Monday, February 21, 2011

Daytime TV Was Once Awesome

Growing up in the 70's, I didn't watch a lot of late night TV. I remember seeing The Tonight Show a few times, but my parents were fairly strict about that 10:00 pm bedtime on school nights. But something that I think a lot of younger people aren't aware of is the daytime talkshows from that era. Before Oprah and Ellen, before Maury and Montel, there were daytime talkshows that were a lot more like late night shows. There were three of them: The Mike Douglas Show, The Merv Griffin Show and Dinah!. Dinah Shore was a former pop/jazz singer (Wikipedia identifies her as the forerunner of Doris Day and Patti Page). Merv Griffin was a former singer and game show mogul who got rich creating Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! (his mansion in the Hollywood Hills, visible from West Hollywood, is a local landmark), who had a strange, effeminate speaking style. And Mike Douglas was, again, a former singer who came off as the most square dad type. These shows were all on in the late morning/early afternoon, around the time The Price is Right was on. I didn't watch any of them religiously or anything, but I do remember seeing them all plenty of times back in the day, and I particularly remember The Mike Douglas Show, which was filmed on a dayglo set with big asterisks and stuff (Seinfeld payed tribute to the Merv Griffin set in the 90's). These shows basically followed the same format as the Carson-era Tonight Show. I saw some interesting things on these shows, and in fact they gave me my first exposure to standup comedy. I remember seeing David Brenner on those shows quite a bit. He didn't exactly ignite my mind the way Steve Martin would a year or two later, but he was funny, and the idea of somebody whose job was just to go out and make people laugh was very appealing. I used to try to get laughs by repeating routines I'd seen him do, probably getting them all wrong. Brenner was the go-to guest host for Carson in the late 70's.



One routine I remembered trying out on my friends was a complicated joke about a stuttering, epileptic guy going duck hunting. Just a few weeks ago, I was searching YouTube for "David Brenner Duck Hunting" trying to find this joke that I had a vague recollection of, with no luck. Then, I came across this. Turns out that joke was not David Brenner, but Charlie Callas, who apparently just died.


The funny part is that, as a kid, I thought all the funny voices in that routine were hilarious, but I didn't quite get the joke. I thought if I found it and watched it now, it would make sense, but you know what? I still have no idea what the fuck the point of this joke is.

I don't remember seeing any rock bands on these shows, in those days when I was still unaware of rock music, but via YouTube I've found a lot of great clips of pretty obscure rock artists. Remember, this stuff was on in the afternoon, the equivalent of the Ellen show now. Amazing to see who was being programmed at that time.

Iggy Pop and David Bowie, performing the Oedipal "Sister Midnight":


Tom Waits:


Frank Zappa:


Of course, this classic clip of Gene Simmons being interviewed by Mike Douglas is familiar to KISS fans. "You can't hide the hook, honey!"


As far as I can recall, the last time this format was really tried (and I don't think Ellen or The Rosie O'Donnell Show were exactly the same thing) was in the 80's, when David Letterman had an afternoon show. I only saw it twice, but it was a great show, basically the exact same show he would launch on late night the following year. Perhaps predictably, it flopped and was quickly canceled.

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