The Midnight Special (TV series)

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The Midnight Special
Midnight Special TV Show Logo.jpg
GenreMusic variety show
Created byBurt Sugarman
Presented byVarious guest hosts (1972–1975, 1976–1981)
Helen Reddy (1975–1976)
Narrated byWolfman Jack
Opening theme"Midnight Special" performed by Johnny Rivers
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes450[1]
Executive producerBurt Sugarman
ProducerDick Ebersol
Production locationNBC Studios in Burbank, CA
Running time90 min
Production companyBurt Sugarman Productions
Original networkNBC
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseAugust 19, 1972 (1972-08-19) –
May 1, 1981 (1981-05-01)

The Midnight Special is an American late-night musical variety series originally broadcast 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 90-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.[citation needed] The series also occasionally aired vintage footage of older acts, such as Bill Haley & His Comets. The program also featured occasional performances of comedians such as Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, and George Carlin.


Johnny Rivers (pictured in 1975) performed the theme song for The Midnight Special, which is a rendition of Midnight Special (recorded in 1965), which the show is named after.

In 1972,[citation needed] producer Burt 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 am Eastern time, as common practice by most stations was to sign off after the final program. Despite a lack of competition in that timeslot, NBC initially rejected the idea. The rejection led Sugarman to buy the air time for the premiere on his own as a brokered show, 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] NBC also reasoned that the additional weekly hour and a half of programming would allow NBC to recoup some revenue lost as a result of the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which banned the advertising of tobacco on television effective January 1, 1971.[3] 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.[4] Within eight months of its premiere, The Midnight Special had proven that programming in the later time period was viable, and NBC would expand its programming in the time slot to five days a week with the addition of the talk show Tomorrow, hosted by Tom Snyder, the other four nights.

The Midnight Special's original time slot was from 1:00–2:30 a.m. in the Eastern and Pacific time zones (Midnight to 1:30 a.m. Central and Mountain). When The Tonight Show's run time was shortened from ninety to sixty minutes in September 1980, The Midnight Special was moved to 12:30 a.m. (ET/PT)/11:30 p.m. (CT/MT), maintaining its 90-minute run time.[4]

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 replaced.[4]

Guest stars[edit]

The Bee Gees performing on The Midnight Special, 1973.
Chuck Berry as guest host, November 2, 1973.
Marty Robbins performing on The Midnight Special, 1973.
Ike & Tina Turner Revue on The Midnight Special, 1974.
Helen Reddy in a promotional image for The Midnight Special, 1975.
Announcer Wolfman Jack in 1979.

Some notable guest stars and hosts included:


The series was canceled by NBC at the request of Dick Ebersol as part of a deal for him to take over the then-ailing Saturday Night Live.[6] Because there was no time for NBC to develop a new show from scratch in light of the urgent SNL situation, The Midnight Special was replaced by SCTV, a weekly Canadian sketch comedy series performed by members of the Toronto satellite of Chicago's The Second City improvisational troupe. That program, in turn, would later be replaced with another music show, Friday Night Videos, in 1983, also produced initially by Ebersol.

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. In 2014, an 11-DVD collection entitled The Midnight Special was released by Star-Vista through standard retail channels.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b The Midnight Special Comes to VH-1, a 1997 article by pop culture critic Ed Robertson
  2. ^ Promotional site for the DVD re-issue Archived 2006-04-24 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Tom Snyder on Later, 1994
  4. ^ a b c "The Midnight Special". Retrieved 2013-09-22.
  5. ^ Fan's detailed website focused just on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  6. ^ Dick Ebersol, from the Museum of Broadcast Communications


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

External links[edit]