Pioneers of Television: Season 1, Episode 2

Late Night (9 Jan. 2008)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary
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In the early years of US television, a new form of entertainment was created: the late night talk show. Steve Allen was the first of his kind and he was noted for its wacky comedy and ... See full summary »

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Title: Late Night (09 Jan 2008)

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Episode credited cast:
Himself (archive footage)
Cliff Arquette ...
Charlie Weaver (archive footage)
Count Basie ...
Himself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Himself / Carnac the Magnificent (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Dagmar ...
Herself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Genevieve ...
Herself (archive footage)


In the early years of US television, a new form of entertainment was created: the late night talk show. Steve Allen was the first of his kind and he was noted for its wacky comedy and willingness to engage in crazy stunts. It was also a showcase for African-American performers such as Cab Calloway and Count Basie. He was succeeded in 1957 by Jack Paar, a skilled interviewer who got his start in radio and brought the art of conversation to the small screen. Johnny Carson followed as the next and undoubtedly most popular host of the show. He agreed somewhat reluctantly and became a TV staple for the next 30 years. His success led to many others trying their hand at the format, some successfully, including Merv Griffin, Joey Bishop and Dick Cavett. Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

9 January 2008 (USA)  »

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1.78 : 1
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Features The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) See more »

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"They gave us a reason to stay up late."
10 March 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

All you need to know about this Pioneers episode is expressed in my summary line; after that, the rest of the review writes itself. The history of late night talk shows dates back to 1954 when comedian Steve Allen was tapped to pioneer this new genre, and in the process, accidentally invented a new approach to broadcast comedy. After three seasons, Jack Paar took "The Tonight Show" in a different direction with his emphasis on the interview format, making small talk seem wonderful and bringing celebrities into viewers' homes in a way that hadn't been seen before. From 1962 on, it was Johnny Carson who placed his imprint on the late night format, and as sometime competitor Arsenio Hall described Johnny - "They don't call him the King for nothing."

I remember Allen and Paar as a kid in the Fifties, but didn't get to stay up late until well into Johnny's historic run. The Sixties might have been a bit beyond TV's Golden Age, but for Carson it couldn't have been sweeter. Carson had this unique ability to deadpan his guests and get them to crack up at the same time, and catching clips of his old shows are a treat to this day.

After catching a few of these Pioneer episodes, I find them to be a mixed bag quality wise. Perhaps understandable, as how can you cram two or three decades of entertainment history into an hour long format? This entry seemed to be a fairly credible history of Late Night TV, even if it felt like a lot of it might have been glossed over. Taken another way, if you spent a good part of your life watching late night TV in real time, a show like this can do nothing but skim the surface.

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