tonight Show" at NBC Burbank, 1979.

Sometimes Carson affected public opinion as well. His influence was never more evident than one night in the 1970’s when Carson turned a small news item into a national story. He mentioned reading an article about a possible toilet paper shortage. (His joke was that this would be a problem that would “touch every American.”) Within days Carson had actually created a nationwide toilet paper shortage as Americans raced to stock up so they wouldn’t be left empty-handed.

Johnny Carson's name on the marquee at the Sahara Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, June 1979.

Carson left “The Tonight Show” in 1992 and pretty much retired from public life. He died on January 23, 2005 due to emphysema.

Johnny Carson, one of television’s biggest stars ever  — a man who donated millions of dollars to his hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska — was born 85 years ago on this date in TV history.

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