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10 of the most iconic and influential TV talk show hosts from the '80s

Image credit: The Everett Collection

For decades, late-night and daytime talk shows have kept us entertained while also informed. Talk show television has a rich history behind it, with many comedians and hosts taking different approaches to deliver jokes, monologues and more.

From the live bands, celebrity guests, political figures and sidekicks, there are many reasons the legacy of past classic talk shows still exist today. Let's take a look back at 10 of the most iconic and influential TV talk show hosts from the '80s.

Who is your favorite classic TV talk show host?


The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson


The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson is still highly regarded and considered to be one of the most iconic late-night talk shows. Johnny Carson not only inspired hosts to come but The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson established the modern late-night format. Carson and his sidekick, Ed McMahon entertained us for 30 years.

Notable guests: Robin Williams, Bob Newhart, Joan Rivers and Ronald Reagan.

Image credit: The Everett Collection


The Dick Cavett Show


The Dick Cavett Show was the go-to talk show for musicians, political figures and authors. While Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett may have shared some guests during their years, Cavett was focused on getting guests outside of the entertainment field. Cavett had a literate and intelligent approach to comedy that can be seen in many of today's talk show hosts.

Notable guests: Groucho Marx, Janis Joplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Jimi Hendrix and more.


The Phil Donahue Show


The Phil Donahue Show aired for 26 years on national TV. Although The Phil Donahue Show had major success for awhile, the show began to lose viewers in 1995 and its last show aired in 1996. The Phil Donahue Show still makes the list as it was a precursor for all daytime talk shows to come in the '80s and '90s. The show had its fair share of celebrity guests but Donahue started pushing the envelope by talking about mental health and social topics that were considered taboo at the time. It was a daytime talk show with a lot to say.

Notable guests: Ralph Nader, Dolly Parton, Dick Clark and Joan Rivers.

Image credit: The Everett Collection


The Oprah Winfrey Show


This show needs no introduction. The Oprah Winfrey Show was on air for 25 seasons and it remains one of the highest-rated daytime talk shows in history. Winfrey used her show as an educational platform with self-improvement segments, hosting book clubs and more. The show received 47 Daytime Emmy Awards.

Notable guests: Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Tina Turner and Tom Cruise.


The Arsenio Hall Show


The Arsenio Hall Show was hosted by comedian and writer, Arsenio Hall. Hall's late-night career began when he hosted The Late Show in 1987 after the dismissal of Joan Rivers. Hall became unexpectedly popular. Were you one of the original fans that Arsenio Hall won over?

Notable guests: Eddie Murphy, George Lopez, Andrew Dice Clay and Paula Abdul.


Late Night with David Letterman


Late Night with David Letterman was the first iteration of the Late Night franchise. During its run, the show was nominated for many awards and grew a fan base that stuck around after Letterman's departure. These days Letterman is hosting another type of talk show on Netflix, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. 

Notable guests: Bill Murray, Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks and Howard Stern


The Merv Griffin Show


The Merv Griffin Show had a much different tone to it compared to other late-night and daytime talk shows. Griffin was great at conversational style hosting. He conducted interviews that tended to be light-hearted but he didn't stray away from in-depth discussions that would drag out for over 30 minutes. 

Notable guests: Jimmy Carter, Rosa Parks, Clint Eastwood, Gene Wilder and Dustin Hoffman.


Tomorrow Coast to Coast


Tomorrow Coast to Coast was hosted by Tom Snyder and aired on NBC. The show focused on both entertainment and news and immediately followed The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. While it may not be the most notable late-night talk show, Tom Snyder had a big mix of guests that you wouldn't typically see on a late-night show. 

Notable guests: Charles Manson, Alfred Hitchcock, James Baldwin, John Lennon and more.

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Larry King Live


Larry King Live brought on popular guests to talk with the great and controversial journalist and host, Larry King. Larry King Live was CNN's most-watched and longest-running talk show, with over one million viewers nightly. Were you one of them?

Notable guests: Bill Clinton, Ophrah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer and more.


The Mike Douglas Show


The Mike Douglas Show was a daytime talk show hosted by Mike Douglas. Each week Douglas would have a different celebrity co-host and would interview a variety of guests. Do you remember watching The Mike Douglas Show?

Notable guests: Sammy Davis Jr., Phyllis Dyer, David Brenner and more.

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