This October 30th marks the 13th anniversary of the death of comedian, actor, musician, and writer Steve Allen, who was famous for creating The Tonight Show. Although his predecessors like Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and of course, Johnny Carson brought their unique spin to late night, Allen was the trailblazer for the kind of entertainment we see in the talk show circuit today.
The Tonight Show started out as a local broadcast in New York City in 1953 and was originally called Tonight Starring Steve Allen. But the lack of a national audience didn’t stop Allen from bringing out big-time guests, comedy bits filmed outside the studio, and musical numbers, as shown in the photo above. After its first year on the air, NBC picked up the talk show and broadcasted it nationally, renaming it The Tonight Show. As an audience, we owe quite a bit to Allen, who introduced the opening monologue—which he occasionally did while playing piano—as well as audience participation, the “man on the street” interviews, and the banter between the host and bandleader that we all know and love.
Let’s hope that new host Jimmy Fallon channels Allen in the coming months when he takes over The Tonight Show and shows off some of his guitar-playing skills during his opening monologue. Oh yeahhhh….