Thursday, November 08, 2007

Late Night TV Shows from the Past

Johnny Carson and David Letterman have 30 and 25 years of late night TV under their belts respectively, but many late night shows do not last. A successful late night host needs a mixture of wit, creativity and drive, and some who have been successful in other arenas end up flopping when it comes to the world of late night TV.

Possibly the biggest flop was former Saturday Night Live star Chevy Chase. He had success in sketch comedy and film but his stint as a late night host was a disaster. His show debuted on the Fox network in 1993 and ran for a dismal 5 weeks. In the wake of Johnny Carson retiring, this and other shows tried to pick up viewers who wanted to see something new.

Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak tried his hand at hosting a talk show on CBS in 1989-90. The show lasted 15 months, which seemed like an eternity compared to Chevy's run. Ironically, Chase's show and Sajak's had the same bandleader, Tom Scott. Sajak's announcer and sidekick was Dan Miller. The duo had worked together at WSMV-TV, Nashville's NBC affiliate. Chevy Chase was Pat Sajak's first guest. The show was originally 90 minutes long, but was later shortened to 60, after receiving poor ratings. For a clip, click here.

Basketball legend Magic Johnson hosted a show called The Magic Hour which proved to be anything but. If only his talk show skills matched his athleticism. The show was syndicated on a station-by-station basis and ran for 8 weeks in 1998. Magic seemed uncomfortable on the air and he did not put much work into the show. Click here for a clip.

Most people know Alan Thicke from the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains, where he was dad to Kirk Cameron and Tracy Gold. But he also had a syndicated late night show in 1983-84 called Thicke of the Night. He was well known in his home country of Canada where he had hosted a daytime show. He was also known as a songwriter, penning the theme songs for Different Strokes and The Facts of Life. It was not possible for the show to continue since it consistently was beat by Johnny Carson.

Arsenio Hall had much more success than the personalities named above with his late night syndicated show. It ran from 1989 to 1994 and won 6 Emmy awards. A big moment for the show was when presidential candidate Bill Clinton appeared playing his sax with the band in 1992. Check out the final episode opening here.

For many years NBC had a 30 minute show at 1:35 am called Later. From 1988 to 1992 NBC had the killer late night lineup of Carson, Letterman and Costas. It was hosted by Bob Costas from 1988-94 and later Greg Kinnear from 1994-99 I believe, then Cynthia Garrett hosted for about a year. Kinnear was best known for hosting Talk Soup on E! from 1991-95. That time slot is now occupied by Carson Daly who started Last Call in 2001. It was a fantastic venue for the great interviewing skills of Bob Costas. When he did it there was no studio audience, no band, no monologue, and it was an intimate 30 minute interview with one guest. It was never as engaging after Costas left.

From 1980-82, ABC had a late night sketch comedy show called Fridays. It featured Larry David (writer for Seinfeld and actor/writer on Curb Your Enthusiasm), Michael Richards (Seinfeld's Kramer), and Andy Kaufman from Taxi guest hosted. Like NBC's Saturday Night Live, the program was 90 minutes and aired live in front of a studio audience. The first guest host was George Carlin, who had been the first guest host on SNL in 1975. The show's downfall was when ABC decided to air Nightline 5 nights a week and Fridays was moved to midnight instead of 11:30.

In 1995 CBS decided to launch a show after David Letterman, appropriately titled the Late Late Show. The program is produced by Letterman's company, Worldwide Pants. Tom Snyder was the host from 1995 to 1999. He had been best known for hosting the Tomorrow Show, on NBC following Johnny Carson. CBS recruited Comedy Central's Daily Show host Craig Kilborn to host from 1999 to 2004. From 2004 to the present Craig Ferguson has been the host. Ferguson was formerly with The Drew Carey Show.

With the shakeup involving Jay Leno leaving the Tonight Show and turning it over to Conan O'Brien coming up in 2009, it will be interesting to see what changes occur in late night. Will Leno go to ABC, Fox or CBS? Will he bump Jimmy Kimmel to a later time slot? I can't imagine Leno taking a 12:35 slot. Will Fox start up a Monday-Friday late night show? All they have now is 2 Saturday shows, Mad TV and Talk Show with Spike Feresten, a former Seinfeld writer who also worked on Bee Movie.

*Some information came from
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