Midnight Special: Remembering One Of The Best Shows Of All Time
Everyone Wanted To Tune In
In the 1970s, late night TV shows were different. They still had A-list celebrities as guests but more than talking, the performances were truly epic. The Midnight Special premiered on August 19, 1972 but it wasn’t until February 2, 1973 when it became a regular series.
Back then, most guests would simply lip-sync to pre-recorded music but creator Burt Sugarman wanted something different. So he came up with the idea of a Friday night musical variety show where the acts would play live. NBC wasn’t too crazy about it mostly because all the networks signed off at 1AM and Sugarman wanted that particular time slot to capitalize on the success of The Tonight Show and therefore retain its audience. Sugarman didn’t budge and instead, bought the airtime and contacted Chevrolet – which became the show’s first ever sponsor. The 90-minute program as a special was a success and NBC picked it up.
The pilot episode was packed with talented artists – The Everly Brothers, The Isley Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Cass Elliot and Harry Chapin to name a few. Other legendary acts who went on to appear on the show include AC/DC, Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Cheap Trick, Jim Croce, Bo Diddley, Electric Light Orchestra, The Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Heart, Genesis, Journey, B.B. King, Elton John, Prince, T. Rex, Steely Dan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Golden Earring, and Thin Lizzy.
It was also where David Bowie last performed as Ziggy Stardust. Midnight Special didn’t just showcase big rock ‘n roll acts at the time but also up and coming bands and artists. From hard rock to disco – it offered a wide array of genres. And most of those who appeared on it made history.
It wasn’t long before ABC premiered their In Concert on Friday nights. But in 1981, Midnight Special was cancelled due to TV executive Dick Ebersol’s request – he was to take over Saturday Night Live and the cancellation was part of the deal.
It was replaced by a sketch comedy series and then another music program but none of them came close to Midnight Special‘s success.