Ranking Every Late Night Host Who Didn’t Last a Year

Ranking Every Late Night Host Who Didn’t Last a Year

For every Jay Leno, whose late-night talk shows couldn’t be killed with pitchforks, silver bullets or stakes through the heart, there’s a D.L. Hughley — a comedian who gets a crack at late-night fame but disappears into the television twilight before the calendar can reach year’s end. Some of those shows, like Chevy Chase’s under-inflated debacle, earned their quick, undignified deaths. Others were unjustly sent to the gallows for comedy crimes they never committed. 

Which ones deserved better treatment? Here is our definitive ranking of the late-night hosts who, for better or worse, couldn’t keep their shows off life support.  

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Chevy Chase

Chase wasn’t even Fox’s first choice for a late-night host to fill the vacuum created by Johnny Carson’s retirement in 1992. But when Dolly Parton turned down the network, Chevy accepted the gig. “The fact that I’m not a stand-up comedian and I don’t have material I’m ready to go out with is a real challenge to me, and you just have to see what happens,” Chase said during a press conference. What happened was a disaster that lasted only five weeks, currently rocking a pristine zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Entertainment Weekly gave the show an unqualified F, as in effing disaster: “To truly understand the tedium Chase has achieved, you have to catch him these days, now that the show has settled into a mind-deadening, Chevy-centric rut.”

Jerry Lewis

It’s not quite The Day The Clown Cried, but The Jerry Lewis Show is its own kind of tasteless tragedy. Of all the shows on the list, this one had about the shortest run, lasting a single week back in 1984. That’s partly because the five-show run was a tryout to replace Alan Thicke’s failed effort. It had no chance with Lewis spewing out treacle to his audience like, “The best wish I could ever wish you, to have people in show business as friends — its a gift. Its a wonderful frustration, not being able to thank them all.”

Magic Johnson

The Magic Hour is right up there — down there? — in terms of all-time late-night disasters. Magic’s own sidekick, comic Craig Shoemaker, called the show “an absolute nightmare.” Did it occur to anyone that being a Hall of Fame point guard doesn’t make one a comedian or gifted interviewer? Apparently, it didn’t occur to Magic, who blamed Black celebrities for failing to support him with guest appearances. The show only lasted two months, with dismal ratings except for the night Howard Stern dunked on the Laker legend. “Magic is not particularly quick-witted. He's going to be eaten alive by Howard unless he's really on his toes, predicted Entertainment Weekly TV critic Bruce Fretts. Spoiler alert: That’s exactly what happened.

Alec Baldwin

Baldwin has tried this twice, failing miserably both times. First up was Up Late with Alec Baldwin, an overly serious MSNBC talker that didn’t last a full month in 2013. Only five episodes made it to air. Why pull the plug so soon? MSNBC suspended the show after Baldwin allegedly called a photographer a "cock-sucking f*g." Yeah, that will do it. 

In 2018, Baldwin got another shot (on ABC in prime time!) with celebrity talker The Alec Baldwin Show. Newsday raved about the “gaseous” program: “The Alec Baldwin Show is about Alec Baldwin. The guests are props for his observations and worldviews, or foils for stories about his brilliant career.” At least this one lasted months, not days.


If ALF's Hit Talk Show was such a massive hit, why did it only last seven episodes back in 2004?

Adam Carolla

The Man Show’s hosts traveled different paths after that show ran its course. Jimmy Kimmel went to ABC for a late-nighter that’s still chugging along; his co-host stayed on Comedy Central to headline Too Late with Adam Carolla, a bombastic beauty that lasted three whole months. While there were no Juggies bouncing on trampolines, Too Late was The Man Show’s spiritual descendent, with Carolla holding court on 21st-century masculinity. Without Kimmel’s laid-back demeanor to counterbalance Carolla’s motormouth, viewers stayed away.

D.L. Hughley

The two-sentence Weekends at the D.L. entry on Wikipedia has multiple wiki-violations, including no sources or citations. So as far as we know, Hughley talked to guests and did comedy sketches. And that’s the best that even the Comedy Central show’s single fan can seem to remember. 

Rick Dees

Rick who? Of all the unlikely “funny people” to host a late-night show, Dees has to rank right up there. For many years, he was known for mainly two things — his weekly syndicated radio show The Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 Countdown and his 1976 novelty hit, Disco Duck

But 1976 was a long way from 1990, when ABC inexplicably gave him his own late-night show, Into the Night Starring Rick Dees. His first-ever monologue gets off to a weird start, not with jokes but a loving ode to the troops, belief in God and the United States of America. Pander much? Into the Night didn’t last quite a year, proving that as a comedian, Dees was one hell of an FM disc jockey.


Ubiquitous 1980s comic Sinbad teamed up with yacht-rocker Stephen Bishop for the low-rent Keep on Cruisin', which barely lasted six months back in 1987. Watch this Sinbad routine about ugly driver’s license pictures and you’ll be amazed it hung on for that long. 

Keenen Ivory Wayans

The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show aired for a little more than six months, despite its all-female band, Ladies of the Night, and In Living Color-style comedy sketches. Wayans complained that the show sucked because he didn’t have creative control. Guest lineups headlined by soap star Jack Wagner and a Playboy centerfold probably didn’t help.

Alan Thicke

The future Growing Pains star was a young-ish rocker/comic when the unknown Canadian was handed his own late-night show, Thicke of the Night. Amazingly, America preferred The Tonight Show. Thicke of the Night was supposed to challenge Johnny Carson. They said it couldnt be done, and I was the guy they chose to prove it,” said the self-deprecating Thicke after the show was axed. It would get a devastating Harry Shearer parody a decade later on Saturday Night Live.

Hannibal Buress

Why? seemed to be the question that the host had about his own Why? with Hannibal Buress. Even before the Comedy Central show was officially canceled back in 2015, he told the New York Post that the show “wasn’t the ideal format for me. I don’t think I’ll be doing it again.” He was right.

The Streaming Gang of Joel McHale, Michelle Wolf and Larry Wilmore

We’re still waiting for a breakout streaming late-night talk show hit. It’s not that the streamers haven’t tried — in 2018, Netflix trotted out both The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale and The Break with Michelle Wolf. (Chelsea Handler and Hasan Minhaj had Netflix shows that almost made this list, both getting past the one-year mark but neither making it to a second birthday.) Peacock tried Wilmore in 2020, but it only lasted a few months. Does the format simply not work in an on-demand environment?

Norm Macdonald

We’re not here to diss Macdonald, but he deserves some kind of prize for hosting two late-night shows that lasted less than a year. Way less than a year. Sports Show with Norm Macdonald was on Comedy Central for three whole months in 2011 — and that was the one with legs. Netflix dumped 10 episodes of Norm Macdonald Has a Show on September 14, 2018 in one big pile — and that’s it, premiering and ending on the same day.

Nikki Glaser

After a few episodes of Not Safe with Nikki Glaser were produced, Comedy Central was so aroused that it ordered up a few more — before abruptly canceling it. The show featured Glaser gabbing with comedian pals about all things sex, which sounds fun. But a quick scan through the list of her naughty talkin’ guests — in particular, Chris D’Elia, T.J. Miller, Chris Hardwick — makes us believe the show was right to shut up before someone said something actionable. 

Conan O’Brien

Does Conan really belong on this list? Probably not. But his long-promised turn at The Tonight Show in 2009 lasted less than seven months (by far the shortest tenure in that show’s history) before greedy Jay Leno snatched it back. No tears for Conan, however — NBC paid him $45 million to go away, then TBS ran a version of Conan’s show for more than a decade. The Conan Tonight Show also received four Emmy nominations, an honor Leno’s version hadn’t achieved in years. 

Zach Galifianakis

VH1’s Late World with Zach was delightfully weird, leaning more on off-kilter monologues, man-on-the-street madness and weirdo comedy sketches than the traditional host/guest conversations over a desk. Galifianakis would perfect his mocking of the talk-show format a few years later with Between Two Ferns.

Wanda Sykes

The Wanda Sykes Show aired once a week from late 2009 through spring 2010 for a total of 21 episodes. While the show wasn’t a ratings success, critics applauded Sykes anyway. “Sykes is gracing America with her sharp observations and sharper delivery every Saturday night,” wrote Bitch Media’s Lisa Schmeiser. “If Sykes is selling, Im buying,” added AfterEllen’s Heather Hogan. Still, it wasnt enough to make it through a full year. 

Joan Rivers

After several years of serving as Johnny Carson’s “permanent” guest host, Rivers was lured by Fox to become the First Lady of Late Night. Two problems: First, Rivers’ decision to take the job caused a permanent rift in her relationship with Carson, who was miffed that Rivers didn’t ask for his blessing before taking the job. The audacity! (Carson was a piece of work.)

Second, the show itself was a flop. Ratings dropped after an okay start, and several affiliates of the brand-new Fox network refused to air the show, some out of weird loyalty to Carson. Rivers was fired after seven months and replaced by rotating hosts. Was any of this Rivers’ fault? Absolutely not. In another era, late-night Rivers would have run forever.

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