Tonight Show, The (1962)

Jack Paar hosted his final episode of Tonight on March 30, 1962. Johnny Carson had been signed to replace him but Johnny was still under contract to host Who Do You Trust on ABC and wouldn’t be free until later that year. So for six months, guest hosts helmed the late night show, starting with Art Linkletter. Among others who took a week or two were Soupy Sales, Jerry Lewis, Joey Bishop, Steve Lawrence, Groucho Marx, Arlene Francis, Mort Sahl, Jack E. Leonard, Hal March, Donald O’Connor and even Paar’s old sidekick, Hugh Downs, who stayed on as announcer for the transition period and hosted at least one week. The above ticket is from one of several weeks hosted by Merv Griffin. NBC had him signed to do The Merv Griffin Show in the afternoons, just to keep him around in case Johnny bombed.

The six months of temps are truly lost episodes. There are no known videotapes or kinescopes, and pretty much everyone has forgotten about the period. My fuzzy memory — I was ten at the time — was that some of the hosts did a pretty good job, perhaps auditioning just in case Johnny didn’t work out. Others figured they had nothing to lose and turned the show into one long commercial for their other endeavors. Reportedly, Carson watched a few broadcasts in the latter category and called NBC to complain that they were destroying the show he was going to be taking over. Dick Cavett, who had previously been a Talent Coordinator for Paar, was on the writing staff.

One other note: Although it was casually referred to as The Tonight Show, it was not called that until Paar left. The Steve Allen version was called Tonight, as was the Paar version for his first few years, after which it became Jack Paar Tonight and then The Jack Paar Show. But Tonight and The Tonight Show were used informally throughout those years. Some TV listings still called it Tonight long after it was The Jack Paar Show on the air. So if one wanted to split follicles, one could say that the first host of The Tonight Show was Art Linkletter.