Relive these late-night losers
The list of late-night talk shows that aimed for Tonight Show-level success, only to crash and burn in a big ball of failure, is legendary. Conan O'Brien leaves the air Friday as the first move in a shuffle of late-night hosts and programs like we haven't seen since Johnny Carson retired and Jay Leno snatched The Tonight Show from David Letterman.
Which reminds us of the late-night shows that never quite made it to classic TV status. Here are a few highlights - READ TO THE END FOR A SPECIAL SURPRISE:
Thicke of the Night (1983) – Developed as a syndicated show to challenge Johnny Carson back when he was still King of Late Night, this 90-minute concoction featured Alan Thicke two years before Growing Pains would make the bland Canadian actor and theme song composer (Diff'rent Strokes, Facts of Life) into a U.S. star. Flamed out spectacularly, but gave early work to Richard Belzer, Arsenio Hall and Gilbert Gottfried.
The Late Show (1987) – Fox tried going after Carson with the woman who was his permanent guest host, heavily surgeried comic Joan Rivers. Unfortunately, they didn’t inform him before announcing the series, sparking a bitter showbiz war Rivers eventually lost.
The Pat Sajak Show (1989) – CBS’ challenge to Carson featured vanilla-safe Wheel of Fortune host Sajak backed by bandleader and Starsky and Hutch theme song composer Tom Scott. But Sajak found turning over letters a lot easier than turning the king of late-night TV – he was gone in 15 months. See it here.
The Arsenio Hall Show (1989) – Remembered mostly for then-candidate Bill Clinton playing sax with the house band, this show scored big by featuring young, black R&B singers and rappers who couldn't get on the clueless mainstream late-night shows, including M.C. Hammer and Bobby Brown. But then David Letterman moved to CBS and both he and Leno started booking folks like Hammer and Mary J. Blige to get younger viewers.
The Chevy Chase Show (1993) – Chase may have gained stardom in Saturday Night Live’s first season, but he was a wreck in this talk show Fox developed. When you can see the host’s hands shaking during interviews and musical numbers, you know a mistake has been made somewheres; the pain ended mercifully after six weeks.
The Magic Hour (1998) – Who thought it was a good idea to hand a talk show to a basketball star known for his lack of speaking ability? Earvin "Magic" Johnson's big highlights as a late-night host was hiring Sheila E. to lead his band and Tommy Davidson to be his sidekick. Gone in eight weeks.
Few people remember, but Daily Show star Jon Stewart had a really bad syndicated talk show in the mid '90s. Here's an interview Stewart conducted with O'Brien, back when Conan's show sucked too...