Talk Show Hosts Who Are Terrible People

Think of classic American TV, and alongside the westerns, sitcoms, and cop dramas, you may picture the relatively humble-looking talk show, in which hosts invite guests — usually famous, often funny and entertaining — to simply converse for the sake of the viewer's entertainment. But these benign personalities are sometimes very much an act for their audiences, and on occasion, their flaws are exposed for all to see — warts and all.

The legendary Johnny Carson, host of "The Tonight Show" from 1962 to 1992, is often considered the architect of the classic talk show format. Since then, talk shows have become ubiquitous, with even news shows having taken on the talk show format, to feature news anchors, expert pundits, and other guests mingling at a studio desk to discuss the latest current events, opinions, and forecasts. But in the age of streaming, rolling news, and the immediacy and ease of social media platforms, traditional TV talk shows are on the wane. And, with the media landscape changing, many stars are moving on to greener pastures, which may be just as well, as the age of the all-powerful talk show host has truly ended.

In recent years, hosts that may have assumed that they had made it to the point in their careers, where they would be revered like Carson, are facing intense scrutiny in terms of their behavior on and off camera, with some seeing their careers go up in smoke as a result. Here are some of those whose reputations have recently taken a nosedive, thanks to their own terrible behavior.

Tucker Carlson

The conservative political pundit Tucker Carlson built one of the most loyal followings in Fox News history while helming his show, "Tucker Carlson Tonight," which first launched in 2016. The timing of that launch was fortuitous for him: That was the year that Donald Trump ran for and won the presidency of the United States, and Carlson's show became a major platform for him, with Trump granting Carlson exclusive interviews throughout the campaign and into his presidency. However, Carlson has been criticized throughout his career for his hateful commentary, which includes aspects of white nationalism. In countless segments delivered to camera, the host repeatedly called for major changes to the American system of government, which, if implemented, would equate to fascism, according to The Guardian.

Carlson's heavy-handed commentary eventually led to his downfall, with the Fox star being dropped without warning, following the network losing a $787 million defamation case in 2023. Since then, Carlson has largely existed as an online presence, with a channel on X aka Twitter, through which he pushes conspiracy theories, including one segment in which he claimed Barack Obama had a gay affair and has smoked crack cocaine.

Thankfully for Carlson, even in exile he has remained one of Trump's first ports of call. When the former president decided to skip the GOP primary debate, he set up a simultaneous interview for himself on Carlson's X aka Twitter channel, during which Carlson wildly claimed that Trump was an assassination target.

Bill O'Reilly

Few talk show hosts in the history of American television have spoken with such a sense of having the moral high ground as Bill O'Reilly, whose show "The O'Reilly Factor" featured fiery monologs concerning the state of the nation, as well as interviews with figures from across the political spectrum, each of whom would feel the brunt of O'Reilly's trademark sneer. By 2016, he was the most popular host on Fox News, having won an Emmy and set the template for the network's firebrand style of news commentary.

Some sense of O'Reilly's off-screen personality has previously emerged through various outtakes that were uploaded to YouTube, which featured the host ranting and raving at members of his production crew. But few could have predicted the nature of the Fox News Channel's key anchor's downfall.

In the wake of allegations of sexual harassment against O'Reilly's Fox colleague Roger Ailes in 2016, the following year The New York Times broke a story in which it was claimed that O'Reilly's team had spent tens of millions of dollars settling similar claims against O'Reilly. O'Reilly denied any wrongdoing, as well as accusations that he had been abusive to his ex-wife. But as Fox began to hemorrhage advertisers, pressure grew to remove him from the network, and he left with a $25 million payoff.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Charlie Rose

Veteran talk show host Charlie Rose had been a constant figure on American television for decades by the time his fortunes changed. By late 2017, the #MeToo movement had gained considerable steam, particularly after the deluge of accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. With Rose on the frontlines of breaking news and commentary, concepts such as consent, the abuse of power, sexual harassment, and professional boundaries crossed his lips daily as he discussed one of America's biggest — and growing — news stories.

In November 2017, The Washington Post published an expose detailing allegations against Rose from eight women who claimed he had sexually harassed them, including touching and phone calls of an unwanted sexual nature. The encounters reportedly occurred between 1994 and 2011. This was foreshadowed by Rose's discomfort during some of his final interviews related to #MeToo, clearly palpable when discussing the famous and powerful men who had finally received their comeuppance.

A day after the exposé, CBS News announced that Rose had been fired from the network, as did his other employers. A once-familiar face in New York eateries frequented by the rich and famous, Rose has since reportedly retreated to his sprawling home in Bellport, and is only rarely seen in public. His former colleague Gayle King, who had enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with Rose for many years, reportedly declared after the allegations came out: "I am not OK ... what do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something that is so horrible? I'm really grappling with that." (via The Hollywood Reporter)

Matt Lauer

NBC's long-running "Today" show was first broadcast way back in 1952, and became such a staple of American TV that on its 60th anniversary, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama made a special appearance to commemorate the occasion. Many talented anchors have fronted the beloved show down the years, but in the 21st century, one name was more closely associated with "Today" than any other: Matt Lauer.

In November 2017, The New York Times reported that Lauer had been fired from the show he had hosted for two decades after an internal investigation, following a complaint from a female colleague. Variety later published an exclusive feature claiming that Lauer had sexually harassed multiple female colleagues, which included the star exposing his genitals, making lewd remarks, and, in one incident, buying a co-worker a sex toy.

Things went even further in 2019, when Ronan Farrow published his book "Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators," in which the journalist shared testimony from Lauer's former NBC colleague Brooke Nevils — with whom Lauer had conducted an extramarital affair while covering the 2014 Sochi Olympics – claimed that the "Today" anchor had raped her. Lauer later admitted publicly to the affair but said that all physical contact was consensual. Farrow's book also makes the shocking claim that Harvey Weinstein used his knowledge of Lauer's industry-known sexual misconduct to keep stories about himself from being broadcast. Years on from his shock firing, Lauer remains largely off the air.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Piers Morgan

Piers Morgan is known in America today as a one-time judge on "America's Got Talent," and for taking over from broadcasting legend Larry King with his own daily CNN talk show, "Piers Morgan Tonight," later known as "Piers Morgan Live," which debuted in 2011. However, after a period of poor ratings, he was dropped from the network in 2014.

Previously, Morgan had a remarkable and controversial career as a print journalist in his native UK, where he made a name for himself by becoming editor-in-chief of Rupert Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World tabloid newspaper at the age of just 28. While Morgan's unorthodox editorial style meant that he was able to supply his readers with bombshell stories day after day, he gained a reputation for bending rules and ignoring journalistic standards. Per Britannica, Morgan was mired in a scandal in 2000, in which he was revealed to have bought company shares shortly before his newspaper plugged the investment in its financial section, suggesting a clash of interests. He has also attempted to purposefully smear rival journalists, including Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, with whom he had clashed on the British panel show "Have I Got News For You." Morgan advertised openly in his newspaper for people to contact him with any dirt they had on Hislop that might cause him embarrassment.

But worst of all are claims that Morgan oversaw the systematic phone hacking of public figures to uncover stories, with an investigation ongoing into how much Morgan knew about hacks on major celebrities like Prince Harry, as well as the families of murder victims.

Don Imus

Don Imus set the template when it came to over-the-top radio broadcasting. During the almost half a century that his widely syndicated show, "Imus in the Morning," was on the air, Imus' anarchic and unpredictable presenting style never wavered.

However, the broadcaster seemingly showed his true colors in 2007, when he used a racial slur to refer to the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Imus apologized, but for his critics, that wasn't enough.

Imus was often compared in the later part of his career with Howard Stern, a fellow radio "shock jock" who typically sailed close to the bone in terms of what is legally broadcastable. However, when Imus' career seemed ready to implode, Stern condemned his fellow talk radio star, discussing with his sidekick Robin Quivers, who is Black, Imus' history of using racist language, which Quivers said she had experienced firsthand. "If there's a blackened core of a human being, that's Imus," Stern told his listeners, and suggested Imus' supposed popularity with the public was exaggerated (via Nonetheless, Imus was back on the air within months, albeit shorn of much of his previous syndication.

David Letterman

The acclaimed late-night host David Letterman became a huge cult figure, following the debut of NBC's "Late Night with David Letterman" in 1982, and one of the biggest names on American TV after his move to CBS to host the "Late Show with David Letterman." Letterman had first risen to prominence as a guest comedian on the talk show hosted by Johnny Carson — a hero of his — and while Letterman's charisma was buoyed by his ironic and often bizarre sense of humor, he also became known as an acerbic interviewer. In the 2020s, Letterman's behavior toward many of his guests — particularly A-list women — has come under increased scrutiny.

Most questionable of all, however, was the 2009 revelation that he had been having affairs with young women on his staff, and that he only came forward to undercut the blackmail attempts by a boyfriend of one of the women. Letterman himself came clean by breaking news of the scandal on his own show, and, in the following show, apologized to both his wife and the women involved. 

Yet, as noted by Vice, though Letterman received far more support than criticism at the time, in retrospect, his behavior appears deeply problematic, particularly as later reports suggested he practiced sexual favoritism toward the women with whom he had liaisons, promoting them over women he was not entangled with.

Jimmy Fallon

In the years that Jimmy Fallon has been hosting "The Tonight Show," his on-screen persona has become something of a meme thanks to his monotonously gleeful tone, which he adopts in almost every interview and segment.

But a recent bombshell report published in Rolling Stone in September 2023 tells a different story, suggesting Fallon behind the desk and Fallon off camera are two separate people entirely, especially when interacting with his coworkers. In the piece, journalist Krystie Lee Yandoli shared the testimony of two "Tonight Show" staffers and 14 former employees, who claim that Fallon is a difficult and erratic star.

Though the show has remained a runaway success since Fallon took over in 2014, those interviewed claimed that "The Tonight Show" has long been created in a toxic work environment, with much of the tension dependent on the kind of mood its star is in on any particular day. Outsiders have pointed to the turnover of nine showrunners in as many years as evidence of the chaos that has underpinned the show. One interviewee said: "Nobody told Jimmy, 'No.' Everybody walked on eggshells, especially showrunners ... You never knew which Jimmy we were going to get and when he was going to throw a hissy fit. Look how many showrunners went so quickly. We know they didn't last long." Rolling Stone later reported that Fallon had since apologized to those involved.

Ellen DeGeneres

"The Ellen DeGeneres Show" began airing in 2003, and was notable for being as friendly as it was funny, with the mantra "be kind" recurring throughout the show over the years. However, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and the DeGeneres brand in general, received an unexpected blow in 2020, when Buzzfeed News reported that the atmosphere of kindness promoted onscreen seemingly wasn't present behind the cameras. The outlet alleged that Ellen DeGeneres and her show's producers did nothing to address a toxic work environment that, over several years, negatively impacted the mental health of several staffers.

"I learned that things happen here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously. And I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected," DeGeneres said in a broadcast apology (via The Hollywood Reporter). Nevertheless, the show never recovered its viewer numbers in the wake of the allegations, and though the host claimed that she was leaving to pursue other challenges, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" came to an end in 2022, after 19 seasons.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Dr. Oz

Dr. Oz (first name Mehmet) formerly worked as a surgeon for many years, so it seemed to many that his advice was grounded in medical reality. But even before he was famous, Oz was an advocate of alternative medicines, and as his fame grew in the late 2000s, following a slew of book publications and TV appearances — including his own "Dr. Oz Show" — the blessing of "America's doctor" could make or break a particular drug or treatment in the U.S. market, whether studies backed up its efficacy or not.

Even in the early years of Oz's public life, medical experts began sounding the alarm over the former surgeon's willingness to promote quack treatments, such as homeopathy and the intervention of self-professed psychics (per Missouri Medicine). Meanwhile, Scientific American has condemned Oz as a purveyor of pseudoscience and misinformation, who is interested more in making a profit than helping people. The magazine notes that some of Oz's cures, such as his suggestion of taking hydroxychloroquine to combat COVID-19, are actively harmful.

Don Lemon

CNN's Don Lemon was revered for the quality of his reporting in the early years of his career as co-anchor of "Live From," winning several awards in the process. Since then, he has been considered a respected commentator on current affairs with a rare ability to delve into the nuances of a story and share them with the network audience.

But Lemon's stellar career took a hit in February 2023 when, during a live discussion about the Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, the journalist and talk show host claimed that Haley, who was 51 at the time, was no longer "in her prime," and went on to pronounce women's "prime" years to be their twenties, thirties, and forties. Lemon did not feature on the show the next day, by which time he had already tweeted an apology, writing: "A woman's age doesn't define her either personally or professionally," per Politico.

Nevertheless, the bad press against Lemon grew, and within months, Variety ran an expose detailing numerous problematic incidents from throughout his career, particularly acts of aggression toward women. In one instance, Lemon is accused of having sent threatening text messages to his "Live From" co-anchor Kyra Phillips, and the exposé also claims that Lemon felt intense professional jealousy toward his former colleagues Nancy Grace and Soledad O'Brien, which he expressed in rude outbursts. The same month as the piece was published, CNN announced Lemon was to leave the network, though with three years left on his contract, it is believed he will have received a substantial payout.

James Corden

The British comedy actor James Corden was a renowned and respected stage and screen performer in the early 2000s, but he only really made a big splash in the U.S. when he became the host of "The Late Late Show" in 2015. Under his stewardship, the show maintained the silly and anarchic style that viewers had grown accustomed to. Segments such as "Carpool Karaoke," which saw Corden giving full voice to various hits alongside various A-list celebrities, often went viral, raising Corden's profile during his tenure.

Corden announced in 2022 that he would be leaving the show in the following year, reportedly to spend more time with his family. But the announcement coincided with a seismic reputational shift for Corden, whose relative anonymity in the early days seemed to play to his advantage. But as the years passed, for many, his attention-seeking presenting style came to overshadow many of his guests, hinting, critics said, at Corden's hugely inflated ego.

And in recent years, lurid stories concerning the talk show host's behavior offscreen also began to shape how the viewing public perceived him. One in particular, in which the owner of the prestigious Balthazar restaurant in Soho, London, accused Corden of being "a tiny cretin of a man" and "the most abusive customer" he had encountered since the restaurant began a quarter of a century earlier, spread across the internet like wildfire. Others also shared their unfortunate encounters with the star, who was criticized as "difficult" by a former colleague, per The News International.

Alex Jones

Infowars owner and host Alex Jones has always been on the fringe when providing discourse on current affairs. Still, the far-right libertarian and conspiracy theorist was at one time seemingly accepted by his target counterculture audience. As strange as it seems now, Jones once featured in the Richard Linklater arthouse movie "Waking Life," and would occasionally be the opening act for shows by the cult stand-up comedian Doug Stanhope.

But as the years have rolled on, Jones' anti-establishment shtick has gone from seemingly harmless to downright vile, and the most headline-worthy of the unfounded claims he has made on his show Infowars concerned the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook. According to Jones, the shooting in which 20 children were killed was staged by the government, as one phase in a fantastical secret plan to separate everyday Americans from their guns. His claims also included the speculation that the parents of the deceased children were actors complicit in the sham, which was, of course, another lie.

But the lie didn't merely mean a sensationalized headline for his hardline viewers; it led to dangerous real-world consequences. As the families of those who died at Sandy Hook would later attest, the conspiratorial nonsense that Jones repeatedly spouted led to them being the targets of harassment, abuse, and death threats, with internet trolls accusing the parents of having murdered their own children. The affected families subsequently sued Jones for defamation, leading to the Infowars founder being compelled to pay in the region of $1.5 billion in damages, and he has since filed for bankruptcy.

If you have been impacted by incidents of mass violence, or are experiencing emotional distress related to incidents of mass violence, you can call or text Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 for support.

Jeremy Kyle

The name Jeremy Kyle isn't particularly well known in the U.S., but ask any Brit, and they will tell you that Kyle is synonymous with a particularly nihilistic form of daytime programming that often makes "The Jerry Springer Show" look lighthearted.

The bread and butter of "The Jeremy Kyle Show" — a version of which did air in the U.S. in the early 2010s – involves inviting members of the British public to discuss infidelity, paternity, betrayal, addiction, and all manner of scandals that people might find themselves entangled in their private lives. However, the added appeal — if you can call it that — of the show is Kyle himself, whose trademark turn is to bellow moralistic denunciations into the faces of those he shames, making the show feel less like public therapy and more like a kangaroo court. The infamous show was a constant presence on British TV for many years.

But amid sustained criticism that the show purposefully courted participants' distress for pure entertainment, tragedy struck, when a guest who had failed a lie detector test on the show died by suicide shortly after. Accounts of mistreatment by the show's producers, and news of another death related to the show, convinced the broadcaster, ITV, to drop Kyle in 2019.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat

Rush Limbaugh

From the mid-1980s until he died in 2021, the conservative radio broadcaster and commentator Rush Limbaugh enjoyed a huge following on the American right. Toward the end of his life, he mingled with some of the biggest figures in the Republican party, including President Donald J. Trump, from whom he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2020. But, not everyone agrees that Limbaugh was a worthy voice in American public life.

Numerous critics have characterized the talk radio host as sexist and racist in his outlook, such as repeatedly referring to Barack Obama as a "halfrican American." One particularly egregious moment in Limbaugh's career occurred in 2012, when he decided to attack a female third-year student at Georgetown Law, Sandra Fluke. Fluke, a campaigner for women's rights, had advocated for easier access to contraception for students. In response, Limbaugh labeled her a "slut" and a "prostitute," adding, "She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception," per HuffPost.

But even conservative commentators admitted they were uncomfortable with the effect Limbaugh's legacy had on the American political right. Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh told NPR that he blames Limbaugh for normalizing misinformation in the Republican Party, stating: "Rush Limbaugh began this. Rush Limbaugh's legacy, sadly, because he was immensely talented — but his legacy will be primarily lying to his audience."

Tyra Banks

The TV personality and former model Tyra Banks is undoubtedly a big personality, whose charm and charisma pushed "The Tyra Banks Show" — a daily talk show that aired between 2005 and 2010 — to two back-to-back Emmy wins in 2008 and 2009.

But the thing she is most famous for is undoubtedly "America's Next Top Model," a show she created and executive produced. The show was a network smash for both the United Paramount Network and The CW, and remained a cult favorite after its 2018 finale. However, in recent years, former fans have looked back at the show — and Banks' role in particular — and been forced to re-evaluate. Ostensibly a talent show, "America's Next Top Model" featured countless moments in which the judges, especially Banks, were brutal in their treatment of contestants, whom they criticized with reference to such factors as their weight and sexuality. As reported by Business Insider, some alleged that Banks' show also exposed contestants to unsafe working conditions and emotional trauma.

But perhaps the most damning episode in the ongoing backlash against "America's Next Top Model" is the story of Angelea Preston, who had told producers she had previously worked as an escort. Preston later sued Banks and the show, claiming that she had been disqualified because of her past, though the suit was later dropped in 2018. When old clips of "America's Next Top Model" took the internet by storm in 2020, Banks took to Twitter to apologize for the show's "insensitivity."