The Tonight Show is NBC's long-running late-night talk and variety show, currently hosted by Jay Leno in Burbank, California, USA. The hour-long show premiered September 27, 1954 as a 105-minute broadcast originating from New York City and hosted by Steve Allen. The show features at least two guests each night, usually including a comedian or musical guest. Leno has announced that he will step down as host in 2009, and has named current Late Night host Conan O'Brien as his successor.
Now in its 52nd season (though its roots date back to a local New York program called Broadway Open House in the early 1950s), The Tonight Show is the second longest-running entertainment program in U.S. television history (after the soap opera Guiding Light).
While NBC executive Pat Weaver is credited as the Tonight Show creator (he created its morning companion, Today), Allen had already created much of the structure of Tonight with his local New York late-night show, which premiered in 1953 on what is now WNBC-TV.
Each incarnation of The Tonight Show, as outlined below, is generally considered its own entity, with pop culture references frequently referring to the show by its host name more often than as The Tonight Show. The longest-serving host to date was American comedian Johnny Carson who held sway over a 30-year run as the host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson during which time the series was often also referred to as The Johnny Carson Show or, simply, Carson. The current host, Jay Leno, has been in place since 1992 and similarly his version of the show is often referred to simply as Leno. The series has also featured many guest hosts over the years, particularly during Carson's reign during his vacations and when he no longer hosted the series five nights a week.
The Tonight Show became the first American television show to broadcast with MTS stereo sound in 1984. On April 26, 1999, the show started broadcasting in 1080i HDTV, becoming the first American nightly talk show to be shot in HD. The show is shot in 16:9 aspect ratio with a 4:3 center-cut for standard definition TV viewers.
A kinescope exists of the very first broadcast of The Tonight Show (then called simply, Tonight); Steve Allen welcomed viewers with the warning, "This show is going to last forever", referring to the running time. He has yet to be proven wrong.