How Will ‘Conan’ Compare to Other ‘First Name Only’ Shows?
By Mike Ryan Posted Sep 8th 2010 09:15AM
Last Wednesday, Conan O’Brien revealed the title of his new chucklefest on TBS. The title: ‘Conan.’ Well, that was easy enough. But this got us wondering about other television shows named after the host or lead actor. What’s the success rate? To find out, we scurried through the titles of almost every show in the history of American television.
We had to set up a few rules: We’re talking about first names only for the official title. So ‘Oprah’ or ‘Norm’ do not qualify because those shows are technically titled ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show‘ and ‘The Norm Show,’ respectively. Also, real people only. Yes, there was a show on NBC called ‘Ed.’ The star of ‘Ed’ was Tom Cavanagh and not someone also named Ed. If a show had a full title for a considerable amount of time and later changed its title to a first name, we skipped that too (ex. ‘The Maury Povich Show’ / ‘Maury’).
As you’ll see, Conan’s ‘Conan’ may be fighting an uphill battle, as quite a few titularly-titled shows haven’t done so well — but there are a few exceptions. (Also, a special mention has to be made of ‘Jerry,’ the fictional pilot made on an episode of ‘Seinfeld‘ that lasted just one episode.)
Kristin Chenoweth may be America’s sweetheart today, but in 2001, America didn’t quite know that yet. Her self-titled show premiered as a summer series and kept the nation entertained for a little over a month. ‘Kristin’ was about an upbeat young lass who moves from Oklahoma to New York City in an attempt to make it in the big. Wherever could they have come up with this plot for the Oklahoma-born Chenoweth?
Result: 6 Episodes
Yes, Emeril Lagasse, the guy who says “Bam” on television, used to have his own sitcom with Robert Urich and Sherry Shepherd. Put it this way: I’ve already spent more time writing these two sentences than the time it took for this show to actually air.
Result: 7 Episodes
‘Billy’ is a quite unfortunate 1992 spin-off of the quite successful ‘Head of the Class.’ Near the end of its run, ‘Head of the Class’ star Howard Hesseman left the show and was replaced by Billy Connolly. When ‘Class’ ended, Billy’s character, Billy, got his own show. Instead of teaching advanced placement students, Billy now lived in California and was constantly being pursued by immigration. Perhaps this series was 18 years behind its time. Regardless, immigration apparently finally caught up to Billy because his show was canceled after 13 episodes.
Result: 13 Episodes
Remember Bette Midler‘s appearance on a sitcom? (No, you can’t count the one that she made on ‘Seinfeld.’) Yes, Midler, for one year in 2000, had her own little show. Who did she play? She played herself, basically. Yeah, that didn’t last too long, naturally.
Of note: Kevin Dunn, who played Bette’s husband, left the show after 12 episodes. In episode 16, the last episode to air, Robert Hays (yes, Ted Striker from ‘Airplane!’) replaced him.
End Result: 16 Episodes
Thea is really only noteworthy because it was the first time a female African American (Thea Vidale) had a show named after her. ‘Thea’ could be considered the Jackie Robinson of television sitcoms — only without the success.
Result: 19 Episodes
Gabrielle Carteris’ 1995 talk show has apparently had every mention of its existence wiped off of the entire Internet. Honestly, there’s surprisingly little known about her show — other than it aired at least once sometime in 1995 and, we assume, she had guests. Want to hear a surprising fact about the former Andrea Zuckerman from ‘90210’? She’s going to be 50 next year. Fifty!
Result: Less Than One Year
Kirk Cameron never quite repeated the level of success that he experienced on ‘Growing Pains’ (unless you’re really into biblical apocalypse movies). What’s funniest about this short-lived 1995 WB series is that Cameron plays an illustrator living in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Kirk Cameron is pretty much the complete opposite of both every illustrator that I know or anyone I know that lives anywhere near Greenwich Village.
Result: 32 Episodes
The third time was, unfortunately, not a charm for Bob Newhart and his 1992 series. Since his first show was titled ‘The Bob Newhart Show’ and his second was ‘Newhart,’ it was only logical to title his third show ‘Bob.’ Loved by critics (who doesn’t love Bob Newhart?), Newhart as a former comic book artist never quite caught on with audiences. Proof Newhart was ahead of his time: At least one episode guest-starred Betty White.
Result: 33 Episodes
Nikki Cox starred in the ‘Married with Children‘ ripoff ‘Unhappily Ever After.’ But while Christina Applegate wisely moved away from characters like Kelly Bundy post-‘Children,’ Cox decided to keep riding the ditsy, kinda-trashy girl express train right off the cliff. That cliff came for ‘Nikki’ after two seasons.
Result: 35 Episodes
In 1995, after the success of the relatively short-lived but quite popular ‘Moonlighting,’ Cybill Shepherd turned her attention to situation comedy. In ‘Cybill’s’ sorta-successful-but-forgettable run, she plays a quasi-version of herself whose ex-husband is Luke Duke. It’s also interesting that Christine Baranski, who played Cybill’s best friend, looks exactly the same today as she did 15 years ago.
Result: 87 Episodes
The show was originally titled ‘These Friends of Mine’ and premiered only six days after the first episode of ‘Friends’ — so it’s not too difficult to see why there was a title change in store. Of course, ‘Ellen’ is best remembered for its titular character coming out of the closet — just like her real life counterpart.
After that announcement, and the resulting media spectacle, the show floundered. The show suffered creatively under the pressure of having to make a social statement and its ratings went with it, after what had been a very successful five-year run.
Result: 107 Episodes
A lesson to Conan O’Brien: Just because your name is in the show’s title doesn’t mean you can’t be replaced. At least when Conan lost ‘The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,’ they didn’t change the title to ‘The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien’s Family’ because this is exactly what happened to Valerie Harper. After the second season of ‘Valerie,’ Harper and the show’s creators had a dispute over creative direction. The end result: The character Valerie was killed in a car accident and was replaced by Sandy Duncan. The show was renamed ‘Valerie’s Family: The Hogans’ for its third season and was later renamed ‘The Hogan Family.’
Result: 110 Episodes (32 as ‘Valerie’)
Set in Detroit, Martin Lawrence played Martin Payne, a disc jockey for WZUP radio. Considering the lack of current television shows set in Detroit — ‘Home Improvement’ made it look like such a nice place to live — is it too much to ask for a Martin Payne crossover on ‘Hung’? Couldn’t Thomas Jane’s character at least be flipping through radio stations and come across WZUP?
End Result: 132 Episodes
This Dinah Shore-hosted gabfest aired from 1974-80 and was a small-scale success, though Shore was better known at the time for having dated Burt Reynolds, who was 20 years her junior.
Result: 6 Years
Leeza Gibbons was basically the Dinah Shore of the 1990s. Her show even lasted the same exact amount of time. If you wanted Jon Benet Ramsey news, ‘Leeza’ was the show for you.
Result: 6 Years
‘Rosanne’ is the current queen of self-titled, scripted shows. ‘Rosanne’ was so popular and its star so well-known by only her first name that Rosanne Barr briefly dropped her last name. Fun trivia alert! Conan O’Brien’s first guest on ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’? John Goodman from ‘Rosanne.’
Result: 222 Episodes
And your current champ: Geraldo! The king of the trashy, mid-day talk shows also, by far, had the longest run on a first-name-only show. Remember when Geraldo had his nose broken on air in the first season by a white supremacist? Unfortunately, (or fortunately, really) you probably can’t think of one other event that happened during its 12-year run. We’re not implying that Conan should start an on-stage, race-fueled brawl, but, as Geraldo showed, it sure doesn’t hurt — you know, ratings-wise.
Result: 12 Years