Our favorite fictional talk show hosts
There’s no shortage of real-life talk show hosts out there. From Oprah Winfrey to Ellen DeGeneres to the many, many faces of late night (Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Seth Meyers to name a few), our TV screens are full of folks who are there to make us laugh and interview a rotating cycle of guests. But the figure of the talk show host has become so iconic in our culture, that many films and television shows invent fictional ones. Whether they’re the focus of the action like Katherine Newbury in Late Night or Larry Sanders on The Larry Sanders Show or a supporting plot point like Caesar in The Hunger Games or fodder for many, many Saturday Night Live sketches, there’s no shortage of invented talk hosts in the pop culture landscape. Click through to see 14 of our favorites.
Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) in Late Night
In Late Night, Mindy Kaling imagines a universe where one of America’s most venerated late-night hosts is a woman. Katherine Newbury is a bit of a relic at the start, a woman who has been fronting a show that hasn’t felt relevant in a decade. But Late Night is all about Katherine getting her mojo back and earning the privilege of her audience’s time. Katherine deals with everything from sexism to ageism, while also having to learn a few lessons about kindness and work-life balance along the way. Honestly, the only thing we don’t like about her is the fact that she’s not real. Who couldn’t use a little bit of Katherine Newbury’s takes on life before bed?
Space Ghost on Space Ghost Coast to Coast
Even superheroes need a late-night host! Former Hanna Barbera supervillain Space Ghost got his own talk show Space Ghost Coast to Coast on Cartoon Network in the 1990s. The satirical series spoofed late-night shows, with Space Ghost often having antagonistic, openly hostile interviews with real, non-animated celebrity guests. The off-beat cartoon talk show also featured plenty of bickering between his sidekick Zorak and director Moltar, both of whom were only there because they were imprisoned. Is that a metaphor for something?
Miss Piggy on Up Late With Miss Piggy
On the original The Muppets Show in the 1970s, Kermit the Frog got to have all the fun with the visiting celebrity guests. When The Muppets got an update with their own ABC sitcom in 2015, it was Miss Piggy running the show on syndicated late-night series Up Late With Miss Piggy. The short-lived Muppets series focused on the day-to-day life of this show with Kermit executive producing and Gonzo as the head writer. Real celebrity guests guest-starred in often awkward encounters with the always vain and self-centered Miss Piggy. The show was short-lived, but there was true porcine enjoyment in watching this beloved Muppet get her own talk show.
Larry Sanders (Garry Shandling) on The Larry Sanders Show
The fake talk show has perhaps never had it so good as this critically lauded HBO series that took viewers behind the scenes of a fictional late-night talk show hosted by Larry Sanders. Star Garry Shandling mined his own experiences as a recurring guest host on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show for inspiration. At a time when the Big Four networks still reigned supreme, the character of Larry Sanders (and his idiosyncratic production team at The Larry Sanders Show) poked fun at the puffed-up narcissism of Hollywood in a way that still feels dangerous today.
Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan)
Leave it to Armando Iannucci, the creator of Veep, to also co-create one of the best fictional talk show hosts of the last two decades — the blissfully dim and self-promotion obsessed Alan Partridge. Iannucci and actor Steve Coogan first created Partridge as a sports presenter on BBC Radio program On the Hour, but he’s since earned several of his own television series and specials, as well as a 2013 film Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. In real life, we want our television hosts to make their guests feel welcome, but in fiction, we love to laugh at Alan Partridge’s ineptitude and tactless tendency to offend his guests.
Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report
Taking over for David Letterman on The Late Show, the comedian-host Stephen Colbert is now a real-life late-night host in every sense of the word. But as the most meta entry on this list, he previously rose to fame as a conservative right-wing pundit also named Stephen Colbert who hosted his own late-night news show on Comedy Central. The Colbert Report was a masterful exercise in satire, and in Colbert’s case, committing to a character — even when it meant embarrassing himself on air while conducting an interview. Colbert’s alter ego may not be a real person, but he changed the face of late-night TV and the news forever.
Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) in The Hunger Games
An instrument of the Capitol’s propaganda machine, Caesar Flickerman is the flamboyant host of the titular Hunger Games, as well as the government’s main interviewer. Caesar has supposedly hosted interviews for over 35 years, but within the series, he notably conducts interviews with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) during their first Hunger Games. It’s to Caesar that Peeta confesses his love for Katniss, which sparks the most enduring love triangle of the series. In the film adaptations of the best-selling novels, Stanley Tucci brought a creepy eccentricity to Flickerman, making him one of the most outrageous, horrifying, and memorable characters in the franchise.
Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) on Wake Up San Francisco on Full House
Widowed father Danny Tanner starts off as a sports anchor on this beloved sitcom, but by season two he was cohosting a morning talk show, Wake Up, San Francisco, with Rebecca Donaldson (Lori Loughlin). If you’re looking for a series of wacky set-ups for your sitcom family, from visiting a stable to performing with the Beach Boys, you can’t get a better fake job than morning show host. And no one was more willing to subject himself to humiliation or full of goofy dad jokes than Danny Tanner.
Betty Caruso (Amy Poehler) and Jodi Deltz (Maya Rudolph) on Bronx Beat
Before there were the Real Housewives, there were the ladies of Bronx Beat, fawning over the attractive men joining their local cable access show and chomping on a piece of gum like their lives depended on it. Saturday Night Live stars Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph made this fake talk show one of their most beloved recurring sketches, bringing to life these two Bronx ladies who use their talk show as a platform to complain about their families (especially their husbands), gossip about their neighbors, and oogle their most handsome guests. A perfectly hilarious spoof of local cable access shows with deadpan Bronx accents? Tell me about it!
Barry Gibb (Jimmy Fallon) and Robin Gibb (Justin Timberlake) on The Barry Gibb Talk Show
Based on the actual popular band the Bee Gees, Fallon and Timberlake elevated fake SNL talk shows to a new level with this hysterical recurring sketch. While Timberlake’s Robin was mostly silent throughout, Fallon’s Barry was known for his short temper and tendency to break out into song. But it was Fallon’s high-pitched falsetto Australian accent, accentuated by his staccato speech patterns that really kept this sketch and fake talk show hosts staying alive.
Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) on Wayne's World
This recurring SNL sketch became so popular it spawned a feature film, but it began as a fake local public access TV program with metal-loving pals Wayne and Garth. The show was broadcast from the basement of Wayne’s parents’ house, and it would feature the friends discussing their love of hard rock, “babes,” and tricking their guests into saying rude things. To this fake talk show, we say party on!
The Church Lady (Dana Carvey) on Church Chat
Usually celebrities go on talk shows to promote upcoming projects, but on this SNL sketch the holier-than-thou Church Lady lured them there to excoriate them for their alleged sins. Has there ever been a talk show host, fake or otherwise, so self-satisfied and confident in their own superiority? And every great talk show host has a catchphrase — the Church Lady had many, including the iconic “Well, isn’t that special?” Take us to church, Church Lady!
Diondre Cole (Kenan Thompson) on What Up With That?
As talk shows go, Diondre Cole was probably the worst when it came to actually interviewing his guests (but at least he didn’t force them to blindly stick their hands in boxes). Each show would begin with Diondre singing the titular, lengthy theme song accompanied by Fred Armisen playing the saxophone and Jason Sudeikis doing a mean running man. But as each celebrity guest would start to speak, Diondre would interrupt to reprise the theme song — guaranteeing his recurring guest Lindsey Buckingham (Bill Hader) never got the chance to speak. Though Thompson is still on Saturday Night Live, this sketch hasn’t been seen since 2012. What up with that?
Fernando Lamas (Billy Crystal) on Fernando's Hideaway
“You look mahvelous!” Billy Crystal’s impression of Fernando Lamas on the recurring SNL sketch Fernando’s Hideaway spawned this catchphrase that became synonymous with Crystal himself. And the fake talk show really played fast and loose since Crystal reportedly improvised the sketches, leaving the celebrity guests being “interviewed” totally in the dark about what outlandish things might be asked in the service of trying to make them laugh. It was definitely more unpredictable than most actual talk shows with predetermined talking points are!