The Best 1980s Talk Shows

Over 300 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Best 1980s Talk Shows
Voting Rules
Vote up the best talk shows that aired new episodes between 1980 and 1989.

No matter what time slot they occupied, the best '80s talk shows delivered information that the public was hungry for. From top 1980s talk shows that revolutionized late-night television, to shows that found daytime audiences, and even primetime audiences. This list of the best talk shows of the '80s has been voted on a ranked by your votes.

What are some shows one can expect to find on this 1980s talk shows list? In 1982, Late Night with David Letterman debuted on NBC, with his first guest being Bill Murray. The Caddyshack star sat down with Letterman many times over the years and even appeared on his final episode of The Late Show, which aired on CBS, in 2015. The Oprah Winfrey Show is another popular talk show that premiered in the decade. Metalheads got a chance to see interviews with their favorite musicians on MTV's '80s talk show, Headbangers Ball. Other great series that are featured on this top 1980s talk shows list include Nightline, The 700 Club, and Good Morning America.

What are the best '80s talk shows? Did the shows you think were the best make this list? Vote up the 1980s talk shows you think are the best of the decade and see where the talk shows of the '80s you loved to watch rank.

Ranked by
  • The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
    Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Skitch Henderson
    125 votes
    • Premiered: October 1, 1962

    The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was truly the epitome of a classic talk show, carving a significant place in television history. With the charming and witty Johnny Carson as its host, the show became a staple among late-night entertainment. The program's unique blend of comedy, interviews, and celebrity guests allowed people to unwind and enjoy lighthearted humor after a long day. Some standout moments came when big names such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Robin Williams graced the iconic stage. Laughter, entertainment, and guaranteed satisfaction were synonymous with this show, influencing many of its successors.

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  • Late Night with David Letterman
    David Letterman, Paul Shaffer, Jerry Seinfeld
    109 votes
    • Premiered: February 2, 1982

    Late Night with David Letterman established itself as a revolutionary talk show during the 1980s, captivating audiences with its electric energy. David Letterman, the innovative mastermind behind the series, brought an unparalleled sense of humor and wit. His revered Top 10 lists, off-the-wall segments, and amusing interviews helped put the show in a class of its own. Notable interviews with legends like Michael Jordan, Madonna, and Cher made for memorable television experiences. The creative risk-taking characteristics of Late Night paved the way for many shows of a similar ilk, leaving an indelible impression on the genre.

  • The Phil Donahue Show
    Phil Donahue, Sammy Davis Jr., Dolly Parton
    57 votes
    • Premiered: November 6, 1967

    The Phil Donahue Show stood as a pioneer in the realm of television talk shows throughout the '80s, delving into social issues and sparking thought-provoking conversations. Phil Donahue, an insightful host, opened the floor to discussions around pressing issues of the day with an open-minded approach. With interviewees from diverse backgrounds and even the studio audience weighing in on the discourse, the program invited differing viewpoints and fostered healthy debates. Groundbreaking episodes tackled tough topics such as race, religion, and politics—issues that had been previously uncharted. The show's impact on the genre is indisputable and lifted the veil for future television hosts to explore controversial topics.

  • The Merv Griffin Show emerged as a widely adored and well-respected talk show throughout the '80s, fostering an intimate atmosphere in which memorable interviews took place. Merv Griffin, known for his affable demeanor and engaging conversational skills, made the audience feel as if they were privy to private chats with beloved stars. Esteemed guests such as Fred Astaire, Bette Davis, and Orson Welles appeared on the show, sharing their insights and personal anecdotes. Ultimately, The Merv Griffin Show left its mark on the talk show world, bridging the gap between Hollywood and the general public.

  • The Arsenio Hall Show
    Bill Murray, Arsenio Hall, Burton Richardson
    86 votes
    • Premiered: January 3, 1989

    The Arsenio Hall Show entered the late-night talk show arena towards the end of the '80s with a unique flair, quickly amassing widespread popularity. Arsenio Hall, defined by his charismatic presence and sharp wit, became known as a host who would be unafraid to "kick it" with his guests, fostering genuine and authentic interactions. Memorable moments include an impromptu performance from saxophone-wielding presidential candidate Bill Clinton and revealing interviews with prominent figures like Magic Johnson. The Arsenio Hall Show contributed greatly to diversifying television programming, setting itself apart from its contemporaries with its unparalleled flair.

  • Teen Summit

    Teen Summit

    Jay Cooper, Dajour
    15 votes
    • Premiered: September 16, 1989

    Teen Summit earned its place as an essential television program in the 1980s for its relatable content aimed specifically at a younger demographic. By addressing topics of importance to teenagers, such as social issues, education, and personal growth, the show created a safe space for young viewers to engage with their concerns. Memorable guests and insightful conversations made Teen Summit a pioneer in youth-oriented television, setting the stage for future programs focusing on younger audiences.