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Greatest 'Tonight Show' Moments

by AOL TV Staff, posted May 13th 2009 6:00AM
Hugh Grant The Tonight Show'The Tonight Show' has been a late-night institution for more than 50 years (yes, that's right -- half a century).

Jack Paar, who took over the reins from Steve Allen in '57, put the show on the map, with big-name guests and outspoken antics. Johnny Carson, who stepped in when Paar left, made the show appointment viewing for millions of fans and became one of the most beloved TV hosts of all time.

Now, with Jay Leno's last 'Tonight Show' airing Fri., May 29, and Conan O'Brien taking the desk while Leno makes the unprecedented move to prime time, to a 10 PM slot in the fall, we look back and count down the top 20 moments of 'The Tonight Show.'


Top 20 Tonight Show Moments

    'The Tonight Show' has been a late-night institution for more than 50 years (yes, that's right -- half a century). Jack Paar, who took over the reins from Steve Allen in '57, put the show on the map, with big-name guests and outspoken antics. Johnny Carson, who stepped in when Paar left, made the show appointment viewing for millions of fans and became one of the most beloved TV hosts of all time.

    Now, with Jay Leno's last 'Tonight Show' airing Fri., May 29, and Conan O'Brien taking the desk while Leno makes the unprecedented move to prime time, to a 10 PM slot in the fall, we look back and count down the top 20 moments of 'The Tonight Show.' -- By Liane Bonin

    NBCU Photo Bank / NBC

    20. Ellen gets couched (1986)

    Only a select few comics were ever invited to take a seat on Johnny Carson's couch, and until Ellen DeGeneres got the nod, not one had been female. Good thing Ellen saw it coming. "I'm sitting on this mattress infested with fleas [in 1980], and I thought...'I'm going to get called over to the couch, and I'll be the first woman in history ever to get called over,'" she later told 'Today.'



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    Ron Galella, WireImage

    19. Johnny does Hamlet (1982)

    When Johnny Carson took a crack at the "to be or not to be" soliloquy, it had to be good. Bringing the Bard up to date, Carson interjected fake product advertisements throughout the Shakespearean monologue to create one of the most memorable skits on the show.



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    Reed Saxon, AP

    18. Obama speaks (2009)

    While many a presidential candidate has turned to late-night TV to drum up votes before an election, Obama's appearance was the first time a sitting president appeared on 'The Tonight Show.' Luckily, Leno didn't blow the opportunity, asking the question we'd all been wondering about: "Now, when is the dog coming?"



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    NBC

    17. Stewart's dead dog (1981)

    An elderly Jimmy Stewart frequently appeared on 'The Tonight Show' to read poems he'd written. The appearances were sometimes touching, but frequently felt like a visit to the retirement home to humor Grandpa. But when Stewart read an ode to his dog Beau, both Carson and Stewart -- as well as the audience -- wiped away real tears.



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    Gene Lester, Getty Images

    16. Rivers meets River (1986)

    During her stint as a guest host on 'The Tonight Show,' comedian Joan Rivers (wearing a tiara and ball gown for the occasion) chats up a 16-year-old River Phoenix. Watching him wisecrack with Joan and talk about normal kid stuff just reminds us of the charming kid he was in movies like 'Stand By Me,' the mature talent he grew into in 'My Own Private Idaho' -- and how much we miss him.



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    Getty Images (2)

    15. Jeers and 'Cheers' (1993)

    Following the finale of the hit TV show 'Cheers,' the show broadcast live from Boston's Bull & Finch Pub. Unfortunately, the drawback of having a live show at a bar is that your guests can actually drink. Several stars of the show became noticeably sloshed, leaving Leno to try to control the chaos -- and failing miserably.



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    Richard Howard, Getty Images

    14. Leno hosts Paar (1994)

    During a week of filming in New York in 1994, Jay Leno got back to the show's roots by inviting 'The Tonight Show''s first host, Jack Paar, back to the show. Not surprisingly, Paar was once again controversial, expressing how much he didn't like the show's next guest, Madonna.



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    Lois Bernstein, AP

    13. Johnny climbs Ed (1979)

    Though Johnny Carson always joked around with sidekick Ed McMahon, they got a little closer than usual when an animal expert brought a panther to the show. When Carson moved too close to the cage, the big cat took a swipe at the host. Carson's response? Pretending to be terrified, he ran across the stage and jumped into McMahon's arms for a clip that became a classic.



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    Ron Galella, WireImage

    12. Katie steps in (2003)

    To drive ratings during a sweeps period, Katie Couric and Leno swapped jobs for a day. It's the only time Leno has ever allowed another host to sub for him, and he may want to watch his back. While Leno held his own on the 'Today' show, Couric showed off her legs and brought her sunshine-y disposition to the monologue, resulting in a surprisingly solid showing.



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    Scott Gries, Getty Images




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I agree about Wanda Sykes...I like Jay ,too!!

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stardvdcity

May 24 2010 at 11:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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