For most of television history, talk shows have been benign yet entertaining distractions, with pleasant guests offering amusing if not entirely memorable chatter. But on several occasions, talk shows departed from their safe realm into explosions of bizarre and remarkable happenings.
To celebrate when talk shows went wild, here are 10 of the weirdest moments in the genre's history, with equal servings of controversy, kookiness and pure WTF magic.
Exit, Stage Right: Jack Paar's tenure as host of "The Tonight Show" was unpredictable due to his emotional personality, but in February 1960 Paar created controversy when he protested NBC's censoring of a joke referring to a "water closet" by announcing to his astonished audience and co-workers that he was quitting. Paar was off the air for three weeks before NBC lured him back with an apology and permission to tell his censored joke.
An Uninvited Guest: Record producer Phil Spector had a reputation within the music industry for significantly deranged behavior, but the public got to see Spector's shenanigans on a February 1966 episode of Merv Griffin's talk show when he unexpectedly invited himself out of the audience and into the program. Guest panelists Phil Foster and Virginia Graham were not impressed with Spector, while Griffin's co-host Arthur Treacher tried to maintain dignified politeness while sitting next to the intruder. Griffin clearly spoke for everyone present when he suggested Spector make a return engagement when the moon wasn't full.
Objectivism After Midnight: For those who believe Johnny Carson's years on "The Tonight Show" were strictly all laughs, the talk show king was more than able to hold his own in non-comic cerebral discussions. Case in point: political theorist Ayn Rand was an unlikely guest, yet Carson more than held his own with questions regarding her theories and observations. This was among the most unlikely yet fascinating conversations in talk show history.
The Expiration Date: On June 5, 1971, Dick Cavett had health guru Jerome Rodale as a guest. During the show, Rodale advocated his organic food diet and offered remarks including "I’ve decided to live to be a hundred" and "I never felt better in my life." But when Cavett began interviewing another guest, Rodale slumped in his chair - he had suffered a heart attack while the show was being taped. Cavett would talk about the incident on multiple occasions, but never allowed the footage to be seen.
Literary Lions In Battle: Six months after Rodale died during his show, Cavett found himself with more on-air chaos when rival writers Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal shared the stage and sparked off a volley of insults at each other. Cavett and writer Janet Flanner, another guest, soon inserted themselves into the mini-battle.
Carson's Revenge: In December 1976, Don Rickles guested on "The Tonight Show" when Bob Newhart was the guest host and broke Carson's cigarette box while telling a joke. When Carson returned the next evening and discovered the broken box, he took a microphone and camera crew and marched out of the studio and across the hall at NBC to the set of Rickles' sitcom "CPO Sharkey," interrupting the production to vent his frustration at the comic's destructive antics.
Here's Frankie: Frank Sinatra rarely appeared on talk shows - he didn't need the publicity and wasn't eager to take personal questions about his life. But in November 1977, Sinatra was an unexpected guest host for "The Tonight Show" and (believe it or not) he was incredible. Opening the show with two songs - a pugnacious interpretation of "Maybe This Time" and a rueful take on Barry Manilow's "See the Show Again" - Sinatra good-naturedly served as the butt of George Burns' and Don Rickles' jokes and engaged in a wonderfully rambling conversation with Angie Dickinson that began with recollections of making "Ocean 11" and somehow became a serious discussion of vehicular safety.
Look Homeward, Angel: No one watching Farrah Fawcett's behavior during her June 6, 1997, appearance on David Letterman's talk show was certain what was going on with the blonde sex symbol. Some people wondered aloud if she was intoxicated or narcotized, while Letterman would later claim her bizarre behavior was a performance. Whatever it was, Fawcett epitomized the expression "hot mess" that night.
No Cruise Control: Not unlike Sinatra, Tom Cruise mostly avoided the talk show circuit. One of his rare appearances, a May 2005 visit to Oprah Winfrey's program, brought Cruise a surplus amount of attention for his seemingly unhinged insistence of raw passion for Katie Holmes. Cruise punctuated his emotional declarations by jumping on Winfrey's couch, leaving the normally unflappable host in a state of shock.
Upset Victory: Stephen Colbert brought an unapologetic partisan vibe to late night talk shows, and he broadcast his program live during Election Night in 2016 with the expectation that he would be cheering a Hillary Clinton victory. Needless to say, it was not the evening that Colbert or his viewers expected.
Photo: Frank Sinatra hosting "The Tonight Show" with sidekick Ed McMahon, courtesy of Cinema Crazed
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