We all know how TV talk shows work: guest comes on to plug their movie/music/book/whatever, host makes polite chitchat, audience chuckles, cut to commercial.
But sometimes, when things go wrong in just the right way (or vice versa), the format has led to some real OMG TV moments. Here are a few talk show shockers that might have trended if only we had Twitter back in the day.
Segment that led to suit against Morton Downey Jr.
The CNN Film “Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie” shows how Downey made a name for himself in the late ’80s as the “king of shock TV.” His show was built to generate controversy, sometimes from its bellicose host and sometimes from its more volatile guests. Plus, a live boisterous audience to hoot, holler and instigate along the way.
Determining the most shocking moment of his show is difficult, as that was the purpose of the show.
From the fight between Roy Innis and Rev. Al Sharpton, to the showdown with Rep. Ron Paul, to security forcibly ejecting movie director Lloyd Kaufman, there are many to choose from.
But this one led to a lawsuit: Kellie Everts, the self-proclaimed “stripper for God,” was called several demeaning names on air, and at different points Downey pushed her with his pelvis and forcibly removed her microphone.
Audience shouts down Limbaugh
Not long after Downey’s show was canceled in 1989, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh was an up-and-coming, nationally syndicated radio personality.
With CBS’ “The Pat Sajak Show” on the verge of cancellation, guest hosts were asked to fill in, including Limbaugh.
On March 30, 1990, Limbaugh more or less did what he does on the radio (and did for a few years on syndicated TV): rail against liberal causes.
When the topic of Idaho’s controversial abortion bill was brought up, he went to the audience for reaction and was confronted by an angry abortion rights supporter. Soon, Limbaugh was being verbally attacked by multiple people (some wearing shirts for gay activist group ACT UP), who continued to shout and disrupt the show, at least one calling him a “murderer.”
The audience ultimately had to be cleared in order to finish taping the final segment of the program, and Limbaugh thanked CBS for how they handled the situation.
On a 2001 edition of “Larry King Live” where Sajak was filling in for King, he asked Limbaugh, who was a guest on the show, about the legendary taping.
“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 about some of the things I said I might find challenging and eager to do,” Limbaugh said.
Madonna curses up a storm on ‘Letterman’
“Late Show with David Letterman” is an entire category to his own when it comes to shocking moments, from Drew Barrymore’s flashing to Crispin Glover’s high kicks to Andy Kaufman’s fake fight with Jerry Lawler.
We’ll never be entirely sure what Madonna was thinking in her 1994 appearance but she proceeded to say a lot of things not safe for broadcast television.
Harvey Pekar rants on ‘Letterman’
One more from Dave, back in the NBC days: This rant against NBC’s then-owner General Electric was so legendary, it was re-created in the Pekar biopic “American Splendor.” At the time, Letterman was having none of it.
Tom Cruise jumps on Oprah’s couch
Cruise’s romance with Katie Holmes had him, to put it mildly, positively giddy. On “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2005, his happiness culminated in a couch jump that became one of the first celebrity viral videos.
Geraldo Rivera breaks his nose
Roy Innis was also part of another legendary talk show moment on “Geraldo.” In 1988, an all-out brawl broke out on set with a group of white supremacists, resulting in a broken nose for host Rivera. It was parodied for years to come (nearly as much as that empty vault).
‘I Married a Horse’
If Downey founded “trash TV,” Jerry Springer took it and ran with it in the 1990s and beyond.
Out of the 23 seasons (and still going) of “The Jerry Springer Show,” this one about equine espousal has to be one of the strangest.
‘The View’ hosts walk off their own show
You may have heard of guests walking off, but this was something else.
On a 2010 edition of “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar got into it with guest Bill O’Reilly after he repeatedly asserted that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.” The co-hosts ended up walking off set until Barbara Walters was able to get him to apologize.
Test shows twins’ fathers are two different men
Daytime host Maury Povich has done so many paternity test segments over the years, the phrase “you are (or are not) the father” has become something of a catchphrase. These reveals led to many amazing results and reactions, but none as incredible as this.
Andy Dick gets handsy, gets kicked off show
Comic actor Andy Dick has always been unpredictable, but he may have gone too far on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in 2007.
Dick seemed distracted by fellow guest Ivanka Trump, Donald’s daughter, touching her repeatedly and even asking for a kiss.
After one too many come-ons, Kimmel put a stop to it by dragging Dick off the program, feet first.
Host ejects audience members
“Real Time” host and veteran stand-up Bill Maher loves outspoken guests but has little patience for hecklers. When one broadcast of his live HBO show was disrupted by 9/11 conspiracy theorists in the audience, the host took it upon himself to kick a pair of them out of the studio.
However, the show continued to be interrupted for several minutes as Maher jokingly complained on-air about his staffers.
James Brown feels good
You didn’t think we’d end this list without an example from a CNN talk show, did you?
1988 was apparently a banner year for outrageous talk show moments, as well as a year of legal woes for the Godfather of Soul.
Still, Brown seemed untroubled when he appeared on CNN’s “Sonya Live.” For much of his interview he ignored questions, quoted song titles and called for CNN founder Ted Turner.
Brown declared, “I look good, I smell good, I feel good…. and make love good.”
It was so memorable, it went viral on YouTube decades later.