No spot on the TV schedule is more rigged for disaster than the one opposite NBC’s Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Arsenio Hall may be able to survive there, but if he doesn’t he’ll join a long list of those who dared challenge the late-night king and were banished for their effrontery:
The Joey Bishop Show (1967-69)
Comedian Bishop, on ABC, never made a dent in Tonight’s audience. Others on his show fared better, though, notably his first-night guest Ronald Reagan, and his announcer, Regis Philbin.
Jack Paar Tonight (1973)
Carson’s Tonight Show predecessor took a shot at retrieving his crown 11 years after abandoning it. But the show appeared on ABC in a sporadic rotation with comedy specials, rock music shows, and movies, none of which caught on with viewers.
Thicke of the Night (1983-84)
This syndicated attempt to provide a hipper alternative to Tonight bombed largely because audiences didn’t see Canadian actor-comedian Alan Thicke as hip.
The Dick Cavett Show (1986)
Cavett had survived as the thinking man’s alternative to Carson from ‘69 to ‘72 on ABC, but viewers snoozed through his 1986 comeback attempt on the same network.
The Late Show (1986-87)
History-making in three respects: It was the Fox network’s first venture, Joan Rivers’ first talk show, and one of TV’s greatest goofs. Rivers got canned; so did replacements Robert Townsend and Arsenio Hall. Fox replaced the show with an unfunny skit program named The Wilton North Report; it got run down in a month.
The Pat Sajak Show (1989-90)
CBS’ heavily hyped effort to spin Mr. Wheel of Fortune into the new Carson ran into trouble its first week, when The Arsenio Hall Show also debuted. By contrast, the too-earnest Sajak and his duller- than-Ed sidekick, Dan Miller, seemed irrelevant. After 10 months, the 90-minute show shrank to an hour. Six months later it was gone.