The free-form Tonight Show Steverino originated in 1953 forever set the comedic tone for late-night TV and beyond. Allen assembled a group of night-owl pals who sat around a couch-and-desk set, joked about the day’s events and peppered funny skits throughout. (The unending train of plugs for guests’ new movies and albums would come much later.)
Tonight first aired nationally in 1954, live from New York, and within months the witty host was America’s favorite funnyman. He had a ripening bunch of second bananas (Louis Nye, Tom Poston, Don Knotts) and created the pre-Carnac “Question Man,” who guessed questions. Sample answer: “Et tu, Bruté?” Sample question: “How many pieces of pizza did you eat, Caesar?”
His Legacy: Loony stunts. Loopy man-on-the-street interviews. Loose banter with the studio audience. (Occasionally, Allen would climb a ladder into the theater’s balcony to get up close and personal.) All Allen creations, and just a sampling of the stuff borrowed by Carson, Leno, Letterman, Conan and more.
The Last Word: “He was a trailblazer. Every late-night show is basically his offspring.” –Howard Stern