Pat Sajak’s Failed Talk Show Gave Us the Craziest Moment in Late Night History

‘The Pat Sajak Show’ inviting Rush Limbaugh to guest host was a big mistake
Pat Sajak’s Failed Talk Show Gave Us the Craziest Moment in Late Night History

As you’ve probably heard, Pat Sajak is leaving TV’s Wheel of Fortune this week after more than 40 years of hosting the show/randomly being a dick to contestants for no reason. 

While Sajak is going on to bigger and better things (and by that, we mean a community theater production of a Columbo play), he leaves behind a legacy that doesn’t just include Wheel of Fortune, but also a short-lived late-night talk show: the aptly-titled The Pat Sajak Show.

Back in 1989, years before David Letterman joined the network, CBS decided to take on The Tonight Show, following rumors that Johnny Carson was about to retire. So they approached Sajak to host a competing late-night show, which even he admitted was just a “clone of The Tonight Show.” Sajak’s very first guest, Chevy Chase, mocked the conspicuous similarities between the two shows, referring to Sajak’s sidekick as “Ed.” 

Carson didn’t leave The Tonight Show until 1992, and Sajak’s upstart alternative only lasted for about 18 months. But in that short window, The Pat Sajak Show still managed to give us one of the most truly bonkers moments in late-night TV history.

Shortly after a strong debut, The Pat Sajak Show struggled in the ratings, despite promos marketing it to couples as an alternative to joyless sex. 

So CBS changed up the format, scrapping the opening monologue and bringing in guest hosts every Friday. As Sajak later claimed, CBS “actually auditioned replacements for me on the air.” One of those potential replacements was noted laugh riot Rush Limbaugh. The late right-wing radio host took the reins of The Pat Sajak Show on March 30, 1990. And it did not go well.

The racist, sexist, homophobic blowhard promised the network that he would “stay away from controversy” while hosting. But during the show, after bragging that he was “easily able to relate to the masses,” he waded out into the studio audience with a microphone.

This segment came immediately after Limbaugh bemoaned that the Governor of Idaho had vetoed a bill that would have ushered in “the most restrictive state abortion law in the nation,” following threats of a national boycott of Idaho potatoes. The first woman Limbaugh spoke to got right in his face, stating, “Women’s lives are more important than any potatoes, you understand that?” 

When he asked her why she was so mad, she responded, “Women are dying every day all over the world because of people like you.”

Limbaugh tried to silence her, claiming that she wasn’t being “proper,” so other audience members began shouting. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” one person yelled. “It’s all over for you, Rush!” another chimed in. “You’ve got blood on your hands,” an unseen audience member called out. 

And just think for a moment how wild it must have been to tune into The Pat Sajak Show, arguably the most milquetoast late-night comedy show in TV history, and hear someone passionately screaming, “You’ve got blood on your hands!”

Keep in mind, this was shortly after Limbaugh stated that AIDS was a “modern day plague on homosexuals.” At one point, someone shouted, “You’re a Nazi!” while someone else bellowed, “If CBS wants to make money off of you, we’ll boycott them as well.” 

In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing that all of this made it to the air. Even when Limbaugh retreated to his desk, the audience continued to heckle him, leading to chants of “Bring Pat Sajak back” and “We want Pat.” 

Toward the end of the taping, security got nervous and removed the entire audience, forcing Limbaugh to sign off in an empty soundstage. The debacle totally torpedoed his chances of landing his own show at CBS.

Limbaugh later alleged, during an interview with Sajak on CNN, that the producers purposefully filled the audience with people who hated him. “(The) studio audience was entirely stacked against me,” Limbaugh claimed. “I don’t know if it was done on purpose, with the intent to sabotage my effort, or if it was done on purpose as a result of a misunderstanding during production meetings.”

He also complained that “one woman actually hit me,” presumably referring to the moment where the first speaker lightly touched him on the shoulder. 

All of which is to say, replacing Pat Sajak is a cursed gig, and Ryan Seacrest should be nervous as hell.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).


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