Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon


Airs Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Johnny Carson, host of

Credit: Courtesy of Library of Congress, NY World Collection

Above: Johnny Carson, host of "The Tonight Show."

They were the stars of the small screen in the early years of television, and much of the nation came to a halt whenever their shows aired. They strolled, sprinted, fought, laughed, cried and loved through worlds that took viewers to places past, present and future. As the originators of these innovative television formats, they provided an essential escape for millions of viewers who eagerly waited to watch them each week.

The stories of Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson headline this episode about the formative years of late-night television.

Merv Griffin also emerges as a key player on the late-night scene. His interview for "Pioneers Of Television" was his last before passing away. Regis Philbin offers revelations about his years as a late-night sidekick (to Joey Bishop). Dick Cavett and Arsenio Hall also discuss their years in the mix, and Sigourney Weaver offers personal details about her father, Pat - the inventor of "Tonight."

The episode is peppered with dozens of never-before-seen clips, including Johnny Carson performing in his early 20s.

Preview: Pioneers Of Television: Late Night

The late-night escapades of Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson enter primetime in this episode from "Pioneers Of Television" about the formative years of late-night television.

Pioneers Of Television: Betty White’s Favorite Late Night Skit

Actress Betty White describes performing a favorite skit with Johnny Carson and what happens when everything goes wrong on live television.

Pioneers Of Television: Dick Cavett on Meeting Johnny Carson

In this clip from "Pioneers Of Television: Late Night," comedian Dick Cavett recalls meeting a young Johnny Carson on the set of his television show in Omaha, Nebraska.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.