Revisiting the Midnight Special

Before music videos and the internet, popular music was not seen on television unless it was a variety show or American Bandstand.

In 1973, NBC launched The Midnight Special, produced by Burt Sugarman on Fridays following Johnny Carson. Don Kirshner also had Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert that was primarily rock and roll and was syndicated on weekend late nights. The Midnight Special mixed all kinds of music. Both shows taped live performances, no lip syncing. Both shows ran from about 1973-1981.

The Midnight Special was performed before audiences that sat on the studio floor. There were multiple stages, and very ornate lighting and stage design. It was quite hip for the time. Sugarman said they often changed out the audience to keep the vibe fresh.

It was not unusual for any show to have a mixture of pop, folk, hard rock, country and soul. Here are some great clips.

The show featured no regular host, but Helen Reddy served in that role during 1975-1976 and also performed on the show. Wolfman Jack appeared as narrator and sometimes host 106 times. Mostly, the performers hosted from week to week.

John Denver hosted the pilot episode. Cass Elliott, Argent, Helen Reddy, Linda Ronstadt, The Isley Brothers, Harry Chaplin and The Everly Brothers guested. This episode aired in 1972 and carried a message of register to vote.

There is a six DVD set culled from the show’s performances. I would rate it a C+ overall. What performances are included are great, however it seems skimpy considering the amount of material available. There is no particular order to the sequence.


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