The Late Show (1986 TV series)

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The Late Show
Also known as The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers (1986–1987)
Genre Comedy/Talk/Variety Show
Developed by Fox Television Network
Written by Monty Aidem
Hank Bradford
Stan Burns
Londos D'Arrigo
Wayne Kline
Toem Perew
Michael Prescott
Daniel Rosen
Dennis Snee
Levi Taylor
Patric Verrone
Billy Sammeth
Presented by Joan Rivers (1986–1987)
Buck Henry (1988-interium)
Arsenio Hall (1987)
Ross Shafer (1988)
Narrated by Clint Holmes (1986–1987)
Daniel Rosen (1988)
Theme music composer Mark Hudson
Michael Sembello
Composer(s) Jay Richard Kennedy
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 2
Production
Executive producer(s)

Edgar Rosenberg
Howard Bolter

Producer (s)Bruce McKay, John Scura, Nora Fraser
Editor(s) Wanda Armstrong (assistant editor)
Jay Richard Kennedy (music editor)
Running time 45–48 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel Fox
Original run October 9, 1986 (1986-10-09) – October 28, 1988 (1988-10-28)
Chronology
Related shows The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
The Arsenio Hall Show

The Late Show is an American late-night talk show and the first series broadcast on the then-new Fox Network. Originally hosted by comic actress Joan Rivers, it first aired on October 9, 1986, under the title The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. It is also the first and only other late-night show hosted by Arsenio Hall.

Background[edit]

The talk show was a direct attempt at competing against NBC's seminal The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and in fact Rivers had been Carson's permanent guest host since 1983.[1]

Many in 1986, including top executives at NBC, thought it was possible that Johnny Carson would retire after reaching his 25th anniversary on October 1, 1987, as it was such a logical cut-off point.

In spring 1986, a confidential memo between top NBC executives listing about 10 possible replacements in the event of Carson's retirement the next year was leaked. When Rivers saw it, she was shocked to see that she was nowhere on the list.[1] In an article she wrote for People magazine, Rivers said that NBC offering her only a one year contract in 1985 as permanent guest host when Carson's contract had been renewed for two years signaled to her that her future was uncertain as her previous one year contracts had run the same length as Carson's.[1]

Rivers and Carson[edit]

Fox was looking for a host for a late-night talk show for the network's launch in October 1986 and offered Rivers the job at a salary higher than what NBC was paying. She accepted, and Carson was blindsided by the news when he saw the press conference on television. Moments later, when Rivers called him at home, he refused to take the call.

Rivers was adamant that her problem was with NBC and not with Carson, who was like a father figure to her. She stated that she didn't want to tell him before the announcement was made because she was afraid Fox would cancel the deal if word leaked out and that she had previously been ordered by Carson's producers and lawyers not to go to him with problems. However, Carson was furious when he found out about Rivers going to Fox.[1]

When others obtained their own competing shows (such as David Brenner, Alan Thicke, Joey Bishop, and Pat Sajak), Carson always had them on The Tonight Show beforehand to wish them luck – and again after he had forced their show into cancellation by maintaining superior ratings. Carson stated that he felt betrayed by Rivers – not because she dared to compete with him, but because she was not honest with him beforehand about her intentions and did not ask him for advice and his blessing. Rivers did not appear on the Tonight Show again during the remainder of Carson's tenure after 1986 or during that of his successors until February 17, 2014 when she appeared in a cameo on Jimmy Fallon's first show.[2]

Rivers spoke highly of Carson the night he died on January 23, 2005, but revealed that he never spoke to her again.

History[edit]

Sagging ratings and carriage refusals[edit]

After a moderate start, ratings for the talk show soon sagged. The ratings struggles also made it hard for Fox to attract affiliates for its primetime launch on 5 April 1987. To its disappointment, some prospective affiliates, such as Milwaukee's WCGV-TV, would only sign with the network if they did not have to carry The Late Show. KPTM in Omaha refused outright out of loyalty to Carson, who hailed from Corning, Iowa, east of Omaha and started his career on local radio and television. The network acquiesced to allow some stations out of that obligation so that the network launched in primetime with as many affiliates as possible, at the cost of ratings and access to The Late Show. For instance, at the time the show launched Fox had not closed on its purchase of its Boston station, WXNE-TV (now WFXT). That station's previous owners, the Christian Broadcasting Network, objected to the show's content and refused to clear it. As a result, until Fox took control of the station in January, its audio feed aired on a low-rated AM station.

The behind-the-scenes relations between Rivers and network executives quickly eroded, and Rivers was eventually fired in May 1987. Soon afterward the program was renamed The Late Show and featured rotating guest hosts including Suzanne Somers, Richard Belzer, and Robert Townsend. After firing prospective guest host Frank Zappa, producer John Scura replaced him with Arsenio Hall, which was his debut as a talk show host. Eventually, Arsenio Hall was named the permanent replacement host in mid-1987.

The Howard Stern Show[edit]

On 16 April 1987, a meeting was held between Howard Stern and management of WNYW, Fox's flagship television station. The network was considering Stern as replacement to The Late Show.[3] Five one-hour pilots titled The Howard Stern Show were recorded at a cost of about $400,000.[4] They featured rock guitarist Leslie West of Mountain fame as band leader and Steve Rossi as announcer and singer.[5] By early June, air dates were yet to be scheduled; the pilots were instead being tested among focus groups in California. With no formal announcement, in July, the network decided not to put the Stern show on the air.[6] Paul Noble, the former executive producer for WNYW, was never told of Fox's decision. "By today's standards, they were absolutely tame." He also said, "They were not the kind of thing that a local New York television station was prepared to get involved with at that time. It was more like off-the-wall radio."[6]

Arsenio Hall[edit]

Fox had originally cancelled The Late Show, but executives were stunned by the success of Hall, who was performing well among adults 18–49. In return, Hall was given a 13-week deal to host the show – however, a replacement program entitled The Wilton North Report was already in pre-production and scheduled, which meant that the deal would not be extended beyond that. Further, Hall would not be available in any event, as he was committed to filming the Eddie Murphy feature Coming to America. During the monologue of his final appearance as host, Hall stated that the reason he had agreed to only do 13 weeks was because that was as long as he was able to stay, as he had plans "to do other things."[7]

Clint Holmes continued as announcer while Mark Hudson remained as band leader. However, the band's name changed from "Mark Hudson and the Party Boys featuring the Tramp" – as it had been known during Rivers's tenure, with "the Tramp" referring to baritone sax player Beverly Dahlke-Smith – to simply "Mark Hudson and the Late Show Band".

Guests tended to be third-string actors, with performances by lesser-known bands such as The Williams Brothers (Los Angeles) and The Amazing Pink Things (Seattle).

When problems developed with Wilton North, Fox attempted to bring back Hall – but it was too late.[8] Wilton North debuted on December 11, 1987, and was a disaster on all counts. Fox canceled it after only 21 episodes on January 8. It started airing Late Show repeats with both Hall and Rivers on January 11, 1988, and scrambled to revive the talk show.

1988 hosts[edit]

The show came back with a new group of unknown guest hosts including comedians Jeff Joseph and John Mulrooney; Daniel Rosen took over as announcer, while Jack Mack and the Heart Attack became the new house band.

These hosts would not work out, and the network turned to Seattle TV personality Ross Shafer to take over The Late Show.

Ross Shafer[edit]

By the time Shafer began hosting, ratings were so low that the show could only attract newsmakers and human interest-style guests; this led to a format change in the summer to focus on tabloid and ripped-from-the-headline stories.

Fox canceled the show on October 28, getting out of late night until 1993, when it launched the ill-fated The Chevy Chase Show.

Notable episodes[edit]

Despite the show's low ratings by 1988, Shafer's tenure as host produced four notable episodes. These are especially notable for being the last public appearances of well-known celebrities:

  • The movie Leonard Part 6 won three Golden Raspberry Awards on April 10, 1988, for Worst Actor (Bill Cosby), Worst Picture, and Worst Screenplay (Jonathan Reynolds and Cosby). It was nominated for two more Razzie Awards, for Worst Supporting Actress (Foster) and Worst Director (Weiland). A few weeks after the ceremony, Cosby accepted his three Razzies on The Late Show. He requested that the three Razzies he earned be specifically made out of 24 karat (99.99%) gold and Italian marble.
  • Artist Mark Kostabi's appearance, where he wrapped Shafer in aluminum foil and threw large amounts of cash into the studio audience. Some of this footage resurfaced in the documentary film about Kostabi, Con Artist, directed by Michael Sladek.

Aftermath[edit]

The Arsenio Hall Show launched on January 3, 1989. Hall had sealed a deal with Paramount Television to launch his own show and was able to clear it on many Fox affiliates throughout the country. He essentially reclaimed his old time period, although not as part of the network.

Ross Shafer went on to host a revival of Match Game for ABC in 1990.

The title of The Late Show was revived by CBS in 1993 for the unrelated Late Show with David Letterman.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Rivers, Joan (May 26, 1986). "Can I Talk? I Am Mad and Sad and Feel Attacked—So Here Is the Truth About Why I Left Tonight". People. Retrieved February 19, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Joan Rivers Returns To ‘Tonight Show’ After Decades-Long Ban". Variety. February 17, 2014. Retrieved February 19, 2014. 
  3. ^ Colford, p. 176.
  4. ^ Colford, p. 177.
  5. ^ Colford, pp. 180–181.
  6. ^ a b Colford, p. 178.
  7. ^ The Late Show with Arsenio Hall: Final Show
  8. ^ Njeri, Itabari (1989-04-16). "We Be Havin' a Ball, Says Arsenio Hall. But Can the Talk-Show Host's Hip New Style Succeed on Late-Night TV?". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-09. 

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