25 years ago on Tuesday, May 6, 1986, the Fox Broadcasting Corporation announced that comedienne Joan Rivers would host a late night talk show on the new network: “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.”
Flanked by FOX Chairman Barry Diller and FOX President Jamie Kellner, Rivers was introduced as the first “face” of FOX. But she had not yet broken the news to her current employer… and the fallout from that move is legendary.
First, a little background: Before Jay Leno became host of “The Tonight Show” (the first time) he had been Johnny Carson’s permanent guest host on the show. But before Johnny had Jay, Johnny had Joan. Joan Rivers was the first permanent guest host in the history of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” Prior to that, dozens of stars had filled in for the “King of Late Night” over the years – some more often than others (Joey Bishop and David Brenner to name two).
When Carson heard the news that Joan Rivers was leaving to compete against him, it seems he took it personally. He apparently felt Rivers should have told him before the announcement was made. When Joan called Johnny afterwards, she claims he refused to take the call. The two never spoke again. So… did they live happily ever after? Not exactly.
“The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” premiered on FOX, Monday October 9, 1986 at 11:00pm, but as every competitor to Johnny Carson had learned, it wasn’t easy to beat the king. The ratings for “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” were never big and Joan Rivers only hosted the show for seven months. Her last “Late Show” was May 15, 1987.
But much worse than the losing “The Late Show” was the loss of Rivers’ husband. Edgar Rosenberg had been an executive producer of “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.” Three months after Joan was fired by FOX Rosenberg committed suicide. He had been suffering from clinical depression.
Joan went on to have a syndicated daytime talk show, “The Joan Rivers Show”… then hosted numerous red-carpet shows with her daughter Melissa Rivers for E! and the TV Guide Channel.
TV viewers may also have recently watched mother and daughter in season one of their new reality show, “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” on WE tv.
Joan Rivers has also added several notable catchphrases to the American lexicon: “Can we talk?” (which I’m told is a Federal trademark) and her red-carpet question, “Who are you wearing?” which is now said by just about every red-carpet host everywhere.
But on this date, 25 years ago, Joan Rivers was introduced as the FOX network’s first big star. Only she knows if she would do it all again if given the chance.