The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen, episode 201: (l-r center) Jayne Meadows, Steve Allen (2nd left) Skitch Henderson (4th row right) Patricia Marshall (5th row l-r) Pat Kirby, Eydie Gorme (top row l-r) Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence
The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen: (l-r center) Jayne Meadows, Steve Allen (2nd left) Skitch Henderson (4th row right) Patricia Marshall (5th row l-r) Pat Kirby, Eydie Gorme (top row l-r) Andy Williams and Steve Lawrence, in 1955NBC/NBCU Photo Bank—Getty Images
The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen, episode 201: (l-r center) Jayne Meadows, Steve Allen (2nd left) Skitch Henderson (4th row right) Patricia Marshall (5th row l-r) Pat Kirby, Eydie Gorme (top row l-r) Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence
The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen, July 1 1956: (l-r) Andy Griffith, Steve Allen, and Elvis Presley perform a parody of Country & Western television shows
'The Steve Allen Show' circa 1957.
The Tonight Show with Jack Parr: Season 1 -- (l-r) Tedi Thurman, host Jack Paar, Fran Warren, Johnny Johnson, Mary Mayo, Jose Melis
The Tonight Show with Jack Parr: (l-r) Jack Paar, John F. Kennedy.
The Tonight Show with Jack Parr: (l-r) Jack Paar, Hugh Downs, Jose Melis.
The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson: (l-r) Ed McMahon, host Johnny Carson during the first show on October 1, 1962 .
The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson: Host Johnny Carson in his office in March, 1965.
The Joey Bishop Show: (l-r) Regis Philbin, Joey Bishop, Jack Benney - 1968.
TV talk show host Merv Griffin (R) interviewing actor Marlon Brando, 1968.
Merv Griffin warming up the audience before the show, 1969.
The Dick Cavett Show: Airdate: May 2, 1969.
The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson: (l-r) Announcer Ed McMahon and host Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent on November 17, 1970.
The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson: (l-r) Boxers Ken Norton, Muhammad Ali, host Johnny Carson, 1973
The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson: (l-r) Comedian Jay Leno during an interview with guest host David Letterman on July 4, 1979
The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson: (l-r) Announcer Ed McMahon, Actor/comedian Robin Williams, host Johnny Carson on October 14, 1981.
The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson: (l-r) Talk show host David Letterman during an interview with host Johnny Carson on January 2, 1981.
Comedian and late night television host, David Letterman, warms up his NBC studio audience prior to the taping of his popular 1982 New York, NY, television show at Rockefeller Center, 1982.
The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen: (l-r center) Jayne Meadows, Steve Allen (2nd left) Skitch Henderson (4th row righ
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See Vintage Photos of Late-Night TV Before Letterman

Hard as it may be to imagine now, when David Letterman is rightly being celebrated for his singular comic gifts, plenty of other late-night TV hosts paved the way for his success. Ahead of Lettermen's final Late Show on Wednesday, here's a look back at some of the interviewers and comedians who shaped the format—and one of the man himself (in his first year at Late Night, before he moved over to the Late Show), just for old time's sake.

Read more: Stephen Colbert, David Letterman and the History of Late-Night Torch Passing

Read TIME's 1993 cover story about Letterman, here in the TIME Vault: New Dave Dawning

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