“Late Night” tells the story of how after hours television went from bad movies and test patterns to quality programming containing comedy, stimulating discussion and vintage musical performances. Included on “Late Night” are rare clips from the early days of such programs as the “Tonight Show” as well as interviews from various talk show hosts, guests and producers. Among those sharing their insights are Dick Cavett, Regis Philbin, Arsenio Hall and Merv Griffin. Special attention should be given to an appearance by Sigourney Weaver, who discusses her father Pat, the NBC executive credited for creating the “Tonight Show” back in 1954, thereby inventing the late night talk show. Broadcast live, the “Tonight Show” gave viewers a level of daring and spontaneity not found anywhere else on television.
As the first host of the “Tonight Show,” Steve Allen became America’s first late night television star. While Allen and his successor Jack Paar gained tremendous followings, it’s Johnny Carson who will remain, for all time, the undisputed king of late night broadcasting. Taking over the show in 1962, Carson developed a style that made him a bigger star than almost any of the entertainment figures that appeared on his show. Carson’s success and the profit NBC earned from the “Tonight Show” spawned many imitators. Joey Bishop, Dick Cavett, Les Crane, and Merv Griffin all tried and failed to compete with Carson, who remained at the top until his retirement in 1992. One of the special treats offered by “Late Night” is footage from Johnny Carson’s first ever TV venture, “Carson’s Cellar,” that ran locally in the Los Angeles area from 1951 to 1953. Although “Carson’s Cellar” was a simple little sketch comedy show with almost no budget, the nearly 60 year old film reveals that Johnny, still in his 20’s, was already demonstrating a mastery of the medium that would make him a legend.