Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:
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.
September 27, 1954
Steve Allen becomes the first host of The Tonight Show.
The first Tonight! announcer was Gene Rayburn. Allen's version of the show originated such talk show staples as an opening monologue, celebrity interviews, audience participation, and comedy bits in which cameras were taken outside the studio, as well as music, including guest performers and a house band under Lyle "Skitch" Henderson.
When the show became a success, Allen got a prime-time Sunday comedy-variety show in June 1956, leading him to share Tonight hosting duties with Ernie Kovacs during the 1956–1957 season. To give Allen time to work on his Sunday evening show, Kovacs hosted Tonight on Monday and Tuesday nights, with his own announcer and bandleader.
During the later Steve Allen years, regular audience member Lillian Miller became such an integral part that she was forced to join AFTRA, the television/radio performers union.
Allen and Kovacs departed Tonight in January 1957 after NBC ordered Allen to concentrate all his efforts on his Sunday night variety program, hoping to combat CBS's Ed Sullivan Show's dominance of the Sunday night ratings.