For many years, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson had the best following among late night talk shows (usually beginning at 11:30 pm), and so it set the standard for the genre.
Acting in front of an enthusiastic studio audience, Carson started each show with a carefully-written humorous monologue in which he would comment on current controversies and news events. During the bulk of the program he would interview various celebrity guests, do further comedy routines on his own (often in costume), and perhaps have a singer or comedian do an act, with frequent commercials. An excellent band would play lead-ins to each segment, and occasionally perform full musical numbers.
Most present-day programs of this sort follow a similar format, concentrating on celebrities and breezy, light entertainment in front of a studio audience. Other talk shows have no audience, or a relatively quiet audience, and do sober one-on-one interviews about political and social issues.
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