'Tonight Show' challengers couldn't cut it on late-night TV

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. Here's a list:

. Thicke of the Night (1983): This 90-minute syndicated show featured Alan Thicke two years before Growing Pains would make the bland Canadian talk and game show host into a U.S. star. Gave early work to Richard Belzer, Arsenio Hall and Gilbert Gottfried.

. The Late Show (1987): Fox tried going after Tonight Show legend Johnny Carson with his permanent guest host, heavily surgeried comic Joan Rivers, sparking a bitter battle.

. The Pat Sajak Show (1989): CBS's challenge to Carson featured vanilla-safe Wheel of Fortune host Sajak, who found turning over letters a lot easier than turning back the king of late night TV — gone in 15 months.

. The Arsenio Hall Show (1989): Remembered mostly for then-candidate Bill Clinton playing sax with the house band, Hall's syndicated show scored young viewers by featuring youthful, black R&B singers and rappers ignored by clueless network TV producers. When Leno and Letterman started booking them too, the end was near.

. The Chevy Chase Show (1993): The Saturday Night Live veteran was a wreck in this Fox talk show, struck by stage fright so badly his hands shook during performances. The pain ended mercifully after six weeks.

. The Magic Hour (1998): Beloved by the public, basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson charmed producers into forgetting his epic early reputation for being inarticulate. Big highlight: Sheila E. as bandleader. Gone in eight weeks.

Eric Deggans, Times TV/media critic

'Tonight Show' challengers couldn't cut it on late-night TV 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 3:30am]

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