1954: A Brief History of ‘The Tonight Show’
Though a regular staple now, The Tonight Show was originally a 40-minute local TV show that aired from 11:20 p.m. to midnight on WNBT in New York. On this day in 1954, Tonight Starring Steve Allen took flight on NBC with Gene Rayburn serving as his announcer. This led to Allen receiving his own primetime Sunday night show which then led him to give up the Monday and Tuesday night slots to Ernie Kovacs. In January of 1957, both Allen and Kovac were dropped from the show and it became Tonight! America After Dark which became a news and features show. That format didn’t do so well. So on July 29, 1957, Jack Paar began being the host of The Tonight Show. Parr left the show in March of 1962 and it wasn’t until October before the show became The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon serving as the announcer. Carson kept the job until May 22, 1992 when Jay Leno took the reins. That lasted until June 1, 2009 when Conan O’Brien took over the main desk and Leno moved to a nightly 10:00 p.m. timeslot. However, the new Jay Leno Show didn’t work out all that well, so NBC bumped Conan O’Brien out of the Tonight Show on Friday, January 22, 2010 and Leno jumped back in on March 1, 2010. Leno continued on through February 6, 2014. Jimmy Fallon took over on February 17, 2014 and has been in the captain’s chair ever since. Whew. (Images: Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs, Jack Parr, Johnny Carson, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon/Wikimedia)
1956: First Man to Exceed Mach 3
Flying an X-2 rocket-powered plane on this day in 1956, a bizarre set of events happened to Captain Milburn G. Apt. After being launched from a B-50 bomber over the Mojave Desert in California, Apt set a record speed of 3,377 km/h or Mach 3. Unfortunately, due to a loss of control from inertia, the aircraft broke up and caused his death as well. His death was recorded by a stop-frame camera that was mounted behind him in the cockpit. While he did not survive, his video did.
1982: CBS Debuts ‘Square Pegs’
Patty Greene (Parker) and Lauren Hutchinson (Linker) just wante to fit in at Weemawee High School near New York City in Square Pegs. They were among the eight freshman featured on the show created by former Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts. Patty is well-adjusted but awkward around the “popular” students and all Lauren wants is to be a part of that crowd. Their friends include comedian wanna-be Marshall Blechtman (Femia), new wave Johnny “Slash” Ulasewicz (Butrick), valley girl Jennifer DiNuccio (Nelson), the dense Vinni Pasetta (Jon Caliri) and sassy LaDonna Fredericks (Wells).
The show’s theme song featured music by The Waitresses who also appeared as a band playing at a school dance. Other musical talent who appeared on the show included former drummer for The Doors, John Densmore who played himself and a member of Slash’s band and the group Devo. Bill Murray even guest starred in one episode.
Despite good reviews from critics, Square Pegs struggled in the ratings but it wasn’t the ratings the ultimately did the show in. During production of the show, which took place at the abandoned Excelsior High School about 20 miles from CBS Television in Los Angeles, Embassy Television received a number of reports of drugs and alcohol abuse on the set in the presence of minors. There was apparent rampant drug abuse among the teen cast as well causing Embassy to cancel production of the show.
- 1934: Wilford Brimley (actor)
- 1947: Meat Loaf (singer)
- 1958: Shaun Cassidy (actor)
- 1972: Gwyneth Paltrow (actress)
- 1984: Avril Lavigne (singer)
- 2002: Jenna Ortega (actor)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.