The Midnight Special (TV series)

The Midnight Special

Chuck Berry as guest host, November 2, 1973.
Genre Music variety show
Created by Burt Sugarman
Presented by Helen Reddy (1975-1976)
Narrated by Wolfman Jack
Opening theme "Midnight Special" performed by Johnny Rivers
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 450[1]
Executive producer(s) Burt Sugarman
Producer(s) Dick Ebersol
Location(s) NBC Studios in Burbank, CA
Running time 90 min
Production company(s) Burt Sugarman Productions
Original network NBC
Audio format Monaural
Original release February 2, 1973 (1973-02-02) – May 1, 1981 (1981-05-01)
Related shows Tomorrow

The Midnight Special is an American late-night musical variety series that aired on NBC during the 1970s and early 1980s, created and produced by Burt Sugarman. It premiered as a special on August 19, 1972, then began its run as a regular series on February 2, 1973; its last episode was on May 1, 1981.[2] The 90-minute program followed the Friday night edition of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Like its syndicated late-night cousin Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, the show typically featured guest hosts, except for a period from July 1975 through March 1976 when singer Helen Reddy served as the regular host. Wolfman Jack served as the announcer and frequent guest host. The program's theme song, a traditional folk song called "Midnight Special", was performed by Johnny Rivers.

The Midnight Special was noted for featuring musical acts performing live, which was unusual since most television appearances during the era showed performers lip-synching to prerecorded music. The series also occasionally aired vintage footage of older acts, such as Bill Haley & His Comets. As the program neared the end of its run in the early 1980s, it began to frequently use lip-synched performances rather than live ones. The program also featured occasional performances of comedians such as Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, and George Carlin.


In 1973, producer Sugarman pitched the program as a means for NBC to capitalize on The Tonight Show's large audience. At the time, none of the Big Three television networks had programming on after 1:00 a.m., as common practice was to sign-off after the final program. Despite this lack of competition in the time-slot, NBC initially rejected the idea. The rejection led Sugarman to buy the air time for the premiere on his own as a brokered show, convincing Chevrolet to become the show's first sponsor. It premiered with ratings high enough for NBC to reconsider its decision, and the network subsequently bought the program.[1] The program remained a part of NBC's late night lineup until 1981.

The pilot for the series aired on August 19, 1972. It was presented as a 90-minute special encouraging young people to vote in the upcoming Presidential election. Several months later, on February 2, 1973, it premiered as a weekly series.[3]

The Midnight Special original time slot was from 1:002:30am. When Johnny Carson cut his own show from 90 to 60 minutes, The Midnight Special was moved up to 12:30am2:00am.[3]

In 1978, at the height of the disco craze, the set was changed to resemble a disco nightclub complete with a platform dance floor. Wolfman Jack stood behind an elevated DJ booth. By fall 1979, as the genre's popularity waned, the disco set was gone.[3]

Guest stars

Some notable guest stars and hosts included:

ELO had more appearances than any other band with four.

The show presented The 1980 Floor Show, the last performance of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. It was broadcast on November 16, 1973, and was taped a month earlier from specially-commissioned performances at the Marquee Club in Soho, London.[4]


The series was canceled by NBC at the request of Dick Ebersol as part of a deal for him to take over then-ailing Saturday Night Live.[5] The Midnight Special was replaced by SCTV, a weekly Canadian sketch comedy series produced by the Toronto satellite of The Second City improvisational troupe; that in turn would later be replaced with another music program, Friday Night Videos.

DVD release

In 2006, a DVD collection entitled Burt Sugarman's Midnight Special was made available by Guthy-Renker through television and radio infomercials. In 2014, an 11-DVD collection entitled The Midnight Special was released by Star-Vista through standard retail channels.

See also




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