A Look Back At Hollywood’s Spectacular History Of Failed Celebrity Talk Show Hosts

Senior Writer
10.24.14 36 Comments
Talk Show Hosts

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When all else fails, become a talk show host. For the longest time, that seems to have been a mantra in the world of actors and stand-up comics who simply don’t know how to answer the question: “What’s next?” It’s certainly not the worst idea, though. It’s just ballsy and filled with more regret than reward. After all, Ellen DeGeneres could have had her pick of anything – endless movie roles, sitcom after sitcom, comedy albums galore, a Las Vegas show, or a lifetime on the road – but she knew that a successful daytime show could end up making her one of the highest paid women on television, as well as a go-to personality for celebrities either looking to spill their guts or simply look like they’re as fun as can be. And if she didn’t know that, again, it’s just ballsy.

But for every Ellen or Stephen Colbert, who has gone from an underappreciated supporting role on Strangers with Candy to a Daily Show sidekick and now to one of the biggest seats on late night TV, there are 10 celebrities who weren’t as lucky. Hell, they weren’t lucky at all, because their shows were mostly hot garbage and gone before we could even truly appreciate how bad they were. In honor of yesterday’s National TV Talk Show Host Day – seriously, that’s a thing that people came up with to honor Johnny Carson on his birthday – let’s take a look back at the talk show circuit’s biggest duds and blanks, and ask ourselves this question – will celebrities and production companies ever learn?

Spoiler alert: No.


The Joey Bishop Show

Years Aired: 1967-69

Number of Seasons: 2

Why Was It So Awful? I’m not going to pretend to understand the inner workings of TV networks or shows from 45 years ago, but if the original “Rat Pack” was the NWO, Joey Bishop was probably Scott Norton or Virgil. Because he was a part of the Rat Pack, I guess someone thought that he could make a strong rival for Carson, probably because a chain-smoking network suit thought, “Hey cats, I bet this Joey Bishop fella can get Frank Sinatra to swing by a few times,” and then when he was wrong, because Sinatra never appeared on the show, a mafia hitman broke his wrists and ankles and then threw him face down in a kiddie pool. But again, I’m not going to hypothesize about things that happened before I was born. At least Bishop paved the way for Regis Philbin’s incredible career, though.

The Pat Sajak Show

Years Aired: 1989-90

Number of Seasons: 1

Why Was It So Awful? It turned out that if Sajak wasn’t selling vowels to people and having Vanna White turn his letters around, the guy wasn’t all that interesting. In fact, whenever people talk about old talk shows that failed, this is usually one of the first ones mentioned. This show was so bad, though, that CBS let Sajak host Mondays through Thursdays while the Friday night featured “guest hosts,” who were all basically applying for Sajak’s job. Fortunately for everyone, Rush Limbaugh blew the whole thing up with a glorious audience meltdown, and it eventually led to CBS hiring David Letterman.

The Chevy Chase Show

Years Aired: 1993

Number of Seasons: 1

Why Was It So Awful? TV Guide once ranked it one of the worst shows of all-time, for starters, and saying it lasted one season is misleading. It made it six episodes. If people aren’t dumping all over Sajak’s lack of charisma, then they’re reminding us how hilariously awful Chase’s brief run as a talk show host went. Remember how Fox gave us the Married… with Children laugh track that sounded like people were choking to death on nitrous oxide? In 1993, they decided that the laugh track should be added to the standard talk show format. If that wasn’t bad enough, Chase was already in the downward spiral of his career, which was sparked by Memoirs of an Invisible Man one year earlier. Maybe he could do revive the show today and have all his guests be people who have hated him over the years.

The Tempestt Bledsoe Show

Years Aired: 1995-96

Number of Seasons: 1

Why Was It So Awful? Because the idea for it was basically, “Hey, remember the middle daughter from The Cosby Show? Well, we have her talk to people about stuff. You know, like life stuff that people deal with. And she’ll give things like ‘muscle makeovers’ or whatever.” Several months later, “I can’t believe that didn’t work. Anyway, in my last job, I was a TV producer, but now I’m willing to learn how to get the cocaine and blood out of shag carpets, sir.”

The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show

Years Aired: 1997-98

Number of Seasons: 1

Why Was It So Awful? Because as much as people liked Wayans, they wanted to see less of him asking celebrities about their latest movies and more of him and his relatives wearing funny costumes and shouting catchphrases like, “Mo money, mo money, mo money!” If anything, though, people were exhausted by talk shows by the end of the 90s – I worshipped late night hosts as a teen and couldn’t stand the formats by 1998 – and Wayans was just another guy telling corny jokes before introducing the house band and his first guest. At least he had Ginuwine on, though.

The Magic Hour

Years Aired: 1998

Number of Seasons: 1

Why Was It So Awful? Worse than Sajak. Worse than Chase. Magic Johnson had no business hosting a late night talk show, and it showed. The decision to have him interview Howard Stern, though, still ranks among the most graphic career suicides ever committed on live TV (that’s the entire, legendary episode above), because Stern had been the biggest, meanest critic of the show. All these years later, Johnson didn’t improve much in the personality department, because even Bill Simmons looked charismatic next to him during their NBA halftime reports on ESPN. But since he left ESPN, Johnson has been awesome in his role as a guy who Tweets about the Los Angeles Dodgers from behind home plate.

The Roseanne Show

Years Aired: 1998-2000

Number of Seasons: 2

Why Was It So Awful? By the end of Roseanne, and specifically that historically bad final season, with that dumb lottery story and the hilarious “twist” that basically ruined everything that people had loved about Roseanne when it was a Top 3 show in the ratings each year, people were probably tired of Barr’s gimmick. As you can see in the above clip with Bill Shatner, she didn’t exactly have the greatest interview skills, but nothing really ever went right for Roseanne in her post-sitcom years, despite her ever-growing positive opinion of herself.

The Wayne Brady Show

Years Aired: 2001-04

Number of Seasons: 3

Why Was It So Awful? Wayne Brady is a very charming and funny comedian, and he’s pretty great as the host of Let’s Make a Deal, even if that game show’s contestants are way too intense for me to watch at 10 am on weekdays. But as a variety show host, he was nothing new, and as a daytime talk show host, he also brought nothing new to the table. Thus, he failed with one show in two formats, making him far more interesting than the rest of these losers (ironically, he was replaced by another show that bombed, so it goes to show how much Buena Vista Television knew about talk shows). Perhaps if he’d had more WWE personalities on over the years, judging by the audience response in the clip above, he’d have been more successful.

Late World with Zach

Years Aired: 2002

Number of Seasons: 1

Why Was It So Awful? Long before he became one of the funniest men in Hollywood and then started loathing his success, Zach Galifianakis was just a struggling comedian with a really unusual delivery and personality. VH1 thought that he might make a good “alternative” talk show host because of that, and the network was very, very wrong. Nobody watched the show and it was axed after nine whole episodes. However, I guarantee that VH1 could re-air those episodes today and people would be like, “This is genius!” and “I totally remember watching this!” As you could probably guess, Galifianakis would have done things much differently if he could have, but since he had been living in a friend’s closet, a paycheck was a paycheck.

The Tony Danza Show

Years Aired: 2004-06

Number of Seasons: 2

Why Was It So Awful? Tony Danza is the coolest, okay? For starters, his most famous character, Tony Micelli, played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals, which is better than I can say for any character Oprah ever played. The problem was that no matter how charismatic or funny Danza was, he couldn’t escape the black hole of the terrible daytime talk show formula, just like Brady before him. What’s worse, though, is that nobody has been able to provide Danza with a quality project since then (although he was the bomb in Don John), and judging by the way that his career has gone, as well as those of Judith Light, Alyssa Milano and whoever that kid was, I wouldn’t be shocked if a Who’s the Boss? revival isn’t being kicked around in the dark, evil depths of some network’s offices.

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