Earlier this week, we said goodbye to Larry Wilmore’s late-night talk show The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. Apart from being a skilled comedian and writer, the series featured one of the few high-profile black commentators in late-night television. The audience for the media’s PM time slot can be fickle as we’ve witnessed over the years, but there is never a shortage of fascinating programming in the after-hours genre to look back on. Here are just a few late-night TV shows you might have missed.
Before MTV, there was Night Fight — which beat the music network with their launch just a few months prior. The programming was weird. There were no VJs at the helm (just a voice). And the electrifying logo/intro was like something from a lost cult film on VHS — the kind of gem that the creators of Stranger Things wet their pants over. Offbeat and obscure music videos, live performances, cult movies, documentaries, and interviews abounded. Night Flight was a right of passage for ‘80s teens looking for something anti-MTV that played through the wee hours of the morning. But for those of us who missed Night Flight during its original run, the show is available online for just a few bucks a month.
USA Up All Night
From 1989 to 1998 from 11pm to 5am, USA Up All Night screened low-budget movies and comedic banter from hosts including a duck-voiced Gilbert Gottfried and the bubbly, scantily clad Rhonda Shear. Audiences also got the occasional peek at New York City and Los Angeles nightlife. And because of the location “reporting,” films from studios like B-movie giant Troma Entertainment were often featured on the program. Toxic Avenger, anyone?
Playboy After Dark
Imagine a cocktail party hosted by Playboy’s Hugh Hefner. The guests are all famous, but instead rubbing elbows at Hef’s swinging pad, the partygoers mingle at a CBS studio in Los Angeles. Yeah, it’s a little awkward — but the vintage factor is fun. Playboy After Dark feels like Hef’s attempt to keep up with the kids these days, but the series vetted a number of talented musical guests like Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, and more.
Broadway Open House
Broadway Open House was one of network TV’s first late-night comedy-variety series, telecast live on NBC from 1950 to 1951. It’s perhaps most famous for leading to the development of The Tonight Show. From Slate about one of the show’s hosts, whose popularity reportedly made co-host Jerry Lester so jealous he walked off his own show:
The show’s breakout star was the uncharismatic and monotonous Dagmar, née Jennie Lewis, née Virginia Ruth Egnor, a tall, blonde West Virginian whose job was to sit on stage for the entire show, wear a low-cut dress, and occasionally come on stage and be leered at. Dagmar was billed as the singer for the Broadway Open House band, but the running joke was that she never sang. (Dagmar would later record a novelty duet with Frank Sinatra called ‘Mama Will Bark,’ which has been called the worst thing Sinatra ever recorded.) Instead she purveyed deadpan malapropisms that inevitably set Lester off in spasms of sexual innuendo. ‘This is Prince Glockenspiel. He is one of my sweaters,’ said Dagmar in one bit from Jan. 30, 1951. ‘Suitors,’ Lester responded, before turning to the audience and saying ‘ ’Course, sweaters isn’t bad either, you know?” Every single Dagmar segment is sort of like that: gleefully sexist and unfunny, yet somehow redeemed by Dagmar’s odd, icy sense of dignity. (‘I thank you’ was her standard closing line.)
Watch Broadway Open House on Archive.org.
The Wilton North Report
Part newsy, part friendly banter. Think of The Wilton North Report as a prototype for something like The Daily Show. Watch a short film about a suburban dominatrix featured on the show, above.
Michaels’ Movie Madness
From IMDb about the ‘80s-era series Michaels’ Movie Madness, which featured science fiction icon Forrest J. Ackerman:
Hosted by writer/director Peter Michaels that appeared sporadically across the US. Forrest J Ackerman appeared every Friday evening with Michaels giving insights on the Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy films broadcast as well as showing off many of the Fantasy Artifacts from his home that Peter Michaels tried so hard and valiantly to place in a permanent and proper museum. The museum, of course and forever tragically, never happened even with the best of efforts — but Michaels’ Movie Madness has entered a kind of cult status with rumors of a modern revamp today with Peter Michaels himself returning along with the late Forrest J Ackerman via Michaels’ back catalog of video and audio tape on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).