The Tonight Show

NBC / Everett

Carson chats with Letterman on The Tonight Show in 1982; he was believed to favor Letterman over Leno.

On May 29, Jay Leno hands over The Tonight Show to Conan O'Brien, ending a 17-year run behind one of the most hallowed desks in show business--on a program that has barely changed since its debut more than 50 years ago.

In 1951, when most stations either went off the air at 11 p.m. or turned to B movies for late-night filler, NBC started a comedy series called Broadway Open House. The program lasted only a year, but it paved the way for The Tonight Show. Created as a 90-minute catchall variety show in 1954, The Tonight Show formed a template...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!