Spoofing Johnny Carson's famous set in the 1983 calendar The Muppets Look at TV.

The Tonight Show is a long-running American late-night talk and variety show airing on NBC, the third longest-running entertainment program in U.S. television history. The show's longest running hosts have been Johnny Carson (1962-1992) and Jay Leno (1992-2009, 2010-2014); other hosts include Steve Allen (1953-1957), Jack Paar (1957-1962) and Conan O'Brien (2009-2010); Jimmy Fallon became the host in February 2014.

The Muppets have a long affiliation with the program, dating back to 1956, when Jim and Jane Henson performed Kermit and Yorick performing "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face". This was the first of several performances of Henson's variety show pieces, which continued into the late 1960s.

Henson made several appearances in the mid-70s promoting The Muppet Show, performing many of his new characters -- Dr. Teeth appeared on the program twice in 1975, the Swedish Chef in 1976, and Link Hogthrob in 1977. In September 1976, just before the Muppet Show's premiere, Kermit introduced Carson to stand-up comedian Fozzie Bear.

Kermit filled in for Carson as the guest host on April 2, 1979, to promote the release of The Muppet Movie. The program became somewhat of a Muppet special, with other Muppet characters appearing throughout the show to disrupt things as Kermit tried to interview his guests -- Vincent Price, Bernadette Peters, Leo Sayer and veterinarian Dr. Michael Fox. The show was punctuated with several Muppet musical numbers: two Slinky-shaped Muppets danced to "Java", Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem performed "New York State of Mind", Peters sang "Just One Person" with Robin the Frog, Miss Piggy performed a duet of "When I Need You" with Sayer, and Kermit closed the show with a quiet performance of "Bein' Green". Statler and Waldorf appear in the audience to heckle.

The Muppets' appearances on The Tonight Show continued into the 1980s and beyond, including a 1989 appearance to promote The Jim Henson Hour. In the 1990s, host Jay Leno interviewed Kermit and Miss Piggy several times, with the Muppets appearing three times on the show in 1996.

Tonight! (1953–1957)

Tonight.Show.October.11.1956 - Grown.Accustomed.to.Her.Face.png

Steve Allen hosted the program from 1953 to 1957, though his hosting duties were decreased when Allen's new show The Steve Allen Show premiered in 1956. The show originated for local New York City television in its first year, but was picked up nationally by NBC in September 1954. Andy Williams was the resident singer.


Advertisement shown at The Jim Henson Exhibition in MoMI.

The Jack Paar Show (1957–1962)

Following Allen's departure, the series changed hosts with Jack Paar taking the reins. Though officially still called The Tonight Show, it was also marketed as The Jack Paar Show.


  • November 1, 1957 - The Muppets appear

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962–1992)

May 24, 1974

March 15, 1975

July 25, 1975

July 25, 1975

May 24, 1974

September 14, 1976

Kermit guest hosting in 1979

Johnny Carson took over hosting with Ed McMahon as his sidekick. For all but a few months of its first decade on the air, Carson's show was based in New York City. In May 1972 the show moved to Burbank, California, (although it was announced as coming from nearby Hollywood) for the remainder of his tenure.

Kermit the Frog guest hosted the show for Johnny Carson in 1979, while Grover performed "Near and Far" for the first time on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in the 1969-1970 season.


  • December 31, 1965 - Two sketches were performed. In one a Whatnot continually knocks at bandleader Skitch Henderson's door as he gets drunk and sings "Let Me In". Immediately afterward, Kermit performed "The Glow-Worm" sketch with Big V. This episode was released on the DVD, TONIGHT: 4 Decades of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
  • July 25, 1975 - Kermit the Frog (in a wig) and Yorick sing "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and Jim Henson discusses the art of puppetry with the help of Dr. Teeth. Henson explains that he cannot perform Kermit because he has a cold, so Dr. Teeth sings his own rendition of "Bein' Green".
  • September 14, 1976 - Jim Henson and Frank Oz perform a live sketch with the Swedish Chef, followed by a short interview with Kermit and Fozzie Bear. Jim Henson talks about his new series, The Muppet Show. He shows a clip of the "Rag Mop" number, with behind the scenes footage showing the puppeteers performing the Raggmopps.


  • November 2, 1979: During a monologue piece about Sweeps Week, Johnny mentions an upcoming episode of The Muppet Show where "Miss Piggy exposes her loins."


  • In Episode 0560 of Sesame Street, Big Bird hosts a show that opens with an offshoot of Carson's famous theme music. He asks for a music cue from "Skitch," referencing Skitch Henderson (bandleader during Steve Allen's tenure, and then with Carson from 1962 until 1966).
  • The Sesame Street video, Learning About Numbers, has a framing story with Big Bird hosting a Tonight Show-esque program. He at one point calls out "Tommy" in the band, referring to Tommy Newsom, saxophone player for the band and occasional band director and substitute for Ed McMahon.
  • Frequent guest host Jay Leno appeared in a Sesame Street skit with Big Bird. When Big Bird learns that his friend "Johnny" is unable to come play, Jay appears to sit-in for Johnny (something he says he loves doing). Leno fills Johnny's chair and the two play "One of These Things." Afterwards Big Bird remarks that "he really was good at sitting-in for Johnny."
  • In Episode 4025 of Sesame Street, Aladdin's Genie takes the day off. He poofs himself into a golfing outfit and exclaims, "Heeeere's Genie!" while swinging his club.
  • The Sesame Street sketch "Baby Talk," a talk show hosted by Natasha, featured two specific references to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The segment's theme, played by an all-baby band, was a spoof of "Johnny's Theme." The announcer (Jerry Nelson) also introduces the host saying "Heeeere's Natasha!"
  • Episode 4173 of Sesame Street featured two inserts in which Big Bird presents Snuffy (by saying "Heeeeeeeeere's Snuffy!"), followed by a short riff of "Johnny's Theme".

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992–2009, 2010–2014)


Miss Piggy and not Jay Lenos knee.

Miss Piggy complains to Jay Leno for not inviting her on The Tonight Show and Leno makes up by having her sit on his office desk. At the end of the show, (as seen in a web-exclusive video) Miss Piggy does not leave until she guest host the show.

Mickey Rourke gets to "touch it."

Johnny Carson retired in May 1992 and was replaced as host by Jay Leno. Branford Marsalis was the original bandleader of the show from 1992 to 1995, Kevin Eubanks was the bandleader for the program from 1995 until 2010; he was replaced by Rickey Minor from 2010 to 2014.


  • November 12, 1996 - Kermit the Frog.
  • December 31, 1996 - Miss Piggy reports live from the roof of the Mariott Marquis Hotel in Times Square to watch the ball drop.
  • November 4, 2011 - Miss Piggy promotes The Muppets; Mickey Rourke gropes her.


  • Leno and Eubanks appeared in "The Cameo Show" episode of Muppets Tonight. Leno volunteers to help out on the show, but Bobo turns him down because he doesn't recognize him as someone famousβ€”however, he does recognize Eubanks (of whom he is a big fan).


  • May 25, 2009 - Leno shows a sequence of clips with Mel Gibson, after which they comment at how young and good-looking they were. "In ten years time we'll be sitting here looking at this going 'hey, we looked real good!' We'll be looking like the hecklers on The Muppet Show or something."
  • October 3, 2011 - During "Headlines" Leno shows a newspaper article with a photo of the walk-around versions of Cookie Monster and Elmo checking out a newly renovated men's restroom.

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (2009–2010)


  • September 18, 2009 - Conan shows a clip of Barack Obama's speech with clips of Statler and Waldorf heckling.
  • November 5, 2009 - Conan shows guest Jim Carrey a montage of clips from various adaptations of "A Christmas Carol" to show Carrey that his 2009 film is not the first time the Dickens story has been made into a movie. The montage included clips from The Muppet Christmas Carol.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (2014-present)


March 17, 2014

September 11, 2014


  • June 18, 2015 - Elmo serves as the guest announcer and shows how to make recipes from the book, Let's Cook! (YouTube), (YouTube)
  • January 14, 2016 - Elmo, Abby, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Count von Count and Ernie appear in the "Celebrity Photobomb" piece. (YouTube)
  • August 4, 2017 - Rudy appears during the "Thank You Notes" segment. (YouTube)
  • December 19, 2019 - To celebrate the show's 50th anniversary, the Sesame Street Muppets (Big Bird, Elmo, Grover, Ernie, Bert, Rosita, Oscar, the Count, and an Anything Muppet bus driver) performed a rap variation of the "Sesame Street Theme" with Tariq Trotter and Fallon. (YouTube)


Two mascots of Elmo with grey hair.

From the March 23, 2021 broadcast.

  • June 13, 2018 - During a segment in which Fallon interprets dinosaur-themed songs from tweets, he goes into a routine spoofing the Muppets' version of "Mah Na Mah Na". (YouTube)
  • In the segment "Best Friends Challenge," Bert and Ernie are seen on the "Best Friends Box" alongside celebrities like C-3PO and R2-D2, and Joe Biden and Barack Obama. (YouTube)
  • December 2, 2020 monologue: "If Trump won in 2024, he'd be the first President to serve non-consecutive terms since Grover Cleveland. Which Trump thinks is the full name of the fuzzy blue Muppet."
  • January 21, 2021 monologue: Referencing the upcoming release of The Muppet Show on Disney Plus, Fallon claimed that the music was updated. A few clips played with dubbed hip-hop music.(YouTube)
  • January 28, 2021 monologue: Referencing a new Margaritaville resort in Times Square, Fallon suggests that "Elmo is about to get lit", showing a picture of a Times Square busker dressed as Elmo. (YouTube)
  • March 5, 2021 Thank You Notes: When Black Thought mentions that he called his grandparents "Peepaw" and "Meemaw", Fallon inquires if they were Muppets. Questlove plays a few bars of "Mah Na Mah Na".
  • March 23, 2021: New York state reduces the age to qualify for a COVID vaccine to 50, so Fallon suggests that the Times Square Elmos now have added grey hair.
  • In the monologue to the April 9, 2021 show, Fallon discusses the CDC announcement that surfaces were unlikely to transmit COVID-19. "This is a big relief, but I'm really going to miss my bath night with my groceries. Can of baked beans, you're the one."
  • On the April 14, 2021 broadcast, the Freestylin' with The Roots segment saw Fallon tell an audience member that Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street was set to debut, and ask who his favorite Sesame Street Muppet is. He suggests Elmo, and that Chris Hemsworth should play the tot in a live action movie. The resulting song is inspired (allegedly) by the series theme song.
  • On the May 12, 2021 episode, Fallon and Joel McHale play a game called A-to-Z, where each next line of their "conversation" needs to include the title of a film, starting with the next letter of the alphabet. After Fallon comments "Yeah, I almost belong on a Funny Farm", McHale replies "Boy, wouldn't that be a Great Muppet Caper."


Video releases

Respond2 Entertainment released Tonight: 4 Decades From The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, a 15 DVD boxed set with the full length December 31, 1965 - Woody Allen, The Muppets episode on October 26, 2010.[7]


  1. ↑ "The Tonight Show: October 11, 1956", TV.com.
  2. ↑ Jim Henson's Red Book, 9/6/1965 – Tonight Show – Kermit with Bill Cosby.
  3. ↑ Jim Henson's Red Book, 1/13/1966 - Tonight Show - "Money" and "Sclrap Flyapp".
  4. ↑ Jim Henson's Red Book, 10/29/1968 – Tonight Show – "Beautiful Day".
  5. ↑ Jim Henson's Red Book, 9/26/1969 – Tonight Show – did "Glowworm" and "Sclrap Flyap"
  6. ↑ "The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson: Show #2088", TV.com.
  7. ↑ "TVshowonDVD.com Press Release"

External links

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