In case you missed it, on June 1st the baton was passed from Jay Leno to Conan O’Brien, the new host of the Tonight Show. I didn’t watch the transitional show, because I was asleep. But there was a time when many pre-boomers, myself included, made it a point to regularly catch the late night program.
The show debuted in the fall of 1954 with Steve Allen as host. This coincided with my freshman year in college. I was a big fan of the crazy antics of Steve and his cohorts, and particularly enjoyed the man-on-the-street recurring routine. In early 1957, Steve left for primetime and the show changed its format to news and entertainment. I stopped watching.
During the summer of ’57 Jack Paar took the helm of the floundering show, but his style and demeanor left me cold. So I didn’t tune in very often. When Johnny Carson came on the scene in ’62, I was working for an ad agency in New York. It’s a late night city, so I often saw at least part of the Tonight Show. And since it was taped at 6 PM, I was part of the audience on more than one occasion. So, I was hooked for the next 30 years on Johnny’s monologue, his characters such as Carnac and Art Fern, Johnny’s relationships with side-kick Ed McMahon and band leader Doc Severinsen, as well as the way he brought the best out of his guests. What a great way to end the day. The show moved to the west coast in the early ‘70s; coincidently, I followed a few years later.
Jay took over the show in mid-1992. He’s a hard-working, entertaining guy who made changes to suite his audience, which was more the boomer crowd. I noticed this when attending a taping early on; of course the ratings already indicated what demographics he was reaching. This may be why I rarely watched the show along with the fact I no longer stayed up late. I did catch Conan a few times, when I couldn’t sleep. His time slot began at 1 AM. Again, he’s a bright, clever guy with a sense of humor that I don’t quite get. But young people love him. So Conan is going to appeal to the twenty and thirty something’s, and Jay is getting a primetime slot starting this fall in hopes of garnering a larger, slightly older, audience for NBC.
It will be interesting to see how the changes shake out, but it’s obvious the network is not programming comedy for the pre-boomers. In the meantime, guess I’ll have to trade in my best of Johnny Carson tapes for DVDs, because he’s still good for a laugh.