Late night television used to be a lot more chaotic. Today’s chat shows are safe, overplanned. Nathan Fielder famously used a Jimmy Fallon appearance to satirize the trend towards overly wacky, possibly even questionable anecdotes. But once upon a time things got real. Every now and then someone resurfaces an old Tonight Show episode from 1994, where Burt Reynolds and Marc Summers seemed like they were about to beat the crap out of each other.
Reynolds was there to promote his memoir My Life. He wasn’t in the best place: Evening Shade, the show that had netted him two Emmy wins (and three more nominations) had recently come to an end. Loni Anderson and he had just divorced. Marc Summers, meanwhile, was still hosting Double Dare, the messy children’s game show. It was an odd pairing, and on The Tonight Show guests would hang together instead of swapping spots in the Green Room.
Things quickly escalate between them. Reynolds was already clearly peeved that host Jay Leno had made a joke about his divorce. When Summers — whom Reynolds had been giving a hard time over his claims to be a “neatness freak” (despite his Double Dare gig) — made a similar joke, Reynolds’ smirk violently turned into a sneer.
Suddenly Reynolds dumped a mug of water on Summer’s lap. Summers eventually responded in kind. When Summers tries to placate his opponent by reminding him that they got along when he did the Reynolds-co-created game show Win, Lose or Draw, Reynolds replied, “Funny, I don’t remember.” Reynolds also calls Summers Fabio and makes fun of him for being on Nickelodeon.
Eventually Leno decides to settle things with a pie fight.
By the end, the two guests seem to have reached an impasse. You can even see Reynolds signing his memoir for Summers. But there are moments when the rivalry does not appear to be a joke, where the normally unflappable Summers goes flappable and Reynolds, usually able to contain his rage, can’t contain it. It’s one of late night’s great too-real spats, up there with the Andy Kaufman-Jerry Lawler duel on Letterman (which Lawler later revealed was staged) or Letterman almost getting kicked in the head by Crispin Glover. And it’s a reminder that Burt Reynolds, whose last stretch found him suffering hard times, was a god.
You can watch the fight in the video above.