Powered by i.TV
September 20, 2014

Our Favorite TV Sidekicks: They're the True Stars of the Talk Shows

by Liane Bonin, posted Nov 18th 2009 4:14PM
On June 23, 2009, the trademark laugh of the greatest sidekick of all time was silenced as Ed McMahon floated up to the great sidekick couch on the sky. While Publisher's Clearing House commercials and 'Star Search' reruns will never be the same, the good news is that McMahon, who rose up in the wake of some pretty stellar sidekicks himself, set the bar high for those to follow.

Perhaps he set it too high, though, as newcomers to the talk show field like Jimmy Fallon and Craig Ferguson have chosen to fly solo on their talk shows. And that's a shame. Like wine in a box and BBC America series, these straight men of the chat circuit are all too often underappreciated and overshadowed but consistently, inconspicuously deliver the goods.On June 23, 2009, the trademark laugh of the greatest sidekick of all time was silenced as Ed McMahon floated up to the great sidekick couch on the sky. While Publisher's Clearing House commercials and 'Star Search' reruns will never be the same, the good news is that McMahon, who rose up in the wake of some pretty stellar sidekicks himself, set the bar high for those to follow.

Perhaps he set it too high, though, as newcomers to the talk show field like Jimmy Fallon and Craig Ferguson have chosen to fly solo on their talk shows. And that's a shame. Like wine in a box and BBC America series, these straight men of the chat circuit are all too often underappreciated and overshadowed but consistently, inconspicuously deliver the goods.

Ed McMahon
Sidekick For: Johnny Carson, 'The Tonight Show'
Before He Was Second Banana: The one-time carnival barker and WWII vet first worked with Carson on the TV game show 'Who Do You Trust' from 1957 to 1962.
Why We Love Him: Who didn't love Ed? That big, echoing laugh was Carson's most effective tool in getting over the occasional flop joke and with Ed having such a good time every night, how could the late-night audience also not have a good time? Of late, we've associated Ed with cheesy infomercials and his own personal financial nightmare (during which Donald Trump offered to buy his home), but we're happier thinking about his better days. Even if he never did come to our door with that oversized check. R.I.P., Ed.

Michael Gelman
Sidekick For: Regis Philbin & Kelly Ripa, 'Live With Regis and Kelly'
Before He Was Second Banana: A junior year internship at WABC-TV, the New York station that produces 'Live,' turned out to be a pretty good gig -- Gelman stuck around for over two decades, eventually becoming the executive producer of 'Live.'
Why We Love Him: Sure, he's the whipping boy for Regis, but what's Regis without someone to pick on? We give Gelman big props for taking whatever Regis has to dish out on a daily basis, which ranges from dressing in drag to being shot out of a cannon.

Andy Richter
Sidekick For: Conan O'Brien, 'Late Night With Conan O'Brien' and 'The Tonight Show'
Before He Was Second Banana: As a cast member of stage production 'The Real Live Brady Bunch,' Richter had a chance to meet Robert Smigel at a party. Smigel promptly hired him as a writer for 'Late Night,' only bumping him to on-camera sidekick a few weeks before the show premiered.
Why We Love Him: Back in the days when O'Brien was on so late the only people who watched were college students and people with sleeping disorders, Richter was the jolly, mischievous Friar Tuck to O'Brien's red-headed Robin Hood. When Richter left in 2000 for the lamentable 'Quintuplets' and the canceled-too-soon 'Andy Barker P.I.,' Conan soldiered on, but some of the fun is gone. It took nine years, but we're glad he's back in the sidekick's chair again, even if the move to 'The Tonight Show' has been a somewhat shaky one.

Kevin Eubanks
Sidekick For: Jay Leno, 'The Tonight Show,' 'The Jay Leno Show'
Before He Was Second Banana: The Berklee College of Music grad is well known to jazz fans, having released his first album as lead guitarist at age 25. He's appeared on over 100 albums to date. Not bad for a guy so relaxed, we wonder if he has a pulse.
Why We Love Him: Admittedly, we loved him a little more at 11:35PM, when the laid-back demeanor that seems so sleepy at 10PM seemed perfectly fitting for the hour. But even if we secretly want to slip him a triple espresso, Eubanks' personal brand of jovial wit and effortless cool is a nice counterpoint to Leno's sometimes twitchy opening monologue.

Gayle King
Sidekick For: Oprah Winfrey, 'Oprah Winfrey'
Before She Was Second Banana: The one-time news anchor has long had dreams of hosting her own chat show -- but 'Cover to Cover' and 'The Gayle King Show' both vanished quickly, so Oprah can relax.
Why We Love Her: Well, anyone who sits at the right hand of She Who Rules All Media is definitely worthy of our attention. So, she's not a traditional sidekick, but any time she's on the show she's not only always able to make Oprah laugh like a hysterical schoolgirl, she also knows how to put her in her place. That's got to count for something.

Bill Geddie
Sidekick For: The women of 'The View'
Before He Was Second Banana: The former cameraman and occasional screenwriter (his film 'Unforgettable' starred Ray Liotta) also produces those Barbara Walters specials we all know so well.
Why We Love Him: With all the estrogen and big personalities crowding 'The View,' it's no wonder so many episodes devolve into high-pitched screeching. A calm, sane presence, Geddie is able to roll with the punches and get the women back on track. And probably at the sacrifice of his own hearing.

Paul Shaffer
Sidekick For: David Letterman, 'Late Show With David Letterman'
Before He Was Second Banana: The multi-talented Canadian has been in a band (The Northern Lights), hosted his own radio show ('Live from the Hard Rock Cafe') and was a musician on 'SNL'. No wonder he was able to sit in for Dave when he had his heart bypass.
Why We Love Him: Maybe it's the wardrobe of wacky glasses, maybe it's because he's from Canada. Shaffer's one of the few people who never seems to let his boss' withering glances get to him (even Madonna can't claim that) and he isn't afraid of playing the fool. In fact, he's so self-deprecating and lacking in ego, most people don't realize he's got an impressive resume. The Grammy nominee and former 'SNL' band member is the guy wrote 'It's Raining Men,' people!

Regis Philbin
Sidekick For: Joey Bishop, 'The Joey Bishop Show'
Before He Was Second Banana: After leaving the Navy, Reege took small jobs in radio and television before landing the local gig 'The Regis Philbin Show' in San Diego. It wasn't long before the big leagues called him up ... as a sidekick.
Why We Love Him: Before there was Kelly, before there was Kathie Lee, Regis put in his time in the sidekick's chair. Granted, it was a short run ('The Joey Bishop Show' only ran from 1967 to 1969), but Philbin's stint is memorable for good ol' Reeg picking up the ball and hosting the live program when Bishop, having learned he'd been canceled, walked off the show in mid-broadcast. We'd expect nothing less.

Peggy Cass
Sidekick For: Jack Paar, 'The Tonight Show'
Before She Was Second Banana: The Boston-born actress toured with the U.S.O. before hitting Broadway in 1949 with 'Touch and Go.'
Why We Love Her: For those who remember her, Peggy Cass is more likely to be recalled as the Oscar-nominated actress who played Agnes Gooch in 'Auntie Mame' or as a freakishly smart celebrity game show contestant. But we can't help but love one of the few female sidekicks in the area who was able to give as good as she got with a prickly personality like Paar.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

Follow Us

From Our Partners