This late-night series on NBC
is part Variety Show
and part celebrity Talk Show
. Steve Allen
was the first host, starting in 1954; Ernie Kovacs had Monday and Tuesday nights for the final (1956-57) season due to Allen's Sunday-night show
on the same network.
In January 1957, both Allen and Kovacs were ousted and the show became Tonight! America After Dark
, a serious news program with Jack Lescoulie; he was booted out in June to Today
and replaced for the last month by Al "Jazzbo" Collins. Allen went on to host his own talk shows until 1971.
In July 1957, Jack Paar became the full-time Tonight Show
host, but he walked off in February 1960 after NBC censors took offense at one of his jokes. Paar returned to the show within a month. From April-September 1962, The Tonight Show
had a series of part-time hosts, including Groucho Marx, and an orchestra led by Skitch Henderson. The Jack Paar Program
premiered around that time and lasted three years.
Johnny Carson made a career of The Tonight Show
, acting as host from 1962-92. During that time, Carson created many memorable characters, including Art Fern, Floyd R. Turbo, and Carnac the Magnificent, while bringing fame to his announcer Ed McMahon and his bandleader Skitch Henderson. Henderson was later replaced by Carl "Doc" Severinsen.
After Carson left the series, Jay Leno took over as host. Thus began the "talk show wars" of 1993; it had been expected that David Letterman
, who hosted the lead-out show Late Night with...
since the early 1980s, would get the gig. When that didn't happen, CBS hired him as a direct competitor, The Late Show With David Letterman
, launched in 1993. While Letterman initially was the stronger ratings draw, Leno eventually overtook him. The Tonight Show
and The Late Show
remain fierce competitors. (The controversy would be dramatized in the 1996 movie The Late Shift
Leno's format wouldn't settle for a few months, until Kevin Eubanks signed on as bandleader. Jay Leno's most enduring skits are "Headlines", a bit previously used by Letterman
(under the moniker "Small Town News") on the original Late Night
in the 1980s; "Jaywalking", a man-on-the-street
skit with real people that highlights American stupidity (on Hollywood Boulevard
; talk about playing with loaded dice). He also did film clips with Special Effects Failures
with great frequency. He played a few characters, most notably Iron Jay (a dumb weightlifter), Mr. Brain (a condescending smart-aleck), and Beyondo (a "ghost" whose punchline-"first" schtick was almost identical to Carson's Carnac).
In 2004, Leno signed a contract to continue the show until 2009 and Conan O'Brien signed up to replace him when he left...but when the time grew near, Leno's ratings were still strong. NBC decided it didn't want to risk him going to another network like Letterman, so they kicked Leno upstairs
to make room for Conan O'Brien
, who had hosted Late Night
since 1993. They gave Leno a similar show (The Jay Leno Show
) at 10:00 PM
five nights a week starting that Fall, the "five nights a week" part being a first-ever for American network prime time. For the first time, there was no "interregnum" of temporary hosts (as in 1957 and 1962) or reruns (as in 1992): Leno's last show was May 29, 2009 (a Friday) and O'Brien's first was the following Monday, June 1.
However, both Conan and Leno performed well beneath the norm for their timeslots. The network itself didn't care, but affiliates lost a major chunk of ad revenue and some hinted that they weren't going to endure it for much longer — and thus, the "talk show wars" entered its second round.
NBC attempted to fix this by moving Leno's show to The Tonight Show
's time slot and bumping O'Brien's critically-acclaimed but ratings-poor run back a half-hour to 12:05 AM. This wasn't received well. Leno was upset about it, as he had agreed to the arrangement by insisting the network promise both his and O'Brien's shows a full year before making any further decisions; the network agreed, but within less than four months they reneged
. O'Brien threatened to quit
, Leno had as well, and both routinely savaged NBC in their nightly opening monologues.
On January 15, 2010 Conan, tired of the whole fiasco, settled on a $30M payout from NBC
(later upped to $45M to accommodate his staff) to leave The Tonight Show
. O'Brien came out of the debacle with most of the public, comedians, and TV writers on his side, Leno returned to Tonight
and continued to host until February 2014, where he was replaced with Jimmy Fallon of Saturday Night Live
And in all this history, there was the regular who didn't expect to be one — Lillian Miller (aka "Miss Miller") was an audience member on so many episodes of the Allen/Kovacs, Parr, and Carson versions that she was forced to join AFTRA. She also frequented Game Shows
(including Match Game
and Whats My Line
), The Merv Griffin Show
, The Carol Burnett Show
, and even appeared on The Jack Paar Program
in November 1962 as a guest alongside Liberace and Cassius Clay
Steve Allen's incarnation (1954-57) provides examples of:
- Suit Of Awesome: In one episode Allen sat in a giant teacup in warm water with 200 lemon wedges while wearing a Suit of Teabags. Years later, this stunt would inspire David Letterman to wear Suits of Alka-Seltzer, Rice Krispies, and Velcro at various times during Late Night.
Tonight! America After Dark (1957) provides examples of:
- Re Tool: It was more of a news show than an entertainment program.
Jack Paar's incarnation (1957-62) provides examples of:
- The Beatles: Paar showed clips of fans reacting to the Fab Four during the very early days of Beatlemania, mainly to diss the clothing, manners, and hairlength of the teenagers.
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: When starting a joke about a bizarre news item, Jack would often employ the phrase "I kid you not." It got to be a sort of Catch Phrase of his, to the point where Paar used it as the title of his autobiography.
- Precious Puppies: On his last night, after saying his Final Speech, Paar ended the show by calling to his dog sitting in the audience area. "Come on, Lika. We're going home."
- Smoking Is Cool: Back in the day where smoking was not only the norm, it was expected of celebrity guests. Paar and many (not all) of his celebrity guests regularly caused the set to be fogged over with smoke, thanks to five (or more) smoking guests on the set at any one time.
- 10-Minute Retirement: Although in this case, he had a reason. Namely...
Johnny Carson's incarnation (1962-92) provides examples of:
- Added Alliterative Appeal: One of the most famous sketches on the show involved Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) asking Johnny Carson about his stolen "clappers". Among the words that started with "C" (or used the "C" sound) used in the sketch: Clappers, caper, copper, closet, Claude Cooper, copped, Cleveland, clean, kleptomaniac, cleaning woman, Clara Clifford, clobber.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Yes kids, the show used to be an hour and a half long. The Christmas 1979 episode recently released on YouTube by Carson Productions featured a very funny opening segment of Johnny and Ed looking at popular toys of the time which lasted three segments and lasted about 26 minutes.
- Baa Bomb: "Sis boom bah!"
- Beware the Nice Ones: Carson was forever affable on-stage but had a legendary temper in his private life.
- Madonna and Sean Penn got married right next to his house; legend has it he was so annoyed by paparazzi helicopters, he went out and spelled FUCK OFF on his front lawn with rocks.
- After Charlie Callas tried to get a cheap laugh by deliberately shoving Carson, he retaliated by banning him from ever appearing on the show again...on-air, after which he left Callas to sit there pleading pathetically for another chance for the rest of the show.
- Close friend and "permanent guest host" Joan Rivers accepted a talk show gig on FOX (The Late Show) without first asking Carson's permission; when she subsequently called to apologize, he hung up on her without a word and never spoke to her again for the rest of his life.
- That's not really a fair way to put it, though. She was a close and trusted friend of his who played a big part on the show, and then knew for months that she was leaving the show to be on one that was directly challenging his and intending to take viewers on an opposing channel without telling him; he found out from a press release. That was an especially hard blow for Carson, who considered loyalty very important.
- Bigger Than Jesus: In one of the interviews with Charles Grodin, Grodin addressed something Carson said in an earlier interview, when he said that $18.95 isn't too much for a book if you're Mother Teresa. Grodin found that "insulting", but Carson explained that Grodin isn't as famous as Teresa. Grodin asked if Carson considers himself as famous as Teresa. Carson's reply? "Of course not!... (reconsiders) I might be."
Carson: I don't do as much good work as she does...
Grodin: You certainly don't.
- The Bus Came Back: Jack Paar was invited back many times.
Carson: Why did you give up hosting The Tonight Show? You could have been here a lot longer...you could have been here today. Why did you give it up?
Paar: Well, you needed the work...
- Call Back: Charles Grodin would often bring up things Johnny said in a previous interview. In some cases, this could be a year beforehand.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Charles Grodin frequently accused Carson of not caring about the questions he asked, and often refused to answer them without a lot of goading.
Carson: In what way were you different [from earlier in your life]?
Grodin: ...Do you care what way I was different?
Carson: Not a whit. (audience laughs) Of course I do! We do this every time you come out here!
Grodin: Well you don't care how I was different!
Carson: Of course I do.
Grodin: You don't care how I wrote the book, you don't care what's in the book, you don't care that I'm referred to as a "zen master" in a major literary review of this book, that it says it has echoes of James Thurber, Andy Rooney, that the stores are already buying it more, it's not even been officially published, you don't care about all that plug stuff. It's true.
Grodin: In fact, it offends you, it upsets you, it irritates you. You resent it, you resent it.
- Casanova Wannabe: Art Fern.
- Catch Phrase: "Heeeeeeeeeerrrrreeee's JOHNNY!"
- Carson would say "It's ____ today." The audience would reply in unison: "How ____ was it??", prompting Carson to do the punchline.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Carson would frequently have zoology experts like Jack Hanna on, with various animals for him to interact with.
- Game Show Appearance: One Mighty Carson Art Players sketch had Carson playing President Ronald Reagan as a contestant on Family Feud.
- Groin Attack: Accidentally carried out on a wooden target by actor Ed Ames during an axe-throwing demonstration. The entire audience went into hysterics for over a minute, and their efforts to stop laughing were not at all aided by a circumcision joke from Johnny in its wake that ensured the segment's immortality as a high point in his career.
- Head Pet: Johnny's encounter with an undiapered pygmy marmoset is a blooper-reel favorite.
- Ironic Echo: Used numerous times during any interview with Charles Grodin, for comedic effect.
- Leno Device: Ur Example, though he didn't use it nearly as much as Leno did.
- Milestone Celebration: Prime-time specials to observe his anniversary – 1972, to celebrate Carson's 10th anniversary of hosting the show; 1977, for his 15th; and annually from 1979-1991. The first special was rather limited as far as showing "classic" highlights, since most shows had been erased or recorded over, although famous moments – i.e., Ed Ames' tomahawk throw, the Dragnet parody, Tiny Tim's wedding and others – were preserved and shown. The later specials had more archived clips, since all shows produced after sometime in 1972 exist.
- Off the Rails: Could occur with certain guests. See the Burt Reynolds / Dom DeLuise episode from the '70s for just one instance.
- Overly Long Gag: Carson's purposefully-long intro to Bill Clinton in 1988 might just be the absolute longest guest introduction in history, clocking in at about 2 1/2 minutes.
: My, uh, my first guest tonight became a media celebrity last week when he delivered the nominating speech for Michael Dukakis at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Uh, Bill Clinton is a four-time governor of Arkansas. He was the nation's youngest governor when he was first elected in 1978, at the age of 32. In a recent Newsweek poll, he was voted one of the five most effective governors in the country. (Beat
) He also oversaw Arkansas's once-depressed state economy... (audience begins to laugh) rebound to prosperity through his programs of welfare reform, public health plans, and consumer protection, including a tight rein on utility rates. From his capitol office building in Little Rock, Governor Clinton has helped remold his state into a competitive player in economic business and industry, while maintaining his state's traditional homestead heritage and rugged natural beauty. Marvelous to have him on the show, but that's just part
of the Bill Clinton story. His family and friends remember Bill as an idealistic and determined young man who earned his Bachelor's Degree from Georgetown University, later graduating from Yale Law School. Like fellow Democrat, New Jersey Senator Bradley, who shares the first name "Bill", Governor Clinton expanded his horizons as a Rhodes Scholar, studying at England's renowned Oxford University. (page two...) He returned to America... (audience laughs) with a renewed fervor, and while still a law student, ran George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign in Texas. Two years later, he lost the congressional race, but won widespread public admiration, and was easily elected Attorney General at 29, two years after that. And it's great to have him here. He's also the past chairman... (audience laughs) of the education committees of the state, and author of the comprehensive report on the importance of leadership in education reform. It gives me great pleasure to welcome a man who currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association, and who has shown America that Arkansas is more than just trees and Hot Springs National Park. (page three...) Much
more. There's Blanchard Springs Caverns... (audience laughs) There's the country's only active diamond mine. Arkansas is the birthplace of cosmopolitan publisher Helen Gurley Brown, singers Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash, and the late actor Alan Ladd, best known for his performance in the Academy Award winning film, Shane
(two audience members start chanting "We want Bill!") Carson
: Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, a man who Hernando De Soto might have had in mind when he discovered this territory called Arkansas back in 1541. Of course, back then it was owned by France, then Spain, then France again. Then it was sold as part of the now-famous Louisiana Purchase, which brings us full-circle to my first guest. Bill Clinton, a man who loves his state, from its eastern delta to its southern lowland forests, all the way up to its western highlands, which includes, of course, the Ozark Plateau. And in conclusion... (audience cheers) Here's a man who needs no introduction, the honorable Bill Clinton of Arkansas!
- Precious Puppies: During the early years while the show was broadcast live, Ed McMahon would do in studio advertisements for Alpo dog food, which included an eager dog waiting to eat the stuff. One night the dog ignored the food and walked offstage, leaving Johnny to quickly fill in, sitting up for Ed in one famous blooper.
- Product Placement: One skit involved Carson as Hamlet, reciting the famous Alas, Poor Yorick monologue, except inserting product plugs after certain words. Among the items Hamlet plugged included AAMCO, Mentholatum deep heating rub, Preparation H, and American Express.
- Samus is a Girl: One of the most famous skits involved Johnny pretending to be a cowboy but revealing that he was a woman. Only catch is, when he removed his hat, he accidentally removed his wig with it, essentially derailing the skit and ending it early ("Screw it, let's go!").
- Sidekick: Ed McMahon.
- Signature Laugh: McMahon's deep belly-laugh. Hi-ho!
- Smoking Is Cool: Many of Carson's celebrity guests smoked, and unashamedly lit up on the set. There were frequent instances where five or more people on the set (Carson and McMahon included) had lighted cigarettes in hand at any one time, with ashtrays provided. By the early 1980s, with the habit becoming less socially acceptable and health risks becoming better known, Carson and McMahon stopped smoking on the set; McMahon ultimately quit, while Carson continued his pack-plus-a-day habit for most of the rest of his life, ultimately dying in 2005 of respiratory failure brought on by emphysema.
- Spin-Off: Of sorts. In July of 2013 Turner Classic Movies aired a five-part series hosted by Conan O'Brian called Carson on TMC; each episode consisting of five classic Carson Tonight Show intervews with stars such as George Burns, Liz Taylor, and Henry Fonda.
- Stealth Insult: Done repeatedly in any interview with Charles Grodin. Of course, this supposed bitterness was all part of the act. Example: When Carson was accused of not reading Grodin's latest book:
Carson: I've read the book cover to cover.
Grodin: You have?
Carson: Yes I have.
Carson: ...It's a very long book.
- Taps: The band plays Taps whenever an attempted comic bit dies.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Johnny Carson and Charles Grodin.
- Who's on First?: A variant occurs in a skit where Carson played Ronald Reagan being briefed on his day's activities by his aide. One of the most memorable exchanges was Reagan reviewing his plans to go swimming with James G. Watt at the YMCA.
Both (1992-2009, 2010-2014) of Jay Leno's incarnations provide examples of:
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: One of the Headlines involved a person selling "cabbits": Rabbits and cats mixed. Leno found this quite humorous, as he interpreted it as an animal that doesn't exist in real life instead of what the author likely intended, rabbits and cats sold together.
Leno: What, does it sleep for 23 hours and mate for an hour?!
- Catch Phrase:
- During "Headlines": "Kev, what do I love?" "Stupid criminals."
- Alternatively: "Kev, what do I hate?" "Dressing up animals."
- Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: One recurring segment involves showing products of hypothetical mergers between companies to make humorous product names.
- Cool Car: Leno owns a warehouse full of them, and they turn up on the show occasionally.
- Before reading one of the "Headlines" (a "for sale" ad selling "fudge-packing machines"), Leno cracked a smile, and Kevin asked what was so funny. Leno asked if the audience was sure they wanted this one, and when they cheered, he proclaimed that he was just going to read it, and wasn't going to comment or smirk. But then he glanced at it again and smirked. Cue Kevin: "You're smirkin' already! You're smirkin' before you even say it!"
- A Date with Rosie Palms: One "Headlines" featured a news story about a construction worker allegedly masturbating on the job. The construction worker vehemently denied masturbating, as he was one-handed and thus, couldn't jack off with one hand and do his job with the other. Case is still under investigation.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Don't Explain the Joke: One of the "Headlines" showed an Amish buggy with the caption reminding people not to take the Amish's picture. After a tepid response, Leno quipped, "You see, they took their picture. I should've explained it more clearly."
- Final Speech:
"Okay... boy, this is the hard part. I want to thank you, the audience. You folks have been just... incredibly loyal... [tears up]
This is tricky. [laughs]
Ah... we wouldn't be on the air without you people. Secondly, this has been the greatest 22 years of my life. I tell you. [applause]
I am... the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet presidents, astronauts, movie stars... it's just been incredible. I got to work with lighting people who made me look better than I really am, I got to work with audio people who made me sound better than I really do, and I got to work with producers and writers, and just all kinds of talented people who made me look a lot smarter than I really am. I'll tell you something... the first year of this show, I lost my mom. Second year I lost my dad. Then my brother died. And, uh... after that, I was pretty much out of family.
And the folks here became my family. Consequently, when they went through rough times, I tried to be there for them. The last time we left this show, you might remember, we had the 64 children that were born among all our staffers that married. That was a great moment. And when people say to me, 'Hey, why didn't you go to ABC? Why didn't you go to Fox? Why didn't you go...?' I didn't know anybody over there. These are the only people I've ever known. I'm also proud to say this is a union show, and I have never worked... [applause]
...I have never worked with a more professional group of people in my life. They get paid good money, and they do a good job. And when the guys and women on this show would show me the new car they bought, or their house up the street here in Burbank, the one the guys got... I felt I played a bigger role in their success than they played in mine. And that was just a great feeling. And I'm really excited for Jimmy Fallon. You know, it's fun to kinda be the old guy, sit back here and see where the next generation takes this great institution, and it really is... it's been a great institution for 60 years. I am so glad I got to be a part of it. But it really is time to go, hand it off to the next guy. It really is. And in closing, I want to quote Johnny Carson, who was the greatest guy to ever do this job, and he said 'I bid you all a heartfelt goodnight.' Now... now that I've brought the room down...
, you got anything to liven this party up? Give it a shot! Garth Brooks!"
- Juxtaposition Gag: Many clippings sent to the "Headlines" segment involve amusing accidental juxtapositions. It can be two ads with incompatible content placed next to each other, or two ads with pictures placed together to create improbable anatomy. Other times, the headline of one article is next to a picture from a different news story altogether, with unfortunate implications. (For example, a story of murder victims' bodies being recovered from a yard was placed next to a photo of then-President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy with shovels, as they cheerfully broke ground on his presidential library.)
- Parodied on The Simpsons, where Marge cuts out this article to send in: "Ketchup Truck Crashes into Hot Dog Stand - 30 Dead."
- Lantern Jaw of Justice: Taken Up to Eleven in the "Iron Jay" skits.
- Leno Device: Trope Namer.
- Loophole Abuse: In 2005, Leno was called to testify for the defense in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial, as he was familiar with the accuser and his family. This didn't keep him from his regular gig, but he was legally unable to joke about anything related to it during his nightly monologues. The solution was to have other comedians (Roseanne Barr, Drew Carey, etc.) take over for a chunk of said monologues and tell all the Michael Jackson jokes they pleased.
- Once an Episode: Starting around 2007, Leno would use part of his monologue to tell "The economy is bad!" jokes, one after another. When he would finish telling a joke, the band would play a brief snippet of "Hooray For Hollywood".
- Pun: During one "Headlines":
Leno: You know how Canada got its name, by the way?
Kevin: How's that?
Leno: It went C, eh, N, eh, D... it's an old joke.
- The Rival: David Letterman.
"He's only saying that because I'm here."
- Running Gag
- Song Parody: Billy Crystal sang a "send off" medley to Leno during the last week of the original Tonight Show run, which included parodies of such song as "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" and "Movin' On Up".
- He also sang a parody (along with surprise guests) for Leno's final show on 2/6/14. This one parodied just one song: "So Long, Farewell".
- Squick: Invoked. One Headline involved using cremated ashes being used to paint portraits for a widower. The audience groaned more than they laughed, which led to this:
Leno: Isn't that horrible?
Leno: Too bad it's not FUNNY. (audience laughs)
- Too Much Information: One of the Headlines involved putting plastic molds on your face. When the image in the clipping looked too much like Uncanny Valley to Leno, he snarked, "It's like having sex with a cyborg!"
Kevin Eubanks: ...You've had sex with a cyborg, Jay??
Jay Leno: (straightens tie) In my single days.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The primetime failure of The Jay Leno Show was responsible for the fiasco by bringing down the ratings for the local 11:00 PM newscasts and Conan's Tonight.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Jay Leno and Terry Bradshaw
- Vox Pops: "Jaywalking".
Conan O'Brien's incarnation (2009-10) provides examples of:
- Accidental Misnaming: Conan told a story about how a supposed fan recognized him on the street and said, "It's Cohen O'Riley from the radio!"
- Affectionate Nickname: On the second episode, Tom Hanks shortened Conan's name to "Coco", and the rest is history.
- Amusing Injuries: Animal expert Nigel Marven came out with a fresh cut on his neck, from the water monitor's tail that whacked him just before going on stage. Nigel went on like nothing was wrong, but after Andy pointed out his injury, Conan became concerned. Nigel insisted it was no big deal ("It's a badge of courage for wildlife guides") and continued showing the animals he brought. His injury became a Running Gag throughout his segment.
Conan: If at any time you get light-headed or feel you need medical attention, you let me know, and I'll wait twenty minutes and get it for you.
Conan: Okay, well we should probably move on, because I think you're about to die.
Conan: Let's move on while you still have enough oxygenated blood in your head.
- Beat: In one of the William Shatner interviews, Conan asked Shatner how his Thanksgiving was. Shatner responded that it was awful, because it was so messy. Then he paused, and when he began talking again, Conan interrupted him:
Conan: I never know what's going to happen when you come out here. I asked you a question and you took, I think, a 45-second pause.
- Benevolent Boss: Reportedly, the exit negotiations were held up by Conan's insistence that NBC shell out severance money for his staff. Conan reportedly paid out of pocket to provide for staff/crew members who weren't covered by the NBC contract.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: The last two weeks of Conan's Tonight were downright vicious.
"NBC announced that they expect to lose $200 Million on the Winter Olympics next month. Now, folks, is it just me...or is that story hilarious?"
- Body Horror: In one sketch, Conan shot Wax Tom Cruise and Wax Fonz out of a cannon... with the catch that they didn't have enough money to rent a cushion for them to land on. This resulted in the Tom Cruise model breaking in half upon hitting the ground, and Fonz's face getting mutilated. When Conan brought the two back into the studio, he warned young children to leave the room before showing the Fonz's busted-up face.
- Brain Food: In one of the Cody Devereaux sketches, Cody was joined by a zombie, whose theme song was merely Cody's but with different lyrics: "Brains, brains, brains, brains..."
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: One of the most famous gags from the first "In the Year 3000" sketch: Conan said that YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook will merge to form "YouTwitFace".
- Broken Record / Manipulative Editing: One "Conan on the Aisle" sketch had Conan criticizing Public Enemies for being too repetitive, which padded the running time. A clip from the film was shown where an announcement was made to look to your left and then to your right to see if you spot John Dillinger. In the actual film, the audience only did this once, but as presented in this segment, they were instructed to look to their left and right several times.
- Butt Monkey: On every single talk show, when the NBC fiasco was discussed, Carson Daly (who hosts Last Call at 1:30 in the morning, after all the major talk shows are done) was known as "that poor guy".
- Daly survived when O'Brien decided to leave NBC rather than have Tonight start a half-hour later.
- Catch Phrase: "In the Year 3000" always began with William Shatner saying: "And so we take a cosmic ride into that new millennium; that far off reality that is the year 3000. It's the future, man."
- Celebrity Endorsement: A recurring segment towards the end of the series involved Conan declaring himself "the new Oprah" and endorsing a wide variety of So Bad, It's Good products, such as Steven Seagal's "Songs From the Crystal Cave" CD, Killdozer, Troll2, Leprechaun IV: In Space, the 2010 calendar of extraordinary chickens, and Kathie Lee's Rock n' Tots Cafe: A Christmas Giff.
- Cool Car / The Alleged Car: Conan's 1992 Ford Taurus SHO played both roles as needed, seemingly varying based on whether or not he washed it for that particular star turn.
- Country Matters: When Adam Sandler was a guest on the last week of shows, he told the story of how he and Chris Farley were fired from Saturday Night Live. This led to him reciting his manager's motto: "NBC: Nothing But Cunts."
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Super Mario Bros. 3 curtain, which Conan even mentioned after someone posted the original picture.
- Conan hires a Na'vi assistant along with his vampire assistant. The vampire is unhappy, and Conan suggests he can start work later and share the role. The vampire ends up running out into the sunlight rather than share the job.
- Driven to Suicide: Cody Devereaux, Conan's brooding vampire assistant, who kills himself each time he appears by running into the sun and melting.
- Failing a Taxi: Part of the gag that "introduced" Conan at the start of his first show. Unable to catch a cab in Manhattan, he ran...all the way to Hollywood. Then he realized he forgot his keys back in New York, so he burst into the studio with a bulldozer.
- Fandom Rivalry: Sports: Invoked. When Conan (jokingly) fired one of the band members for watching the baseball game during the show, he said he could do that... because he's a Red Sox fan. Cue a few audience members good-naturedly booing, which Conan quickly called attention to.
Conan: Yay boo, yay boo, it's lots of fun to do. If you like it, holler "yay", and if you don't, you holler "boo". (audience laughs) My apologies to everyone.
- Final Speech:
"Before we end this rodeo, a few things need to be said. There has been a lot of speculation in the press about what I legally can and can't say about NBC. To set the record straight, tonight I am allowed to say anything I want. And what I want to say is this: between my time at Saturday Night Live
, the Late Night
show, and my brief run here on The Tonight Show
, I have worked with NBC for over 20 years. Yes, we have our differences right now and yes, we're going to go our separate ways. But this company has been my home for most of my adult life. I am enormously proud of the work we have done together, and I want to thank NBC for making it all possible. Walking away from The Tonight Show
is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Making this choice has been enormously difficult. This is the best job in the world, I absolutely love doing it, and I have the best staff and crew in the history of the medium. But despite this sense of loss, I really feel this should be a happy moment. Every comedian dreams of hosting The Tonight Show
and, for seven months, I got to. I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not regret a second. I've had more good fortune than anyone I know and if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-Eleven parking lot, we'll find a way to make it fun. And finally, I have to say something to our fans. The massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming. The rallies, the signs, all the goofy, outrageous creativity on the internet, and the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain to be in our audience, made a sad situation joyous and inspirational. To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I'll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism — it's my least-favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. As proof, let's make an amazing thing happen right now. Here to close out our show, are a few good friends, led by Mr. Will Ferrell!"
- Flipping the Bird: William Shatner gave Conan the finger during one of his interviews.
- Full-Body Disguise: One of the first sketches on the show involved Conan disguising himself as a focus group leader who showed clips of Late Night to older viewers to see what they said about him. Among the comments about Conan: He's not funny, he makes a fool of himself, is probably mentally unstable, and would only appeal to porn addicts.
- Funny Background Event: In the first episode of 2010, Conan asked La Bamba what his New Year's resolution would be. Check out Scott Healy behind La Bamba; he's desperately trying not to crack up.
- George Jetson Job Security: During one of the "In the Year 3000" skits, La Bamba was unprepared for the robe that lowered from the ceiling and ducked out of the way just before it hit his head. After he got the robe on and everyone laughed, Conan (kidding, of course) announced: "You're fired. What the hell!"
- In another episode, Conan noticed that the band members were watching a baseball game during the show. Conan casually remarked to the bandleader, "Well you're fired."
- Heel Realization: In one of the "Andy'll Try It" skits, Andy was supposed to drink Tofurkey and Gravy Soda, but refused and made La Bamba try it instead. La Bamba only poured a tiny bit into his cup but Conan insisted on a full glass. After La Bamba tried to drink it but spit it out after only a couple seconds, Conan immediately and repeatedly apologized for essentially forcing La Bamba to drink a lot of it.
- Inner Monologue: Whenever Conan delivers a diatribe on race relations, Mike Merritt has a derisive inner monologue about how white Conan is. This gag was carried over from Late Night and also has appeared on Conan.
- Insistent Terminology: The first time William Shatner was a guest, Conan plugged Shatner's talk show, saying you can find it on The Biography Channel. Shatner corrected Conan and said it airs on "The Bio". Conan got confused, and Shatner explained that he was instructed to call it "The Bio", not "The Biography Channel".
- Judgment of Solomon: Conan's open letter saying The Tonight Show was an American institution and he'd rather see Leno take it back than let it be "killed" in a later timeslot.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Following the NBC-Comcast merger, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts fired Jeff Zucker for royally screwing up the whole Tonight Show thing, replacing him with Comcast COO Steve Burke.
- Last Stand: The comedy talk show version. Conan, knowing he had about two weeks before NBC forced him off the show, started reaming out his own network (and Leno) on a nightly basis.
- Leitmotif: Cody Devereaux, Conan's brooding vampire assistant, is always accompanied by a Boy Band-esque song with the lyrics, "I'm gonna love you forever / and never say goodbye..."
- Man on Fire: When William Shatner told how he deep-fried a turkey for Thanksgiving, he said he forgot one important step: Keep the neck down. When the turkey neck is up, it forms a spout, which caused oil to shoot up and cover him. "And then I caught fire."
Conan: You did not. You did not catch on fire. (Shatner looks offended) I'm sorry, maybe you did.
- Mêlée à Trois: What erupted among pretty much every late-night television host as a result of the Screwed by the Network situation.
- Conan O'Brien ripped on NBC and Jay Leno in his monologue, increasingly so as it became apparent he was being forced off the show and/or network in Leno's favor.
- Leno took shots at David Letterman's sex scandal.
- Letterman retaliated by spending the next week tearing into "Big Jaw" Leno and the "pinheads" at NBC.
- Jimmy Kimmel did a devastating parody of Leno on his own ABC show, then visited Leno during a Ten At Ten segment to call him out.
- Craig Ferguson first said he never wanted to work for NBC, then called the network executives "lying rat bastards" among other things, some of which were bleeped out.
- Jon Stewart called Jeff Zucker "the Dick Cheney of television, just shooting television shows in the face".
- Stephen Colbert mocked NBC's dishonesty, later accusing Zucker of wanting to burn the network down for the insurance money.
- George Lopez (on his TBS show) asked "What does NBC stand for, Nobody Backs Conan?"
- To complete the circle, Leno ended the week by swiping at Conan's ratings and hitting Letterman's sex scandal again. At one point, he said that "FOX is looking pretty good this time of year".
- NBC sent executive Dick Ebersol out to The New York Times to call Conan "gutless" and "chicken-hearted".
- Howard Stern weighed in with the suggestion that Leno intended to screw Conan out of Tonight all along.
- Jimmy Fallon was stuck between siding with one of his comedy heroes (Leno) or his close friend and the guy who gave him Late Night (Conan), and tried as hard as he could to stay out of it, winning major points from Conan fans originally skeptical of him when he took over Late Night. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly celebrating his first year of hosting Late Night, Fallon stated that he called Conan to offer his support and tell him he would be willing to host Late Night at 1:00 AM with no resentment.
- Carson Daly, whose show is on at a dead hour and always on the brink of cancellation, appeared in the crowd of Kimmel's show asking if he could have his job.
- Robin Williams sang an Irish Drinking Song, the last half of which consisted of him alternating between chants of "FUCK THE BASTARDS THAT CANCELED THE SHOW" and "FUCK THE BASTARDS, THEY CAN'T TAKE A JOKE".
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Occasionally, Conan will say this when describing a "news of the weird" story.
- Overly Long Gag: When Norm MacDonald was a guest, he told a joke about a moth who visits a podiatrist: Read
Conan: My congrats to everyone who stuck with it until the end.
- Parallel Porn Titles: In a Triumph sketch where he visited a dog hotel in L.A., he took over a room and ordered one of the hosts to play a bunch of dog porn videos for him: "Turner and Cootch", "Marley in Me", "Beverly Hills Chi-Hoo-Hah", "Rear Bud: Golden Receiver", "An American's Tail: Fievel Goes Deep", "Homeward Bound and Gagged", and "Lassie Come Twice".
- On the last week of shows, Conan mentioned that during the NBC fiasco, he was given an offer by an adult film company to star in one of their porn films. He was "seriously considering" it, and listed off a variety of porn titles that he might star in, including "Conan the Impaler", "Conan Gets the Late Shaft", "In the Rear 3000", Conan the Bangbarian, and The Fisterhood of the Traveling Time Slots.
- Persona Non Grata: During the long-running "feud" between Conan and Newark mayor Cory Booker, Cory banned Conan from Newark airport, to which Conan banned Cory from L.A.'s airports. Then, Cory upped the ante by banning Conan from the entire state of New Jersey.
- Precious Puppies: Conan's Tonight Show Mini-Dose of Joy — puppies dressed as cats! Complete with Ear Worm theme music. They were so gosh-darn cute, Conan couldn't help but laugh. "I can't compete with this!"
- Running Gag: Several.
- Larry King's oldness (carried over from Leno's era).
- The Green Car Challenge (done on both shows).
- "Andy'll Try It!"
- Making fun of a certain South American leader's fatness (not Hugo Chavez), even though said leader isn't fat.
- The Moody Vampire. It even got to the point where Taylor Lautner got into a fight with him (staged, of course).
- For a time, Conan's concussion.
- Puppies Dressed As _____.
- Sketches involving two creepy and poorly-done wax statues of The Fonz and Tom Cruise that Conan picked up at a wax-figure warehouse.
- Side Effects Include...: Parodied in the "Andy'll Try It" where La Bamba was forced to drink Tofurkey & Gravy Soda:
Conan: Oh, La Bamba, it says right here: "May cause death."
- Tabloid Melodrama: When Jennifer Aniston was a guest, Conan remarked how, being in the public eye due to her fame on Friends, there were often rumors made up about her by the tabloids. He then said he was surprised they never said he and she were in a relationship. Aniston replied, "Not yet."
- Take That: Conan decided to exploit his loopholes by buying outrageously-expensive items, such as a Bugatti Veyron dressed up as a mouse with the master recording of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" as its theme song; it cost NBC $1.5M. He followed up the next night by buying out the winning horse and jockey from the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The horse was wearing a mink Snuggie, and both were watching NFL Super Bowl footage restricted from the public. The cost? $4.8M on NBC's tab.
- Conan pointed out on his Grand Finale that those things were fake (except the Veyron, which was loaned from a museum) and didn't really cost millions of dollars...except for the Rolling Stones song, which really cost a lot of money.
- Later in that same episode, Tom Hanks came out to the tune of "Lovely Rita" by the Beatles, ostensibly a tribute to his wife Rita Wilson. According to Questlove, Jimmy Fallon's band leader and drummer for The Roots, the song cost NBC up to $500,000 in royalty fees.
- Unperson: Shortly after the end of Conan's run, NBC erased just about every single trace of him from their website even going back to before his Late Night run, including his picture from the mural at 30 Rockefeller Center (replacing it with Leno). Pretty much the only things involving Conan still on the NBC and Hulu websites are the episode of Saturday Night Live he guest hosted in 2001, and the 30 Rock episode "Tracy Does Conan" in which he guests and plays an important role in the plot. Even the "Tonight Show Experience" website, a grand multimedia salute to the Long Runner show's history, was yanked out of existence.
- Referenced in a mock audition/comedy skit on Conan. Andy is "auditioning" for the announcer position on the show when Conan asks about his previous work experience. After Andy stated he was the announcer on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, Conan asks if there is any video to prove this. Andy sadly replies no.
- Widget Series: Perhaps the only major late night show to become one, ever. That's saying something.
- Zeerust: Deliberately invoked by "In The Year 3000", a continuation of his "In The Year 2000" bits on Late Night.
Jimmy Fallon's incarnation of the show includes:
- Accent On The Wrong Syllable: Jimmy's made a Running Gag out of pronouncing the word "controversy" as "con-TRO-ver-sy" instead of the expected "CON-tro-ver-sy". While this is the legitimate pronunciation of the word across the pond, it always gets chuckles from the American audience.
- Adam Westing: The local NBC news anchors play themselves for "I've Got Good News and Good News".
- Anvil on Head: Or rather, anvil on crotch. A pratfall (along with a random dog that bites his crotch) that frequently occurs to Patrick the writer.
- Beware Of Vicious Dog: Patrick the writer is always mauled by a stray dog. Often lampshaded by Fallon, who is confused why there are random dogs wandering the studio.
- Big Applesauce: Production of the show returned to New York when Fallon took over.
- Blatant Lies: The premise of "Box of Lies", where the object is to trick the other player about the contents of a box.
- Call Back: In one monologue, Jimmy discussed Rob Ford, and he and Steve came up with the joke "Want some crack with that?" Later, during #Hashtags, Steve pretended to call Jimmy on an imaginary cell phone and asked him, "Want some crack with that?"
- The Cameo: During his first episode as host, Fallon thanked all the people who'd supported him, then said, "To my buddy who said that I'd never be the host of the Tonight Show — and you know who you are — you owe me a hundred bucks, buddy." Then began a parade of people coming onstage and walking up to Fallon's desk to hand him a $100 bill, including Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Joe Namath, Rudolph Giuliani (who thanked Fallon for returning the show to NYC), Mariah Carey, Tracy Morgan, Joan Rivers, Kim Kardashian, Seth Rogen, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Tyson (who also gives him a gift certificate for an Indian restaurant), Lady Gaga, and finally Stephen Colbert (the heir-apparent to David Letterman on CBS when he retires from the Late Show in 2015)...who dumped a bucket of pennies on the desk and down Fallon's shirt before shouting, "Welcome to 11:30, bitch!" in his face. (Watch the whole thing here.)
- Catch Phrase: Fallon almost always opens his first monologue joke with: "Here's what everyone's talking about..." or a variant.
- "Hashtags" always features Fallon mentioning that this week's Twitter discussion became a "world-wide trending topic". He also always asks the audience, "You guys are on Twitter, right?" (audience cheers)
- Steve Higgins frequently says "Come on!" (as in "Come on, how awesome is that?") when Jimmy announces one of the guests.
- Fallon frequently says "Hot crowd!" and/or "I feel the love!" during audience cheers/applause at the top of the show.
- Cluster F-Bomb / Sound Effect Bleep: When Jimmy fires Rose the Camerawoman, Rose leaves while cursing up a storm.
- At the start of "Thank You Notes", James Poyser plays some piano music to accompany it, and Jimmy and Steve Higgins often comment on his facial expressions as he plays. This often causes Poyser to crack a smile, even if he's trying to maintain a serious look.
- When he and Carol Burnett were doing a skit for "Tensions", Jimmy Fallon was visibly corpsing on the second clip when the cappuccino foam didn't come off properly. Earlier, Carol was giving him tips on how to prevent corpsing.
- Couch Gag / Once an Episode: Towards the end of the opening theme song, The Roots will shout which episode number it is.
- Dramatic Unmask: Hashtag the Panda unmasked in a June 2014 episode. Turns out it was Ben Stiller all along.
- Drone of Dread: An ominous held note is heard in "Water War" and "Box of Lies".
- Occasionally in the monologue, if Jimmy is smiling about something, his expression will slowly turn to severely unhappy while an ominous drone plays in the background. And then he snaps out of it like nothing happened.
- Good News, Bad News: "Pros and Cons". Inverted with "I've Got Good News and Good News"
- Helium Speech: Morgan Freeman and Jimmy sucked some helium to talk like this.
- Inner Monologue: An occasional monologue gag involves Jimmy talking about a subject that bores one of the Roots band members because they don't understand it; when Jimmy asks the band member what they think, they start talking about it, and Jimmy has his own inner monologue where he's concerned how much smarter the band member is than he.
- It Is Pronounced Tropay: A running gag is when Fallon pronounces "controversy" as "con-trah-versy", and defends it by saying the show airs in England.
- A joke during "Screengrabs" involved deliberate mispronunciation: After "retiring" from the business after a successful improvised joke, Steve Higgins briefly stepped off camera, only to return a few seconds later, with an exhausted look. Fallon asked how the real world was, and Higgins said, "Not good. I joined a group called "Is Is..." It took a moment for the joke to sink in with the audience.
- Kayfabe: When Jimmy and a guest do a skit, they like to pretend they're those characters. It was not broken until Mario Batali mentioned offhandedly.
- Mondegreen: Invoked: In one of the #Hashtags segments about worst fights, one poster said they once had an argument with their girlfriend because she thought the slogan for Little Caesar's was "Eat some pizza". note
- Newscaster Cameo: Has local NBC anchors submit parody videos of themselves doing (fictional) good news for "I've Got Good News and Good News."
- Obligatory Joke: When the subject of sailboats came up, Jimmy told guest Morgan Freeman that he'd love to take a boat ride with him, because then he could call him "Captain Morgan".
- Overly Long Gag: Whenever Fallon and co-host Steve Higgins banter back and forth during a comedy bit.
- The above-mentioned "You owe me a hundred bucks, buddy" scene.
- Seeing how long The Roots can keep Hashtag the Panda dancing (by repeating his theme music over and over) is definitely this.
- Panda-ing to the Audience: Hashtag the Panda, a performer in a full-body panda suit, dances about — to the point of Overly Long Gag — in the wake of particularly corny monologue jokes. Introduced as a temporary Running Gag in response to a news story about a Chinese zoo that put a television in a panda's pen to help with its depression, the faux panda quickly became an audience favorite; its name was the winner in a fan suggestion contest on Twitter. Hashtag has since only been brought out sporadically, such as during the week the show spent at Universal Orlando in June 2014 — and Ben Stiller turned out to be in the suit, claiming to have been Hashtag all along in an effort to promote a new project, to Fallon's perplexment.
- Product Placement: A sly one. Fallon has expressed a desire to get a truck, and on the 3/31/14 episode, he finally announced that he would be buying a Ford F-150. Guess what one of the sponsors for the show is? Ford.
- The various items that were given away to the audience during the "12 Days of Christmas" certainly counts as a plug.
- Rearrange the Song / With Lyrics: On the 10/31/14 episode, The Roots did a cover of the Halloween theme music, and adding rap lyrics to it.
- Running Gag: Fallon and Higgins saying "DVD!" in a jock tone.
- If there's a musical guest, Fallon will play a brief snippet of the song they're going to perform on his laptop and then stop it, saying that the audience has to wait until the end of the show to hear the rest.
- So Bad, It's Good: Invoked; the premise of the "Do Not Play List" segment.
- Sore Loser: On the 11/21/14 episode, Michael Cera whupped Jimmy in both Mario Kart (played before the show) and Catch Phrase. When it came time for the interview, Jimmy started out trying to be congenial, but eventually he "snapped" and lashed out at Michael for beating him twice.
Fallon: Because I wanted to BE NICE TO MY GUESTS ON MY SHOW AND LET YOU WIN A GAME!!! WHEN YOU PLAY A GAME, YOU LET SOMEONE WIN!!! AND YOU BEAT ME OUT THERE, AND THEN YOU BEAT ME OUT HERE!!! AND NOW I'M GONNA TALK ABOUT YOUR PLAY, AND HOW EVERYONE SHOULD GO SEE IT, IT'S AT THE COURT THEATER, JANUARY FOURTH!!! HE'S THE BEST ACTOR IN THE WHOLE WILD WORLD!!! MICHAEL CERA, EVERYBODY!!!
- Take That: When NBC anchor Brian Williams was a guest, he delivered quite a few good-natured take thats to Fallon, mostly claiming that his newscast is supporting Fallon's show and that he's doing something that actually matters.
- Toilet Humour: Much mirth has been made over Academy president Cheryl Boone mispronouncing Dick Pope's name as "Dick Poop": Both Jimmy and Steve listed parodies of real movies as other projects Dick Pope has worked on, all with feces-based names.
- Variety Show: He's expressed interest in having more guests give performances as opposed to simply plugging their latest project.
- Voice Clip Song: A recurring segment on the show (carried over from Late Night) has clips of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams edited together to make him seem like he's rapping a famous song. Examples have included "Gin & Juice", "Rapper's Delight", and "Baby Got Back"!