The Tonight Show is a late-night television variety program that has aired on the NBC broadcasting network since 1954. Previously hosted by Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and Conan O'Brien. In 2014, Jay Leno left The Tonight Show after his second tenure since his return after the 2010 conflict where Conan O'Brien left due to disagreements. In February 2014, Jimmy Fallon took over as host. The show is now The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
1992 Tonight Show Conflict
On May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson's final episode of the Tonight Show aired. Three days later, Jay Leno began his first run as host of the show. However, Carson had always seen David Letterman, who, at the time, was the Host of Late Night, as his proper successor. However, NBC went with Leno instead. This caused a rift between Leno and Letterman, which lasted for years. For the first three years of Leno's run, the ratings were low. However, after a 1995 episode in which Hugh Grant appeared on the show following lewd conduct charges, Leno would become number one in the ratings, a position he would hold until 2009. Eventually, Letterman would leave NBC and host his own show Late Show with David Letterman on CBS, which he would host from 1993-2015. In the fall of 2015, Stephen Colbert would take over Late Show for Letterman. Meanwhile, Conan O'Brien would replace Letterman as host of Late Night from 1993-2009.
2010 Tonight Show Conflict
In 2004, it was announced that in 2009, Jay Leno would leave the Tonight Show and that Conan O'Brien would succeed him. This was done as O'Brien was getting offers from other networks, most notably FOX. However Leno, who had been number one in the Late Night television ratings since his 1995 Hugh Grant interview, stayed number one up until Leno's final episode in 2009. On June 1, 2009, O'Brien's run as host of the Tonight Show began. Although ratings started strong, they quickly went into decline. Within a week, Letterman was beating O'Brien in the ratings. Some NBC affiliates had even threated to not air The Tonight Show in their respective areas unless things changed. In response, NBC went to Jay Leno in an attempt to help ratings. This resulted in The Jay Leno Show, which began on September 14, 2009 at 10pm. However, NBC had told Leno that as the new TV season starts, he would not do well in the ratings, but when reruns began, his ratings would do better. The show aired the remainder of the year, and ratings did not improve. NBC's idea was to move The Jay Leno Show to 11:35pm, move O'Brien to 12:05am, move Late Night, hosted by Jimmy Fallon to 1:05am, and Carson Daly to 2:05am. However, O'Brien refused to move to a different timeslot, his reason being that if the Tonight Show moved to 12:05, it wouldn't be the Tonight Show anymore. Ultimately, O'Brien decided to walk and take a payout, although a stipulation of the decision was the he could not host another show for several months. O'Brien's final Tonight Show aired on January 22, 2010. During the next several months, O'Brien would make a deal with TBS to host his own show at 11:00pm. Conan would begin on TBS on November 8, 2010. Jay Leno would return as host of the Tonight Show on March 1, 2010, after the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Leno would continue to host the Tonight Show until February 6, 2014. On February 17, 2014, Jimmy Fallon would take over as host of the Tonight Show.
Support for O'Brien, Criticism of Leno
During the conflict, public support for O'Brien was nearly universal, as many saw it as Leno deliberately planning things to get the Tonight Show back. Leno received great criticism as a result. Most notably, from Howard Stern and Rosie O'Donnell. O'Donnell had been approached to host the Tonight Show on Fridays during Leno's first run, but Leno shot the idea down. Stern claims that Leno stole many of his segments, among them being Leno's Jaywalking segment. However, Leno had supporters as well. Most notably Bill Maher, Gregg "Opie" Hughes, Anthony Cumia, and Jim Norton (the latter three being the hosts of the Opie & Anthony show). Many say that O'Brien's brand of humor, which he carried over from Late Night worked better with the college-age demographic rather than Middle America, which was the main target audience of The Tonight Show. Supporters of O'Brien say that he only had a few months, whereas Leno had three years between his first episode and his interview with Hugh Grant.