Just because you’re a huge star on the radio doesn’t mean you can make the tough transition to television — as proven by the TV failures of these top radio personalities.
The Howard Stern Show (1987)
Before his success on America’s Got Talent, Howard Stern had other less-memorable forays into television. You may remember his E! series — which was essentially a filmed version of his radio show — or his short-lived Saturday late-night CBS show, which was a rejigged version of the E! show. You may even recall his low-budget syndicated “Channel 9″ show that aired in a handful of American markets in the early 1990s. While none of these were huge hits, at least they weren’t outright flops — that distinction belongs to Stern’s aborted 1987 late-night talk show. Stern filmed a week’s worth of pilot shows for Fox, which were then tested by focus groups. Joined by radio sidekick Robin Quivers, announcer Steve Rossi and former Mountain frontman Leslie West — conducting “the Howard Stern Orchestra” no less — the awkward, rough-around-the-edges shock jock was not king of this medium, and it tested poorly. Fox wound up canceling the show before a single episode aired.
The Rush Limbaugh Show (1992-1996)
Controversial conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh helmed his own late-night syndicated talk show (produced by future Fox News impresario Roger Ailles) that was intended to be a right-wing political version of The Tonight Show. Unfortunately, the show only proved that Limbaugh’s radio shtick fell flat on TV, as did his rants about liberals and “feminazis”. Meanwhile, Rush himself came across as a boorish square completely out of touch with pop culture — he actually references his “hepped-up crowd”. Not cool, daddio.
Rush Limbaugh guest hosts The Pat Sajak Show (1990)
As lame as The Rush Limbaugh Show was, however, it didn’t come close to Rush’s catastrophic 1990 guest-host appearance on The Pat Sajak Show. I defy you not to laugh as Limbaugh instantly transforms from swaggering bully to a frightened deer caught in the headlights when an angry audience member confronts him about his anti-abortion stance. The audience — which, unbeknownst to Rush, was stacked with left-wing activists — quickly and savagely turned on him. The whole thing was a headline-making disaster; probably not coincidentally, Sajak’s short-lived show was cancelled two weeks later. You’ll notice Sajak has never asked Limbaugh to sub for him on Wheel of Fortune.
The Dr. Laura Show (2000)
Dr. Laura Schlesinger’s TV talk show caused controversy months before it hit the air when a group of activists protested her anti-gay opinions by organizing protests and boycotts. When the show finally premiered in September 2000, her hardcore acolytes were shocked to see the tough-talking, opinionated radio host had been defanged, and this kinder, gentler Dr. Laura came across as both boring and ingenuine. To make matters worse, the show’s veracity was questioned after production staffers were caught impersonating guests — in fact, a show researcher masqueraded as a college student in one episode, and turned up the following day pretending to be a completely different person. By November, ratings were in the toilet and the show was bleeding advertisers. The Dr. Laura Show was officially cancelled in March 2001.
Imus in the Morning (1996-2007)
Don Imus was New York City’s No. 1 morning man back in the 1980s until he was displaced by his nemesis Howard Stern, whose hilarious anti-Imus rants were legendary. Years later, the deejay reinvented himself as a political analyst, and he carved out a new niche hosting politicians and journalists. This new format caught the attention of the fledgling MSNBC cable news network, which was desperate for inexpensive news programming, and decided to air a live video simulcast of Imus in the Morning. Ratings weren’t great, but the show was dirt-cheap to produce, and it had a run of more than a decade until Imus stepped over the line in April 2007. In this notorious incident, Imus and his on-air team referred to African-American members of the Rutgers University female basketball team as “nappy-headed hoes” and “jigaboos.” Imus apologized the following day, but crusading Rev. Al Sharpton led the charge to drive Imus off the air. MSNBC stopped simulcasting the show the following day, and nearly all the radio show’s sponsors immediately pulled their ads. Both the TV and radio versions were cancelled shortly after.
The Adventures of Mark and Brian (1991)
Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps hosted L.A. radio’s No. 1 morning show, grabbing attention with an endless parade of wacky, over-the-top stunts. In the fall of 1991, NBC picked up a primetime series that followed the duo as they attempted to pull off a different radio-style stunt each week, such as enlisting lounge lizard Robert Goulet to give a Valentine’s Day concert while hanging from a helicopter. Despite major promotion, viewers stayed away in droves and the show was cancelled by November. NBC reran the show the following summer, with similar low-rated results.