Inventing Late Night: Steve Allen and the Original Tonight Show

Inventing Late Night: Steve Allen and the Original Tonight Show

by Ben Alba
     
 

"If you have ever turned on the TV after the 11 o’clock news and laughed, you owe Steve Allen a debt of gratitude." That’s how Entertainment Weekly described Steve Allen’s enormous contribution to American popular culture in a tribute to the legendary entertainer after his death on October 30, 2000. Steve Allen created the Tonight show —

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Overview

"If you have ever turned on the TV after the 11 o’clock news and laughed, you owe Steve Allen a debt of gratitude." That’s how Entertainment Weekly described Steve Allen’s enormous contribution to American popular culture in a tribute to the legendary entertainer after his death on October 30, 2000. Steve Allen created the Tonight show — America’s longest running entertainment show and most successful late-night TV show. In so doing he led the way for other American icons: Johnny Carson, Jack Paar, David Letterman, and Jay Leno. The formula we all now take for granted did not exist before Allen: the desk, the opening monologue, breezy chats with celebrities, wacky stunts, comedy sketches, cameras roaming down the hall and outside the theater, off-the-cuff interviews with passers-by, and ad-lib banter with the studio audience. It’s all great fun and it’s all due to the incredibly witty, incurably silly, musically gifted, and ever-likeable Steve Allen.
Based on exclusive interviews, Ben Alba has produced this wonderful history of the first Tonight show, complete with terrific photos from the show and revealing insights from over 30 entertainment legends who knew and worked with Steve Allen — including Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, Don Knotts, Louis Nye, Tom Poston, Bill Dana, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Andy Williams, Tim Conway, the Smothers Brothers, Diahann Carroll, Eartha Kitt, Bill Dana, and Doc Severinsen. In addition, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Bill Maher, Bob Costas, and other TV veterans reflect on Allen’s contributions.
Starting with Allen’s early career in radio, Alba shows how the young radio talent developed many of the elements that would soon light up late-night television. He then highlights Allen’s many innovations that made the Tonight show so appealing and enduring: the single-guest and single theme shows, road shows and live segments from across the country, Broadway shows visiting Tonight, creating a forum for jazz artistry and a groundbreaking showcase for African-American talent, musical tributes, and the use of the studio audience as a comedy goldmine.
Alba has created an invaluable, entertaining, and revealing behind-the-scenes look at the birth of an American television institution and its brilliant inventor, whose influence continues to make America stay awake and laugh —night after night.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[W]e now have the definitive fan history of the Steve Allen Tonight Show – written for fans and also for those who never knew Allen directly…fans of TV, scholars and those just plain interested in early television should be grateful for this volume….There is much to learn from Alba’s book."
- Television Quarterly
"Finally, proof positive that Allen created the late-night format and many of the routines and characters aped by Carson, Letterman, et al...A-"
- Entertainment Weekly
"[A] detailed, often amusing, and entertaining nostalgia trip for those old enough to remember and an insightful view of the early history of television for those too young to have been there….Recommended."
- Choice
"Those old enough to remember the early days of television will enjoy Inventing Late Night: Steve Allen and the Original Tonight Show by Ben Alba with a foreword by Jay Leno ($26.00, Prometheus Books). This book will particularly please readers who are interested in the behind the scenes story of both the genius of Allen and the way the show originated and evolved. Created in 1954, The Tonight Show is the longest-running and most successful late night program and it was Allen who invented the formula with which we are all now familiar…makes for great reading."
- Bookviews.com
"Steve Allen had a tremendous influence on me. He was the inspiration for everything we do here."
- Jay Leno

"Steve Allen was an enormous influence on television. His early work is really the foundation for what late night shows have become."
- David Letterman

"Everybody who ever has done a talk show should pay a royalty to Steve Allen."
- Bill Maher

Booklist
"Steve Allen-not Johnny Carson, not Jack Parr-was the progenitor of the late-night TV yap-fest, and Alba's tribute to his pioneering includes current midnight-oil-burning rivals Leno and Letterman acknowledging their indebtedness-.Including the history of the Tonight Show band from Skitch Henderson to Doc Severinsen, this is great stuff for broadcasting and pop-culture collections, though sufficiently conversational and nostalgia-soaked for non-specialist readers."
October 1, 2005

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781591023425
Publisher:
Prometheus Books
Publication date:
10/28/2005
Pages:
325
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

What People are saying about this

Bill Maher
"Everybody who ever has done a talk show should pay a royalty to Steve Allen."
From interview with author Ben Alba, August 5, 1998
David Letterman
"Steve Allen was an enormous influence on television. His early work is really the foundation for what late night shows have become."
a public statement release, November 1, 2000
Jay Leno
"Steve Allen had a tremendous influence on me. He was the inspiration for everything we do here."
On Air Tonight Show Tribute, October 31, 2000

Meet the Author

Ben Alba (Chicago, IL) is an author, a trial lawyer, a law professor, a musician, and a classic television buff. He teaches legal writing and codirects the bar passage program at DePaul University College of Law. Previously, he was a litigation attorney for the Chicago law firm of William J. Sneckenberg & Associates (now Sneckenberg, Thompson & Brody).

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