The Tonight Show has been in the news A LOT lately given all of the controversy surrounding the lackluster ratings of O'Brien's version of the program and the prime-time Jay Leno program. In a move that is unprecedented for the franchise, NBC will have Jay Leno return to hosting duties on The Tonight Show in March of this year as Conan O'Brien departs the network. O'Brien had been the host of the program since June 1, 2009 and when he became the host he followed in the foot-steps of four comedic titans: Jay Leno, Johnny Carson, Jack Paar, and Steve Allen. The benchmark of hosting duties of course will always rest with the late Johnny Carson. He hosted the program for 30 years which means that he was a major comical voice of all the major events in world history for three decades. Although Carson did the show for 30 years others hosted the program before him and of course others hosted the show after him. The successors of Carson are fairly, or unfairly, compared to him even today nearly 18 years after he retired as host.
A run-down, of sorts, of the franchise's hosts...
Steve Allen: September 27, 1954 - January 25, 1957
Ernie Kovacs: October 1, 1956 - January 22, 1957**
Jack Lescoulie: January 28, 1957 - June 21, 1957*
Al Collins: June 24, 1957 - July 26, 1957*
Jack Paar: July 29, 1957 - March 30, 1962
Various hosts: April 2, 1962 - September 28, 1962***
Johnny Carson: October 1, 1962 - May 22, 1992
Jay Leno: May 25, 1992 - May 29, 2009
Conan O'Brien: June 1, 2009 - January 22, 2010
Jay Leno: March 1, 2010 -
As of this writing I have no idea what will air from January 25th through the end of February because O'Brien officially left the network on the twenty-second of January. NBC may repeat episodes of O'Brien's program or air reruns of Leno's older shows until Leno makes his return in March. This makes Leno the first former host to return as the "new" host. I think NBC realizes their mistake of removing Leno from The Tonight Show in the first place.
*- Jack Lescoulie and later, Al Collins, hosted the program when it was a news program called Tonight! America After Dark.
**-Ernie Kovacs hosted the Monday and Tuesday episodes of the program during Steve Allen's final year as host. NBC had wanted Steve to focus more on his Sunday night program opposite Ed Sullivan's CBS program.
***-various celebrities hosted the program after Jack Paar left. Johnny Carson was still under contract with another network and couldn't become the host...and so fill-in hosts presided over the program until October 1, 1962 when Carson took over the show...and remained for 30 years.
Gene Rayburn, later of Match Game fame, was the announcer on Steve Allen's version of the program. Jack Paar used Hugh Downs as an announcer for his version of the program. Ed McMahon was Johnny Carson's announcer for the entire 30 year run. Edd Hall was Jay Leno's announcer from 1992-2004. Hall was replaced by John Melendez for the remainder of Leno's first stint as host. Andy Richter became the announcer for Conan O'Brien's stint as host.