Home TV TV Lists

Midnight Snacks: 12 Late-Night Talk Shows That Didn’t Last

See the best moments from a dozen series that couldn’t hack it in the volatile late-night game

Next week, Seth Meyers will begin his run as host of NBC's The Late Show, taking over for Jimmy Fallon, who replaced Jay Leno to become host of The Tonight Show. Leno, of course, succeeded Conan O'Brien, who succeeded Jay Leno, all after Fallon was handed The Late Show from Conan. Long story short, it's a volatile business being a late-night talk-show host. For every success story like David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, there are a dozen Chevy Chases and Magic Johnsons that can't cut it. Here are 12 celebrities-turned-hosts who didn't even last two years in the cutthroat world of late night — and the best moment from their short-lived shows. By Daniel Kreps

Play video

‘The Magic Hour’

Debut: June 8th, 1998
Lifespan: Four months

Earvin "Magic" Johnson is an all-time great basketball player, an overly generous baseball team co-owner and possibly the worst late night host of all time. For four months in 1998, Johnson's one magic trick was making laughter disappear with his nightmare of a syndicated talk show. No one had more fun at The Magic Hour's expense than Howard Stern, who used his morning show to ridicule Johnson's lack of stage presence and poor comedic timing. Within a month of teasing The Magic Hour, Stern and his cohort Robin Quivers visited Johnson's couch. Stern immediately hijacked the show and gave Magic an impromptu lesson on how to interview guests by pressing Magic about his sex life.

Play video

‘Thicke of the Night’

Debut: September 5th, 1983
Lifespan: 10 months

When Robin Thicke was just six years old, his sitcom-starring father Alan Thicke was busy blurring the lines of watchable television. On paper, the idea of pairing the dad from Growing Pains with revolving cohosts like Arsenio Hall and Richard Belzer sounds like a Magic Hour waiting to happen. However, Thicke was a veteran of the daytime talk-show circuit in his native Canada, so he regularly engaged his guests in interesting conversations (like in this clip, which features Frank Zappa chatting with Thicke and Arsenio). Thicke of the Night still got crushed by The Tonight Show in the ratings and was canceled within a year of debuting.

Play video

‘The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers’

Debut: October 9th, 1986
Lifespan: Eight months

Before she was sentenced to a lifetime of policing fashion and plastic surgeries, comedienne Joan Rivers was a favorite of then-Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. Rivers parlayed her many visits to Carson's show into her own late-night gig for Fox in 1986. However, by May 1987, weak ratings and backstage tensions led to Rivers' dismissal. Fox experimented with dozens of guest hosts – including Frank Zappa, who was fired before he ever filmed an episode – but The Late Show was eventually canceled later that year. Rivers did leave us with this gem though: Prince protégé and Last Dragon star Vanity revealing this about the Purple Rain singer: "When I first met him at the American Movie Awards, I thought he was gay."

Play video

‘Joe Buck Live’

Debut: June 15th, 2009
Lifespan: Three episodes

Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck actually has two failed late-night gigs under his belt: One a never-picked-up FOX pilot that co-starred a cabbie named Abebe as his sidekick and then Joe Buck Live, an HBO talk show that found Buck engaging in conversations with both athletes and comedians. Unfortunately for Buck, one of those comedians was Artie Lange. Howard Stern's resident loudmouth unleashed a diatribe of NSFW jokes – stuff that was even too filthy by HBO's lax standards. The Lange appearance overshadowed and essentially torpedoed Buck's gig; HBO cancelled Joe Buck Live after three episodes.

Play video

‘The Keenan Ivory Wayans Show’

Debut: August 4th, 1997
Lifespan: Eight months

Fresh off the box office dud Most Wanted, and six years removed from In Living Color's prime, Keenan Ivory Wayans attempted to fill the vacuum left by the cancellation of The Arsenio Hall Show. Unfortunately for Wayans, his show split the audience with the Quincy Jones-produced Vibe, a similar syndicated late-night show aimed toward the urban market. Since neither show was able to set itself apart, both were canceled by summer 1998, but at least The Keenen Ivory Wayans show left us with this fantastic Foo Fighters' performance of "Everlong."

Play video

‘The Dennis Miller Show’

Debut: Spring 1992
Lifespan: Canceled by Summer 1992

Ahh, 1992. Bill Clinton had just taken office, the Dream Team was about to dazzle Barcelona at the Summer Olympics, and Dennis Miller was still a liberal-minded comedian. Miller was anchoring Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update desk when NBC approached him about hosting his own alternative late-night talk show. Unfortunately, because of the political nature of the program, it could never find a steady time slot – some red state NBC affiliates scheduled the show at 3 a.m. – and by that summer, The Dennis Miller Show was off NBC completely. In that short time though, Miller did manage to lure the great Bill Hicks onto his show, marking Hicks' lone non-Letterman late-night appearance.

Play video

‘The Chevy Chase Show’

Debut: September 7th, 1993
Lifespan: Five weeks

We will admit this: The Chevy Chase Show had excellent Claymation opening credits. Unfortunately for SNL vet Chase, every other aspect of his brief stint as a late-night host was a disaster. Chase was visibly nervous holding the reins of his own show, and he and Fox mutually agreed to part ways after just over a month on the air. (In hindsight, as we learned with Community, Chase probably just got fed up with the material and left.) In a statement, Chase admitted to struggling in the "very constraining format" of late-night television and that he looked forward to promoting his upcoming film Cops and Robbersons. The funniest moment – well, the only funny moment – in Chevy Chase Show history involved Fox's raunchy staple Married With Children.

Play video

‘The Pat Sajak Show’

Debut: January 9th, 1989
Lifespan: 16 months

This show was so forgettable that the most famous and only lasting moment in Pat Sajak Show history actually doesn't even involve Pat Sajak, Near the end of its run, with Sajak taking a night off in March 1990, Rush Limbaugh stepped in as guest host. During an anti-abortion rant, Limbaugh went into Sajak's studio audience to talk to a woman he thought agreed with him. Wrong. The woman essentially screams in Rush's face that the government has no jurisdiction over a woman's body, silencing the stunned Limbaugh. Soon, other members of the audience revolt against Rush's ideals. It's no surprise Limbaugh went into radio after this; there are no studio audiences.

Play video

‘Lopez Tonight’

Debut: November 9th, 2009
Lifespan: 22 months

Just as Jay Leno stole Conan O'Brien's show, Conan O'Brien stole George Lopez's timeslot. Lopez Tonight was handling itself pretty well in TBS' 11 p.m. slot. However, the arrival of Conan knocked Lopez Tonight into the midnight hour, which led to a viewership decline. Within a year of the move, Lopez Tonight was canceled. Don't blame Conan though; Lopez Tonight just wasn't very funny. Its best moment came when comedy genius Larry David stopped by to take a DNA ancestry test. "I never should've been on the show in the first place," David said.

Play video

‘The Jon Stewart Show’

Debut: October 25th, 1993
Lifespan: 20 months

Before Jon Stewart became a stalwart on The Daily Show, he was the host of his own late-night program on MTV. The Jon Stewart Show actually drew great ratings on MTV, but when it became syndicated in its second season to replace Arsenio Hall in 1995, the gig came to an end. However, in a mere two years and 160 episodes, Stewart delivered an exciting assortment of great interviews and unexpected musical guests, including this rare late-night Notorious B.I.G. performance. Don't feel too bad for Stewart; he did find longevity over at Comedy Central.

Play video

‘The Howard Stern Show’

Never aired

Back in 1987, Fox – desperate to get into the late-night game – flirted with the idea of bringing shock jock Howard Stern to television. Robin Quivers of course was Stern's cohost while Mountain's Leslie West served as bandleader. Five sloppy pilot episodes were filmed but never made it past the focus groups and test audiences; Fox pulled the plug on the show before it ever even aired. "If this doesn't work, screw it, I'll just stay on the radio," Stern quipped before spending two minutes talking about Joe Piscopo and trashing Oprah Winfrey.

Play video

‘The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien’

Debut: June 1st, 2009
Lifespan: Six months

What began as a passing of the torch from Jay Leno to Conan O'Brien ended up becoming – from a publicity and punitive standpoint – one of the messiest divorces television has ever witnessed. Conan's Harvard Lampoon-tempered brand of comedy obfusticated the same audiences that previously flocked to Leno's more palatable humor. The 11:35 p.m. viewers could not grow accustomed to Conan's offbeat styling, weird cast of characters and strange dance moves, and they demanded their Leno back. So, after six months, The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien was out, and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno was back in. We'd love to show you some of our favorite moments, but unfortunately NBC has spent the past few years deleting all evidence of Conan's Tonight Show off YouTube. Here's a legendary David Bowie clip from Late Night With Conan O'Brien instead. Watch your back, Fallon.