Talk Show Hosts: A Movie History

At this year’s Oscars, there’s a very good chance that Oprah Winfrey will be nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. In that same category four years ago, Mo’Nique took home the statue for her work in another Lee Daniels drama, Precious. What do both of those women have in common? They are both former talk show hosts. Of course, Oprah has the distinction of having the most successful daytime talker of all time. Mo’Nique hosted “The Mo’Nique Show” on BET from 2009-2011.

This got me thinking about the rather high number of performers in film who parlayed their careers into the talk show circuit. In a number of these cases, this was done because that performer’s movie career wasn’t doing too well. In some cases, the results were positive. In others… well, not so much. Let’s take a look at some examples from both sides of the spectrum, shall we?

Positive Example: Jimmy Fallon

Mr. Fallon rose to prominence on “Saturday Night Live” before leaving the show to do what most successful SNL alum do: begin a film career. It didn’t turn out so well. Movies he headlined such as Fever Pitch and Taxi were financial failures. This led Fallon back to SNL producer Lorne Michaels when he took over the “Late Night” program from Conan O’Brien. And now Jimmy will be taking over for Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” this February.

Negative Example: Chevy Chase

Another SNL alum who became famous on the program’s Weekend Update segment, Chase was a wildly popular movie star in the 1980s. Unfortunately, by the time the 1990s rolled around, his career was on the down slope. The FOX Network came calling and gave him his own 11:00PM talk show in 1993. “The Chevy Chase Show” failed miserably against his competition – Leno and Letterman. It was canceled after only five weeks.

Positive Example: Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen had already had a popular and groundbreaking sitcom, but when that program ended, her movie career never took off. Her one starring vehicle, Mr. Wrong in 1996, was a dud. DeGeneres would begin her own daytime chatfest, which has now been going for ten years strong.

Negative Example: Roseanne Barr

Like Ellen, Roseanne had a top-rated sitcom. Shortly after that show ended, she had her own daytime talker that never got off the ground and was canceled after struggling for two years. Her film career also never matched her TV sitcom days. 1989’s She-Devil costarring Meryl Streep, no less, was a critical and commercial disappointment.

Positive Example: Rosie O’Donnell

Ms. O’Donnell’s film career got off to a big start in the early 90s with A League of their Own and Sleepless in Seattle before hitting the brakes with duds like Exit to Eden. So, in 1996, she got herself a daytime show that ran for six successful seasons.

There are many other examples of film stars who have gone the talk show route. Whoopi Goldberg was a successful actress who can now be seen on “The View”. Chris Rock had an acclaimed HBO talk show and now can be seen palling around with the Grown Ups crew. Chelsea Handler is doing her E! hosting duties while popping up in This Means War and the upcoming The Familymoon with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.

Arsenio Hall just came back to talk show world after nearly two decades away. He first became famous as Eddie Murphy’s sidekick in Coming to America. 

Jon Stewart tried to have a film career with roles in Big Daddy and The Faculty before something called “The Daily Show” came around.

Dennis Miller is another SNL vet/Weekend Update anchor who had an HBO show after his movie career (Bordello of Blood anyone?) sputtered.

And then there’s the rare example of someone who started as a talk show host before becoming a major movie star. I give you Greg Kinnear. He started out hosting “Talk Soup” and then got a 1:30AM talk show following Conan on NBC in the 1990s. It didn’t last too long, though, because he was cast in Sydney Pollack’s Sabrina and two years later, was Oscar nominated for As Good As It Gets. Of course, “Talk Soup” became “The Soup” and is now hosted by Joel McHale, who’s appeared in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! and Seth MacFarlane’s Ted. Could he be the next talk show host turned big screen star?

And finally, we have Bill Maher, who hosted ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” and now HBO’s “Real Time”. However, people who really know their movie history might recall his starring role in 1991’s Pizza Man. No… seriously. This is for real.

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