The Dennis Miller Show was a late night talk show hosted by Dennis Miller syndicated by Tribune Entertainment.


After leaving SNL, Miller hosted an eponymous late-night talk show in syndication that lasted seven months in 1992.

The show's early daysEdit

In support of the show's premiere Tribune made use of extensive advertising in trade publications and on-air promotions, and also did a billboard promotion on Sunset Boulevard.[1]

On January 20, 1992, following his departure from Saturday Night Live, Miller launched the late-night TV talk show, The Dennis Miller Show, syndicated by Tribune Entertainment. The Dennis Miller Show continued in the tradition of "alternative" talk shows, which started with the Late Night with David Letterman show, which debuted on NBC in 1982. Nick Bakay was the announcer, and Andy Summers, formerly of the band The Police, led the house band.

Guests included Mountain (with Leslie West and Corky Laing), Toad the Wet Sprocket (who made their national television debut on the show), Henry Rollins (who appeared repeatedly to chat with Miller and perform spoken word), Primus (who while performing "Tommy the Cat", had to deal with a member of the audience who jumped on stage - whom Miller playfully tried to "tackle"), King's X (who performed two songs, "Black Flag" and "It's Love" to no audience in the studio, due to the 1992 Los Angeles riots), and comedian Bill Hicks.

The show remained faithful to the classic talk show format with a desk and three or four guests a night, while Miller carried forward the spirit of his SNL Weekend Update with a newscast segment that aired on Fridays.[2][3]

The show's staff boasted a mix of past and future performers, writers, and producers of note including Mark Brazill (That '70s Show), Eddie Feldmann, David Kohan and Max Mutchnick (creators of Will & Grace), Norm Macdonald, Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show), John Riggi, Kevin Rooney, Herb Sargent (Saturday Night Live), Drake Sather, and Dave Thomas (Second City TV).

Miller thought that there would be room for his show as its main competitors for the time slot would be The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Arsenio Hall Show and he felt they all attracted different audiences.[3] At the time Arsenio Hall was not worried about Jay Leno's hold on late-night, but told the Los Angeles Times "Dennis Miller is the only one who scares me, because I have tremendous respect for him and think he's one of the brightest comics on the scene."[4][5]

The show opened to mixed reviews, with some being "blisteringly negative", but Tribune remained optimistic saying that a 2 rating nationally would be acceptable due to the late hour of the show and pointed out that in some places Miller was doing better than Hall.[6] As the show progressed national ratings were still behind Hall (whose show was also syndicated). In the first five weeks of Miller's show, the national A.C. Nielsen Co. rating was 1.8 (around 1.6 million homes) to Hall's 3.4 over the same time-period.[7] Media watchers noted that in contrast Hall's 1989 debut had numbers between 3 and 3.5 and that the industry standard for long-term survival at the time was a minimum of 2.[7] In order to address this shortfall and in anticipation of Carson leaving and his audience being up for grabs, Tribune began making changes.[7] In February 1992, Andy Summers announced that since helping launch the show and writing its theme music, he should move on to focus instead on his solo career.[8] Summers had developed a different musical vision for the show than the traditional rock 'n' roll that Tribune wanted. He was replaced by David Goldblatt who had been Diana Ross's musical director for her 1989 world tour.[7] By March 1992 Tribune Entertainment decided it wanted more of the show's focus to be on Miller and his comedy, and less on the guests, as testing had shown the audience tuned in for Miller's opening monologue but often tuned away when he was talking to guests.[7] To facilitate this change, Ken Ehrlich was moved to being a musical consultant and replaced in co-executive producer duties by Laurence Ferber who had been able to restructure The Joan Rivers Show to increase ratings by bringing it more in-line with her personality.[9][10][7] It was at this time that Dave Thomas was brought in as a writer to "open up the comedy" with the hope he could develop bits for Miller where he would interact with the crowd more.[7] Tribune remained optimistic that the numbers could rise, and pointed out that the show had strong demographics, skewing heavily towards young men - a target audience for many advertisers. Media watchers noted that Tribune had lowered its ad prices since failing to live up to its original ratings estimates.[7] Tribune insisted that "We don't think of our shows in terms of some kind of death period," and pointed out that it took two years for The Joan Rivers Show, then in its fourth year, to get off the ground.[7]

"The Booking Wars"Edit

To differentiate himself from Arsenio, Miller wanted to have a mix of Hollywood celebrities, authors and political figures on the show. Early on having guests like Larry Miller, Sally Kirkland, Clive Barker, Michael Kinsley, Tom Hanks, Christian Slater, Bonnie Raitt, Al Gore, and Benjamin Netanyahu.[4]

A few weeks in, the show began encountering problems booking guests with some media outlets, such as the Dallas Morning News, wondering if it was Miller's interview style, where "Miller messes around with them as best he can, looking for openings to throw a jab or two or 10."[10] In response Miller said he did not want to always be "a faceless, selfless conduit of information", he did not want to be another Larry King saying one or two words between guests' speeches. Nor did he want to be like Arsenio Hall, who was seen as fawning over guests on his show. Miller felt he was attracting an audience that wanted a "different, funky vibe."[10][4][11]

Some controversy occurred around an episode where guest performance artist Karen Finley. In her piece, she characterized abortion as pouring Drano into a woman's vagina and said she wanted to "feminize the planet to overthrow this male control of our lives." Afterwards, Miller interviewed her and defended her right of expression. Tribune later pulled the episode from its scheduled July 14 air-time, then cut out her segment and aired the rest on July 17. Finley accused the show of censoring her. She told a reporter "I think Dennis Miller is just as bad as Jesse Helms. What's the difference?" Tribune said that their action had been done not for political reasons, but "the inappropriateness of including the segment in a music, comedy and light-entertainment program." [12]

The main reason the show had problems booking guests was because Helen Kushnick, the booking agent for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno let it be known that anyone appearing on a competing talk show would never be invited on Leno's program.[13][14] As accusations of unethical booking pressures were made first by Hall and then by Miller, the media began to describe the situation as "the Booking Wars".[1][15]

Miller realizing upfront that his show would have trouble competing with more established late night talk shows, told his show's talent booker to not attempt to compete for famous guests, rather he wanted to go after "fringe players", and invoking Gertrude Stein he said he wanted to set a mood of "an eclectic sense of salon."[16] He later recalled that even this approach did not prevent problems with Leno's show. After Miller's talent booker had booked the aborigine drum band Yothu Yindi, whom Miller described as "It's like five guys in thongs with small logs beating big logs."[16] To the astonishment of Miller, Yothu Yindi cancelled their appearance because they were worried that if they appeared on his show they would be banned from the Tonight Show. Miller called Leno and complained loudly and with expletives, so they "butted heads for awhile."[16] Miller and Leno would not talk to each other for several years afterwards.[14] While Yothu Yindi did wind up appearing on the show, P. J. O'Rourke, who after a six-month negotiating was set to appear on the show cancelled and appeared with Leno. Miller openly denounced O'Rourke on the show.[17] He even pleaded for guests on air, giving the show's office number.[17] Rather than just rely on the talent agent, Miller began calling people personally to invite them to be guests on the show.[1]

Cancellation & after-effectsEdit

On July 17, 1992 Tribune Entertainment announced it was cancelling Miller's show due to poor ratings. Donald Hacker its president and chief executive officer said "After a tremendous effort on the part of all parties involved, we've made a business decision not to proceed." The last show would be July 24, 1992.[18] Tribune issued an odd single-spaced five-page press release that praised the show, its ratings, its guests, and its segments (no mention was made of profits).[19] Tribune also took out a two-page ad spread in the Hollywood Reporter, which thanked Miller and the guests of his show.[1] Despite having promised Miller a nine-month commitment,[4] the show was cancelled after seven months with the Tribune Entertainment CEO saying the show wasn't making the ratings growth needed to continue.[20]

Arsenio Hall, still angered by "the Booking Wars", reacted to the news of Miller's cancellation by saying "He should be staying and punk-ass Leno should be going."[15]

During the final week of Miller's show, taped after the cancellation press release, he announced a 1-900 phone number for fans to call and ask for the show to be continued. The number received around 150,000 calls and the charge for calling it made between $40-$50,000 which was donated to the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Miller said he was touched by the outpouring and said he had only expected at most 20,000 calls.[1] Also during the final week, he took on a sharper edge that to some reviewers, such as Phil Rosenthal, showed "just how much unfulfilled promise the show held for the same viewers who love NBC's Late Night With David Letterman or even Comedy Central's cult favorite Night After Night with Allan Havey." He jokingly looked into the camera and begged CBS Entertainment president Jeff Sagansky for a job; he had Julia Sweeney appear as her androgynous SNL character Pat and serenade him mimicking Bette Midler's song for the retiring Johnny Carson. When a skit began to fail he moved the man with the cue-cards on camera.[21]

Miller also openly complained that getting guests had become increasingly difficult after Leno took over from Carson. He began openly accusing Leno's agent Helen Kushnick of unethical strong-arm booking tactics, which was a charge previously made by Arsenio Hall.[22][21] Miller blasted Leno and Kushnick's press conference earlier that month that denied such tactics were being used.[21] After the cancellation Miller told an interviewer "I don't like Jay and The Tonight Show. We just had problems, and I don't like the way they do business. ...There are ways to book shows and be tactful about it. Arsenio is very classy about it. The other show is not very tactful about it."[23] Elsewhere Miller said that while he had only met Hall twice "he's a legitimate human being who doesn't bullshit you." He called Hall classy and expressed interest at becoming better friends. In contrast, he said of Leno "Jay and I were very good friends at one point. I don’t think I'd talk to him again, nor would he want to talk to me."[1]

Reviewers held that along with problems with booking guests, Miller had a tough time reconciling his caustic stand-up comedian stage presence that savaged his targets with that of interviewer where he nuzzled up to his subjects - though he was getting better near the end.[21]

On Miller's last show he mimicking political party nomination races said: "I release all my delegates to Arsenio and David Letterman." Miller then made an appearance on Hall's show.[15]

There was speculation about what Miller might do after the cancellation with the AP reporting that all four network television stations had approached his business manager after the cancellation.[1] Miller went back to stand-up comedy doing colleges and preparing for an HBO special. He told a reporter "Part of me would like to do another [talk-show], but the other side says, 'Who needs the headaches?' The competitive side of me wants to do another one, and I think something eventually will come up in TV."[22]

When Leno's ratings began to erode a few months into taking the Tonight Show from Carson, Miller told a reporter that he had always anticipated as much but now was not in a position to capitalize on it. He also expressed some anger at Tribune for pulling the plug by July rather than fulfil its commitment to him which was at least until September (a promise they had repeated as late as May). He felt they had "a short fuse" and the company "wasn't a fan of me."[22][21] Elsewhere he said "I think they flinched. If your're going to get in you got to get in and stay there for a while."[1]

Since Leno had taken over The Tonight Show the program had begun competing with Miller and Arsenio Hall for the same younger-skewing audiences and celebrity guests. The strong-arm booking practices of (Leno's longtime manager, producer, and close friend) Helen Kushnick for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno came to a head by September 15, 1992. Country artists Travis Tritt and Trisha Yearwood both under talent manager Ken Kragen had been banned and dropped from The Tonight Show because Kragen had refused to cancel an already booked appearance for Tritt with Hall when Kuchnick called.[24] By September 28, 1992 NBC announced "Effective immediately, Helen Kushnick will no longer be the executive producer [of The Tonight Show]." Leno protested the move and expressed his continued support, but having been told by NBC either she goes or both she and him go - did not make any ultimatums. Tonight Show insiders said Kushnick didn't let Leno get involved in production or booking and lied to him if he asked questions about it, and the two of them "have this sick, twisted, Hitchcock mother-son thing going."[25]

Miller, despite having been proven correct about his claims about Kushnick and The Tonight Show, had an air of resignation about the whole experience telling a reporter in November 1992 "Everything that Arsenio and I were saying has been borne out to be true, but that's old news now."[22]

In 1993 when David Letterman left NBC for CBS as a result of the "talk show wars", he was asked by Rolling Stone which comedian he thought might be able to take over the NBC slot. He thought that Dana Carvey might be good, but pointed to Miller for the timeslot due to seeing him on The Dennis Miller Show before it was cancelled.[26] (The network eventually chose Conan O'Brien).

In 1994 Leno fired Kushnick, for among other things planting a story in the New York Post in 1991 that claimed NBC wanted Carson to retire so they could hire Leno and attract a younger audience and then lying to Leno that it wasn't her. In 1995, after Leno had fired Kushnick, Miller called him and they apologized to each other, Miller told a reporter "I just got fed up in private and decided to call Jay earlier this week, because life is too short."[27] Having re-established their friendship Miller appeared on The Tonight Show on May 10, 1995, and Leno appeared on HBO's Dennis Miller Live on May 12, 1995.[28] Miller would appear several times on Leno's show afterwards, even being one of the comedian stand-ins delivering Michael Jackson jokes when Leno was under a court-ordered gag order during the 2005 trial of Michael Jackson.[29]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Deborah Hastings. "'Save Miller Show' calls top 150,000". Associated Press. 
  2. Eric Adams (July 28, 1991). "Sardonic Dennis Miller employs verbal humor to comment on society". The Baltimore Sun. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Allan Johnson (January 19, 1992). "Dennis Thinks It's Miller Time On Talk Show Circuit". Chicago Tribune. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Phil Rosenthal (January 20, 1992). "Talk With A 'tude". Los Angeles Daily News. 
  5. Dabuek Cerone (January 5, 1992). "The Arsenio Way : No Carson Copycat, Hall Woofs Up His Audience By Making His Own Rules". Los Angeles Times. 
  6. Bill Carter (February 4, 1992). "Reporter's Notebook". New York Times. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Daniel Cerone (March 11, 1992). "'Miller' Doing What It Can So It Won't Be Outta There". 
  8. "Television". Los Angeles Times. February 19, 1992. 
  9. Aleene MacMinn (March 6, 1992). "Television". The Los Angeles Times. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Follow Miller's Clued-in Show? You're With The 'Coolest Of Cool'". Dallas Morning News. May 5, 1992. 
  11. Jonathan Storm (August 12, 1991). "Tv Looks To Night Owls In Hopes Of Golden Eggs". Orlando Sentinel. 
  12. Daniel Cerone (July 16, 1992). "Performance Artist Charges Censorship". Los Angeles Times. 
  13. Chuck Finder (July 30, 2000). "Dennis Miller: Monday Night Live". 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Scott D. Pierce (May 5, 1995). "Late-Night Talk-Show Battle has gotten a lot Tighter". Deseret News. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Mark Harris (August 14, 1992). "Jay Leno's late-night war". Entertainment Weekly. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Template:Cite video
  17. 17.0 17.1 Pat H. Broeske (July 31, 1992). "Dennis Miller's Talk Show Dies". Entertainment Weekly. 
  18. "Comedian Is Outta Here - Miller's Show Canceled". July 18, 1992. 
  19. Kathy O'Malley (July 19, 1992). "Front and Center". Chicago Tribune. 
  20. Cerone, Daniel (1992-07-18). "Tribune Cancels Nighttime Talk Show 'Dennis Miller'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-02-02. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 Phil Rosenthal (July 29, 1992). "Miller's Funky Charm Didn't Fly On Late Night". Orlando Sentinel. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 Jim Abbott (November 5, 1992). "Dennis Miller's Soft Side Starts To Compete With His Smugnes". Orlando Sentinel. 
  23. "Dennis Miller". Lodi News-Sentinel. September 4, 1992. 
  24. Daniel Cerone (September 15, 1992). "Tonight' Gives Tritt the Boot". Los Angeles Times. 
  25. Lisa Schwarzbaum (October 2, 1992). "Goodbye Helen Kushnick". Entertainment Weekly. 
  26. "Letterman to Ex-bosses: Hire Dennis Miller for Show". Orlando Sentinel. January 29, 1993. 
  27. "With his feud with Jay Leno ended, Dennis Miller is a sort-of happy guy". Knight Ridder Tribune. May 12, 1995. 
  28. "Jay Leno Another Feud is put to Rest". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. May 6, 1995. 
  29. Lisa de Moraes (March 12, 2005). "For Jay Leno, Michael Jackson Gags Are in Order". The Washington Post. 


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