The Media

The Tonight Show and NBC Disses Ernie


Photo: Cover of Life Magazine, April 1957

Very few people realize that Ernie Kovacs was the host of the Tonight Show in the middle 1950s. And it doesn't really help that NBC and television historians routinely neglect mentioning not just Ernie's part in the show, but his overall influence in those early days of television. (In fact, Steve Allen and other subsequent Tonight Show hosts routinely stole Kovacs' bits and never really gave him proper credit. Allen's "Answer Man" character, in particular, was a direct knockoff of Ernie's "Mr. Question Man". Eventually, it became Carson's famous "Carnac" character.)

Nevertheless, NBC has entirely overlooked Ernie on their 50th Anniversary Tonight Show Experience website. No mention of Kovacs at all. None. Go here to join the campaign to make sure Ernie gets the recognition he deserves.


Ernie with announcer Bill Wendell (who eventually became Letterman's first announcer).

UPDATE: There's been some online discussion as to whether Ernie was merely a guest host during the Steve Allen era. While it's true that Enie hosted fewer episodes than some guest hosts, POVonline notes that the official name of the show was TONIGHT with Ernie Kovacs. Guest hosts, on the other hand, never received title billing which indicates to me that irrespective of how many shows he hosted, Ernie was an official host of the Tonight Show.