As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
May 25, 1992
Jay Leno's first Tonight Show.
When Carson announced his retirement in 1992, Jay Leno succeeded him as host (Jay Leno, who became "permanent guest host" in 1987.), much to the outrage of David Letterman, host of Late Night, which ran after Tonight. The following year, Letterman accepted CBS's $42 million offer for his own show and launched the Late Show in 1993, running against Leno's time slot. Letterman beat Leno every week for the show's first year.
On September 22, 2006, Variety reported that The Tonight Show led in ratings for the 11th consecutive season, with a nightly average of 5.7 million viewers – 31% of the total audience in that time slot – compared to 4.2 million viewers for the Late Show with David Letterman, 3.4 million for Nightline and 1.6 million for Jimmy Kimmel Live. When the Leno show initially directly faced Letterman's show, Letterman initially led in ratings, however the turning episode is generally marked when Hugh Grant appeared on Leno (July 10, 1995). Leno famously asked Grant "What the hell were you thinking?" referring to Grant's arrest for seeing a prostitute.
NBC announced in 2004 that Leno would leave The Tonight Show at the end of May 2009, handing the reins to Conan O'Brien. However, following rumors of Leno being interested in moving elsewhere to launch a competing program, NBC signed Leno to a new deal for a nightly talk show in the 10:00 p.m. ET timeslot. The primetime series, tentatively titled The Jay Leno Show, will debut in fall 2009, following a similar format to the Leno incarnation of Tonight.
In their new roles, neither O'Brien nor Leno succeeded in delivering the viewing audiences the network anticipated. On January 7, 2010, multiple media outlets reported that beginning March 1, 2010, Jay Leno would move from his 10pm weeknight time slot to 11:35pm, due to a combination of pressure from local affiliates whose newscasts were suffering, and both Leno's and O'Brien's poor ratings. Leno's show would be shortened from an hour to 30 minutes. All NBC late night programming would be preempted by the 2010 Winter Olympics between February 15 and February 26. This would move The Tonight Show to 12:05am, a post-midnight timeslot for the first time in its history. O'Brien's contract stipulated that NBC could move the show back to 12:05 a.m. without penalty (a clause put in primarily to accommodate sports preemptions).
On January 10, NBC confirmed that they would move Jay Leno out of primetime as of February 12 and intended to move him to late night as soon as possible. TMZ reported that O'Brien was given no advance notice of this change, and that NBC offered him two choices: an hour-long 12:05am time slot, or the option to leave the network. On January 12, O'Brien issued a press release that stated he would not continue with Tonight if it moved to a 12:05am time slot, saying, "I believe that delaying The Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show."
On January 21, it was announced that NBC had struck a deal with O'Brien. It was decided that O'Brien would leave The Tonight Show. The deal was made that O'Brien would receive a $33 million payout and that his staff of almost 200 would receive $12 million in the departure. O'Brien's final episode aired on Friday, January 22. Leno returned as host of The Tonight Show following the 2010 Winter Olympics on March 1, 2010.
May 28, 1998
Comic Phil Hartman killed by wife Brynn, in a murder-suicide.
He was 49. Born on September 24, 1948, in Ontario, Canada, Hartman was raised in Connecticut and Southern California, and later became an American citizen. Early on, he found work designing record album covers (he created the official logo for the rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) but made the leap to acting in 1975 when he joined the L.A. improvisational acting group, the Groundlings. With his fellow Groundlings alum, Paul Reubens, Hartman wrote the screenplay for the successful comedy Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). Along with Reubens, Hartman had helped create the zany man-child character of Pee Wee Herman, though Reubens received most of the credit. From 1986 to 1990, Hartman portrayed Kap’n Karl on the Saturday morning children’s TV series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
Also in 1986, Hartman earned a spot on the long-running NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. In his eight years on the show, Hartman became known for his spot-on impersonations of a variety of celebrities, notably President Bill Clinton. He also made frequent guest appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In 1989, Hartman shared an Emmy Award for his writing contributions to Saturday Night Live. He went on to set a record for the most appearances (153) as one of the show’s regulars.
Hartman joined the cast of the TV sitcom NewsRadio in 1995. He played the egotistical anchorman of an AM radio news station in New York City through four seasons of the show’s five-year run. The ensemble cast also included Dave Foley, Maura Tierney and Andy Dick. Hartman also notably provided the voices for a number of characters, including the has-been actor Troy McClure and the incompetent lawyer Lionel Hurtz, on the acclaimed animated series The Simpsons. In addition to his TV work as an actor and pitchman (for MCI, McDonald’s and Cheetos, among others), Hartman appeared on the big screen in Blind Date (1987), Jingle All the Way (1996) and Small Soldiers, released after his death.
Off-screen, Hartman was popular among his Hollywood colleagues and known for being completely different from some of the more unlikable characters he had portrayed. The murder-suicide, which shocked fans and friends alike, occurred early on the morning of May 28, 1998, at the couple’s home in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino. According to news reports, Brynn, Hartman’s third wife (two previous marriages ended in divorce) had a history of drug and alcohol problems. The couple had two children.
May 29, 2003
Bob Hope celebrates 100th birthday
Some 35 U.S. states declare it to be Bob Hope Day on this day in 2003, when the iconic comedic actor and entertainer turns 100 years old.
In a public ceremony held in Hollywood, city officials renamed the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Avenue--famous for its historic buildings and as a central point on the Hollywood Walk of Fame--Bob Hope Square. Several 1940s-era U.S. planes flew overhead as part of an air show honoring Hope’s longtime role as an entertainer of U.S. armed forces all over the world. Hope, who was then suffering from failing eyesight and hearing and had not been seen in public for three years, was too ill to attend the public ceremonies. Three of his children attended the naming ceremony, along with some of his younger show-business colleagues, including Mickey Rooney.
One of the leading talents on the vaudeville scene by the 1930s, the London-born, American-raised Hope met his future wife (of nearly seven decades), the nightclub singer Dolores Reade, while he was performing on Broadway in the musical Roberta. They married in 1934, and four years later Hope launched his own radio program, The Bob Hope Show, which would run for the next 18 years. One of the country’s most popular comics, Hope had a successful film career largely thanks to the series of seven “Road” movies he made with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, including Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (1946) and Road to Rio (1947).
In 1941, after America’s entrance into World War II, Hope began performing for U.S. troops abroad; he would play shows for more than a million American servicemen by 1953. Some 65 million people watched him perform for troops in Vietnam on Christmas Eve in 1966, in his largest broadcast. Hope also became a legend for his countless TV specials, which he would perform over the course of some five decades. He hosted the Academy Awards ceremony a total of 18 times, more than any other Oscars host.
Dubbed “Mr. Entertainment” and the “King of Comedy,” Hope died on July 27, 2003, less than two months after his 100th birthday celebration. He was survived by Dolores, their four adopted children--Linda, Anthony, Nora and Kelly--and four grandchildren.
May 30, 1908
Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and countless other Warner Bros. cartoon characters, was born in San Francisco.
His parents, who ran a women's clothing business, moved with their son to Portland, Oregon, when Blanc was a child. Blanc began performing as a musician and singer on local radio programs in Portland before he was 20. In the late 1920s, he and his wife, Estelle, created a daily radio show called "Cobwebs and Nuts," which became a hit. Blanc made many other radio appearances and became a regular on Jack Benny's hit radio show, providing the sounds of Benny's ancient car (The Maxwell) and playing several other characters.
In 1937, Blanc made his debut with Warner Bros., providing the voice for a drunken bull in a short cartoon called Picador Porky. Another actor provided the pig's voice, but Blanc later replaced him. In 1940, Bugs Bunny debuted in a short called A Wild Hare. Blanc said he wanted the rabbit to sound tough and streetwise, so he created a comic combination of Bronx and Brooklyn accents. Other characters Blanc created for Warner Bros. included the Road Runner, Sylvester, and Tweety Bird. He performed in some 850 cartoons for Warner Bros. during his 50-year career. For other studios, he provided the voices of Barney Rubble and Dino the dinosaur in The Flintstones, Mr. Spacely for The Jetsons, and Woody Woodpecker's laugh.
In his 1988 autobiography, That's Not All Folks, Blanc described a nearly fatal traffic accident that left him in a coma. Unable to rouse him by using his real name, a doctor finally said, "How are you, Bugs Bunny?" and Mel replied, in Bugs' voice, "Ehh, just fine, doc. How are you?"
Blanc continued to provide voices until the late 1980s, most memorably voicing Daffy Duck dueling with Donald Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). After Mel Blanc died of complications from heart disease, his son Noel, trained by his father, provided the voices for the characters the elder Blanc had helped bring to life.
To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".