Thursday, February 20, 2014

Seven Things to Know about The Midnight Special

1. The pilot episode for The Midnight Special, hosted by John Denver, was broadcast on NBC in August 1972. Its theme was to encourage eighteen-year-olds in the U.S. to register so they could vote in the upcoming presidential election. The 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, had been ratified just a year earlier. That first show's guest performers included Harry Chapin, Linda Ronstadt, The Isley Brothers, Mama Cass, Argent, and Helen Reddy (who would later serve as host for a year--the only time the show had a permanent host).

2. Wolfman Jack was The Midnight Special's announcer from the beginning and was the only "regular" during its eight-year run. Born Robert Weston Smith, the deep-voiced disc jockey first gained fame in the early 1960s at a 250kw clear-channel radio station near the Mexican border. He was already a popular syndicated deejay in the U.S. when he appeared in George Lucas' nostalgic American Graffiti (1973).

3. The Midnight Special, which debuted in its regular Saturday 1:00 A.M. time slot in February 1973, was the first late-night series to follow The Tonight Show. Tom Snyder's talk show Tomorrow debuted later that year and filled the same time slot on Tuesday through Friday.

Tina Turner rockin' out on The Midnight Special.
4. It seems as though every notable musical act of the 1970s appeared on The Midnight Special at some point. The impressive list of performers included ABBA, Lynn Anderson, The Bee Gees, David Bowie, James Brown, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Kiss, Gordon Lightfoot, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, Paul McCartney, Olivia Newton-John, Diana Ross, Sly & the Family Stone, the Rolling Stones, and Tina Turner (with and without Ike).

5. Donna Summer was the most frequent performer, logging nine appearances from 1976-1981--during the disco era, of course. Indeed, at the height of disco, The Midnight Special set was redesigned to look like a disco club.

6. The Midnight Special eventually expanded its guest star line-up to include comedians, such as: Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, Andy Kaufman, Jimmie Walker, David Brenner, Monty Python, and Bill Cosby.

7. NBC cancelled The Midnight Special in 1981. Part of the reason was that it wanted to lure back programming executive Dick Ebersol to revive a flagging Saturday Night Live. Ebersol, who was instrumental in SNL's original success, had left NBC in 1980 to pursue other ventures, which included producing The Midnight Special. To free Ebersol from The Midnight Special, NBC--which had been mulling cancellation anyway--just terminated its pioneer late-night show.


toto2 said...

Rick, I have never been a late night person so I missed out on the Midnight Special. It certainly boasted a lot of well known performers and it made me smile to see Johnny Mathis included among them!

chessman said...

like hootenanny a show from years before which featured folk music,this show was mostly lame almost never showing the great stuff