The Midnight Special (TV series)

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The Midnight Special
Chuck Berry Midnight Special 1973.JPG
Chuck Berry as guest host, November 2, 1973.
Genre Music variety show
Created by Burt Sugarman
Presented by Helen Reddy (1975-1976)
Narrated by Wolfman Jack
Opening theme "Midnight Special" performed by Johnny Rivers
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 450[1]
Executive producer(s) Burt Sugarman
Producer(s) Dick Ebersol
Running time 90 min
Production company(s) Burt Sugarman Productions
Original channel NBC
Audio format Monaural
Original run February 2, 1973 (1973-02-02) – May 1, 1981 (1981-05-01)
Related shows Tomorrow

The Midnight Special is an American late-night musical variety series that aired on NBC during the 1970s and early 1980s, created and produced by Burt Sugarman. It premiered as a special on August 19, 1972, then began its run as a regular series on February 2, 1973; its last episode was on May 1, 1981.[2] The ninety-minute program followed the Friday night edition of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Like its syndicated late-night cousin Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, the show typically featured guest hosts, except for a period from July 1975 through March 1976 when singer Helen Reddy served as the regular host. Wolfman Jack served as the announcer and frequent guest host. The program's theme song, a traditional folk song called "Midnight Special", was performed by Johnny Rivers.

The Midnight Special was noted for featuring musical acts performing live, which was unusual since most television appearances during the era showed performers lip-synching to prerecorded music. The series also occasionally aired vintage footage of older acts (such as Bill Haley & His Comets). As the program neared the end of its run in the early 1980s, it began to frequently use lip-synched performances rather than live. The program also featured occasional comedic performances such as Richard Pryor and Andy Kaufman.


In 1973,[citation needed] producer Sugarman pitched the program as a means for NBC to capitalize on The Tonight Show '​s large audience. At the time, none of the Big Three television networks had programming on after 1:00 a.m., as common practice was to sign-off after the final program. Despite this lack of competition in the time-slot, NBC initially rejected the idea. The rejection led Sugarman to buy the air time for the premiere on his own, convincing Chevrolet to become the show's first sponsor. It premiered with ratings high enough for NBC to reconsider its decision, and the network subsequently bought the program.[1] The program remained a part of NBC's late night lineup until 1981.

The pilot for the series aired on August 19, 1972. It was presented as a 90-minute special encouraging young people to vote in the upcoming Presidential election. Several months later, on February 2, 1973, it premiered as a weekly series.[3]

Midnight Special's original time slot was from 1:00am to 2:30am. When Johnny Carson cut his own show from 90 to 60 minutes, The Midnight Special was moved up to 12:30am–2:00am.[3]

In 1978, at the height of the disco craze, the set was changed to resemble a disco nightclub complete with a platform dance floor. Wolfman Jack stood behind an elevated DJ booth. By fall 1979, as the genre's popularity waned, the disco set was gone.[3]

Guest stars[edit]

Some notable guest stars and hosts included:Randy Newman, Steely Dan, Journey, America, Jerry Lee Lewis, Electric Light Orchestra, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Three Degrees, Peter Frampton, Brooklyn Dreams, Aerosmith, Elton John, Gary Wright, Ray Charles, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Rod Stewart, AC/DC, Tina Turner, Heart, Barry Manilow, Steve Martin, Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Janis Ian, Billy Joel, Todd Rundgren, Weather Report, Rick James, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Billy Crystal, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, Diana Ross, The Jacksons, B.B King, Kiss, Gordon Lightfoot, Andy Kaufman, Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick, Richard Pryor, Cass Elliot, The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Village People, Genesis, Wolfman Jack, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Cars, Eddie Money, Blondie, Jim Croce, The Spinners, Dolly Parton, T.Rex, Al Green, The New York Dolls, Fleetwood Mac, War, Bread, The Chambers Brothers, REO Speedwagon, KC and the Sunshine Band, and ABBA. ELO had more appearances than any other band with four.

The show sponsored the last performance of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and was broadcast on November 16, 1973 in an episode taped a month earlier from specially-commissioned performances at the Marquee Club in Soho.[4][unreliable source?]


The series was canceled by NBC at the request of Dick Ebersol as part of a deal for him to take over then-ailing Saturday Night Live.[5] The Midnight Special was replaced by SCTV, a Canadian-produced sketch comedy series produced by the Toronto satellite of The Second City improvisational troupe.

DVD release[edit]

In 2006, a DVD collection entitled Burt Sugarman's Midnight Special was made available by Guthy-Renker through television and radio infomercials.

See also[edit]


  • McNeil, Alexander M. (1980) Total Television, New York: Penguin Books, Ltd. ISBN 0-14-004911-8


External links[edit]