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The 20 Greatest Hosts of Television

Updated on July 25, 2013

In the history of television, there have been hundreds of television shows. We all have our favorite shows. When not watching drama's, sitcoms, or cartoons we were sure to be entertained by games shows, variety, and talk shows. Most of these shows were led by a charismatic host. This list will be a honor roll, in numerical order of the 20 greatest television hosts from these various shows.

This top 20 list will consist of five hosts each in these four categories:

  • Late Night Talk
  • Daytime Talk
  • Game Show
  • Miscellaneous (variety, dance, reality, educational, etc.)

Late Night Talk

1. Johnny Carson
Johhny Carson was easily the greatest late night talk show host ever. He's also the most influential. From 1962 to 1992, he hosted, "The Tonight Show." Who doesn't know his iconic introduction by his sidekick, Ed McMahon? "Heeere's Johnny!", is as recognizable as any catchphrase in television history. Carson had a tremendous gift of comedic timing, charm, and likeability. To appear on "The Tonight Show", was the ultimate sign that you had made it.

2. Larry King

Technically, Larry King's show, "Larry King Live", on CNN, was not a late night show. It ran in prime time, from 1985 to 2010. In those 25 years, it is widely speculated that King may have conducted over 60,000 interviews. Appearing in his trademark suspenders and eye glasses, King's easy going and non-confrontational interviewing style kept the show a ratings winner. King interviewed a who's who of celebrities and world leaders. "Larry King Live", paved the way for many prime time interview shows that we enjoy to this day.

3.David Letterman

David Letterman is arguably the best late night host after Carson. The "Late Night with David Letterman", debuted on NBC, in February of 1982. For over 30 years, Letterman has remained funny, a great interviewer and has changed with the times. His "Top 10" and "Stupid Pet Tricks", segments are legendary. His zany personality and sense of humor has carried over well into the shows continued success. There have been controversial moments in the show's history. The infamous Jerry Lawler and Andy Kaufman feud played out live on the show. Letterman's ability to maintain a quality product since the 1980's, easily earns him a spot on the list.

4. Jay Leno

Jay Leno emerged from being just another stand up comic, to an all time great talk show host. After years of filling in for Carson, he beat out rival David Letterman as Carson's successor on the "Tonight Show", in 1992. It's no denying that Leno is a charming and witty host. He has proven effective as an interviewer also. There's been some dark moments in Leno's tenure. In 2009 after leaving the "Tonight Show", for his own primetime show, he worked his way back in after "The Jay Leno Show", flopped. Through it all Leno, has kept the "Tonight Show", a ratings winner. He's been beating Letterman for over a decade. That's no easy task and it makes Leno a host for the ages.

5. Arsenio Hall

"The Arsenio Hall Show", had a fairly short run when compared to the other hosts on this list. It aired from 1988-1994. What a six year ride it was. Hall made his "urban" show mainstream. It was the cool late night show. Hall had a great band and an energetic section of fans, known as the "Dog Pound." His show gave rap/hip-hop artists exposure that they wouldn't have on other shows. Up and coming comedians were featured on the show as well. Hall did not shy away from controversy and at times was confrontational. After an almost 20 year hiatus, a revamped version of The Arsenio Hall Show, will debut in the fall of 2013.

Day Time Talk

1. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah, is the undisputed queen of daytime talk show hosts. She is essentially what Johnny Carson was to late night. Her landmark, "The Oprah Winfrey Show", debuting in 1986, was an instant hit. For the next three decades, Winfrey would dominate. She had the gift of really making a connection with her audiences. She openly displayed her battles with weight, something that most people could relate to. She'd show her emotional side and would often cry along with her guests or audience members. Over time the format of her show changed. Her shows began to focus more on topics than on individuals. While the show changed, its ratings and success didn't. After winning enough awards to fill a small house, she closed production on her show in 2011. Only Oprah, herself could bring the show to an end.

2. Phil Donahue

If not for Winfrey, Phil Donahue would sit atop this list. He paved the way for Oprah and all the daytime shows that would follow. Debuting in national syndication in 1970, "The Donahue Show", would go on a remarkable 26 year run ending in 1996. The show was groundbreaking and birthed the syndication of daytime talk shows. Donahue interviewed celebrities, presidents, and heads of state all over the world. When production wrapped up, after a record 26 seasons, 5,515 episodes had been taped. It's easy to overlook his accomplishments because of Oprah Winfrey, but without any doubt Phil Donahue was the king of daytime television.

3. Barbara Walters

Barbara Walters is the renaissance woman of journalism. With an amazing career spanning over 50 years, she could make the list in several categories. For over 25 years she served as co-host on, "20/20." She's done thousands of interviews. It's almost a question of who hasn't she interviewed, rather than who she has. In 1997, she co-created, "The View." The show was intended to bring four women from different backgrounds to discuss the various topics of the day. The show's impact was felt immediately and has since inspired several copy cat programs. In May 2014, Ms Walters will begin a well deserved retirement.

4. Jerry Springer

Don't wipe your eyes or shake your head trying to clear out the cobwebs. The former mayor of Cincinnatti, makes the list. No one will ever mistake, "The Jerry Springer Show", for quality television. Over the last few years we've seen shows come and go, but Jerry is still going strong. It's pure trash TV, but he's found a way to make it successful. For over 20 years, crowds have been chanting, "Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!" Jerry Springer is appealing as a host, because he doesn't take himself too seriously. His sarcasm and self deprecating humor, makes him likeable. For a few years in the late 1990s, he even gave Oprah a run for the money.

5. Dr. Phil

Phil McGraw, came into the national spotlight as a guest contributor, on "The Oprah Show." With his southern charm and brutal honesty, he became popular very quickly. After a few years of guest appearances, he was given his own spinoff talk show. The "Dr. Phil", show launched in 2002. Being a licensed pyschologist, he offered therapy to his guests. He demands accountability. Dr. Phil can be polarizing to some. He has been viewed as confrontational and in your face. To some he's over the top, but that's part of the charm of Dr. Phil. Since the show's inception it has been nominated for an Emmy for 10 consecutive years.

Game Shows

1. Bob Barker

If you were put on the spot and had to name one game show host, you'd likely say Bob Barker. For 35 years from 1972-2007, Bob Barker hosted, "The Price Is Right." He had hosted other game shows before, but generations grew up watching this show. Barker had great charisma and commanded the stage. The pace and colors of the show made for excitement. While the contestant's antics varied, Bob was steady and charming. "The Price Is Right", is the longest running game show in history. In 2007, Barker hung up the microphone for good. No disrespect to Drew Carey, but replacing Bob Barker was an impossible task,

2. Alex Trebek

Alex Trebek is on the Mount Rushmore of game show hosts. A native of Ontario, Canada, Trebek has cemented his status as one of the greatest game show hosts in television history. Hosting "Jeopardy!", since 1984, Trebek is similar to Bob Barker as a fixture in game show longevity. "Jeopardy!", is an intellectual game and unlike other shows, you can't rely on a little luck to win. Trebek, has been perfect as the host and seems like he could answer all of the questions on the show. 30 years is a long time to do anything, but Alex Trebek has maintained a standard of excellence the whole time.

3. Pat Sajak

Pat Sajak, along with hostess Vanna White have been in our homes since 1982. After replacing Chuck Woolery as host of Wheel of Fortune, Pat Sajak became a household name. He has been loyal to the show. In 1989, Pat Sajak briefly had his own late night show. The talk show didn't last a year. After that he hasn't entertained any other outside offers. Never quitting his day job and filming over 5,000 episodes, Pat Sajak is Wheel of Fortune.

4. Richard Dawson

With all due respect to Ray Combs, Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, John O'Hurley, and Steve Harvey, the late Richard Dawson was the quintessential host of Family Feud. He was the original host when the show began in 1976. Dawson was known for literally kissing every female contestant on the show. He said it was his way of wishing the contestants luck. The first run of Family Feud, ended in 1985. Dawson returned as host for two seasons on a third revival of the show in the mid '90s. His confidence and charm made Richard Dawson an unforgettable game show host.

5. Chuck Woolery

Chuck Woolery was a successful and long time host on three different game and daytime shows. He was the original host of Wheel of Fortune, his tenure was from 1975-1981. After leaving over a contract dispute, he'd go on to host both, Scrabble and the dating show Love Connection. His most memorable show may have been, Love Connection. He was almost the referee on most bad dates. Yet, using warmth, candidness, and humor he kept the show under control. He was also known for his outro to the commercial break. Putting up his index and middle finger, he'd say, "we'll back in two and two", which meant two minutes and two seconds. Very few people have three successful runs on television and that's why Chuck makes the list.

5. Miscellaneous (variety, dance, reality, educational, etc)

1. Dick Clark
What more can be said about the late Dick Clark? In a career that spanned over 50 years, Dick Clark was an American icon and a giant in the entertainment world. He hosted his music and dance show, American Bandstand from 1957 to 1987. Clark was also a game show host, he hosted various incarnations of the Pyramid game show from 1973 to 1988. Along with Ed McMahon, they co-hosted, TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes, throughout the 1980s. Lastly, anyone over 30 should have memories of watching, Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve, as the new year arrived. Dick Clark left an amazing legacy of small screen entertainment.

2. Ed Sullivan

The Ed Sullivan Show, running from 1949-1971, was a springboard for every entertainer of that time. Appearing on his show confirmed you had arrived. When the Beatles or Elvis Presley performed on his show, millions would tune in. Not one to be overly serious about himself, he welcomed impersonators to impersonate him on his own show! Ed Sullivan had an awkward posture and pronounced the word show as "shew." Naturally, comics had a field day with those attributes. Sullivan provided unforgettable entertainment in an era where the country and the world for that matter was a much more wholesome place.

3. Don Cornelius

Don Cornelius, like Dick Clark, was a genius and an important participant in American pop culture. He provided the perfect vehicle with his creation, Soul Train. Originally based in Chicago, the show debuted in 1971 and ran until 2006. Soul Train, was the alternative to American Bandstand. Cornelius's vision was to showcase the top Black artists on a weekly basis. The show was a hit in suburban America as well. This program made Black Americans feel good at a time where the struggle for civil rights were still an issue. Simply put, Soul Train, was cool, funky and hip. Don Cornelius accomplished his mission to provide urban entertainment to all people.

4. tie. Jeff Probst/Ryan Seacrest

Jeff Probst has been the one and only host of, Survivor, since its inception in 2000. It was the first reality show to become a national phenomenon. Survivor, is the most influential reality show ever. It introduced the elimination of contestants by a voting process. Probst is remarkable, in knowing his role. The show is not about him, but yet he commands an undeniable presence on the program. Displaying an even keeled temperament, he keeps the show balanced and dramatic. We all know his one-liner to departing contestants, "The tribe has spoken. It's time for you to go." While never raising his voice, it's clear that he means it. After 13 years of traveling the world to remote isles, Jeff Probst's place in television history has survived.

Ryan Seacrest

Ryan Seacrest, is the last standing original member of American Idol. Seacrest, has served as host since the debut in 2002. He and Jeff Probst are far and away the greatest hosts of reality television. Ryan Seacrest's wit and dramatic timing, has kept viewers chomping their nails before he announces who will be going home. Seacrest, was also able to keep up with Simon Cowell, as they traded barbs in the show's glory years. Starting in 2005, he began co-hosting, Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve. Due to Clark's declining health after suffering a major stroke in his final years, Seacrest was able to carry the telecast for his mentor. American Idol, is arguably the greatest talent show of all time and Ryan Seacrest has played a major role in its success.

5. LeVar Burton

LeVar Burton hosted Reading Rainbow, on PBS from 1983 to 2006. An advocate for child literacy, Burton's, Reading Rainbow, is the third longest running children's show in PBS history. Only Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood, ran longer. While in production, LeVar Burton won an astounding,12 Emmy Awards as host and producer of Reading Rainbow. In the later years of the show, funding was hard to come by and led to the show's cancellation in 2006. Though no longer on television, Levar Burton has worked diligently to keep his beloved program alive. In late 2012, Burton and his production team developed an Itunes application for Reading Rainbow. Within 36 hours of its release, it was the biggest selling educational app on Itunes. Reading Rainbow, will continue to positively impact children, thanks to Mr. Burton.

There you have it, these are 20 greatest of hosts of television.


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    • Man of Strength profile imageAUTHOR

      Man of Strength 

      5 years ago from Orlando, Fl

      Hello, thanks for reading. The Arsenio Hall Show will return in September.

    • Geekdom profile image


      5 years ago

      Great list. I totally forgot about Arsenio Hall.

    • Man of Strength profile imageAUTHOR

      Man of Strength 

      5 years ago from Orlando, Fl

      Hi Cat,

      I'm an undisciplined typist. I took typing way back in high school. I don't keep my fingers on the home row. Plus if I type real fast I make a lot of errors. This hub was almost 2300 words long. I was gonna do two parts but decided against it.

    • Cantuhearmescream profile image


      5 years ago from New York

      Man of Strength,

      Yes, I could say the same thing... about remembering all of them but Ed Sullivan, but he was iconic enough before us that I've heard quite a bit about him in my lifetime. Don't tell me you're a one finger key pusher? lol... I tried to teach my dad about 'home row' back almost a decade ago, not to long after getting his first computer... but he insists he'll get the job done, plunking one key at a time... lol.

      I will say, this is a lengthy hub, but each word is necessary :D

    • Man of Strength profile imageAUTHOR

      Man of Strength 

      5 years ago from Orlando, Fl

      I'm in my mid 30s, so the only one I can't remember is Ed Sullivan, being that he passed away before I was born. Of course I've saw clips of him, but Google and Wikipedia were my best friends. Thanks for stopping by.

    • vandynegl profile image


      5 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Very entertaining and I think you are right on target with these! I remember almost all of them! yikes!

    • Man of Strength profile imageAUTHOR

      Man of Strength 

      5 years ago from Orlando, Fl

      Hi Cat,

      Thanks for all of your kind words. I enjoy these. I love history and enjoy writing these. I just type painfully slow. This was almost an all day process on Sunday. I remember all of them too, except Ed Sullivan. He was deceased before our time. I kinda regret leaving off Ryan Seacrest now.

    • Man of Strength profile imageAUTHOR

      Man of Strength 

      5 years ago from Orlando, Fl

      Thanks Mr. Nerritt. Yes I agree with Ryan Seacrest. I wanted him to tie with Probst or Burton. I may do some editing. Thank you for reading.

    • CMerritt profile image

      Chris Merritt 

      5 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

      Pretty cool picks...I agree with you on all but one...I think Ryan Seacrest is one of the new upcoming, who KEEPS American Idol half way interesting.....

      fun hub....

    • Cantuhearmescream profile image


      5 years ago from New York

      Man of Strength,

      For the record, I just checked and HP didn't notify me of this; but I'm on it, someone will be beheaded... lol.

      Anyway, you are so good at these! You really have a knack for this. Who can't appreciate these kinds of hubs? Every time I read one of these I get to jump back to memory lane and I do a lot of 'oh yeahs'! You've got the best of the best and some seriously iconic people listed here and I could say something about each one of the people you listed and I do have some form of memory including all of them, some are just better than others. My brother and I still do Chuck's 'two and two' :D ... I was just a kid when we used to watch the Love Connection and I though it was quite an interesting show. Honestly, game shows and dating shows today, will never be what they used to, in my opinion.

      Did we grow up in the best times or what? Thanks for always bringing me back there :D

      Up and a bunch more ~ Sharing too!


    • Man of Strength profile imageAUTHOR

      Man of Strength 

      5 years ago from Orlando, Fl

      Hi janshared, nice to cross paths again. I love history and though I'm fairly young, I remember all of them. Ed Sullivan passed away a few years before I was born, Wikipeia and Google were my friends. Thank you for stopping by and for the encouragement.

    • Man of Strength profile imageAUTHOR

      Man of Strength 

      5 years ago from Orlando, Fl

      Thanks Colin for your kind words. I'm a nostalgic person, so doing these lists are fun for me. All s well here in Florida. Its hot and humid, as always. You make that lake sound very refreshing. As far as films I've most definitely seen, Do The Right Thing.I saw in the theater as a 12 year old, but was too young to grasp it. I have it on dvd. I agree I think everyone should watch that film at least once.

    • janshares profile image

      Janis Leslie Evans 

      5 years ago from Washington, DC

      Man of Strength, great hub, very entertaining walk down memory lane for me. I agree with your analysis of each host. Very well written, good job, voted up and awesome.

    • epigramman profile image


      5 years ago

      Great choices here my friend and here in Canada we receive all of your American programs but I really wonder how many Americans know of our Canadian programs, lol.

      As always I love your passion and intelligence in every hub presentation that you put together and I will madly and gladly post this definitive tribute to my FB page for all to see and read.

      Just about to have a quick dip in the lake on a cloudy cooler day and then come back for a nice cuppa tea - we are almost near the last week of July - just where the heck is summer going?

      I sincerely hope all is well with you and perhaps you can put together a hub sometime of your favorite films - and speaking about race relations how you ever seen one of my all time favorite films - and it's a film which should be viewed and taught in 'every' classroom in the world

      Spike Lee's masterpiece - Do the right thing. If you have not seen this film please check it out. It's essential viewing.

      lake erie time canada 12:26pm

    • Man of Strength profile imageAUTHOR

      Man of Strength 

      5 years ago from Orlando, Fl

      Hi Nia,

      Thanks for stopping by as always. Your hub about the classic games shows was one of the inspirations for this. These lists are hard to compile. I almost didn't include Levar Burton but I felt that he's done so much for children over the last 30 years, that he should be included. Yep, Jerry is hanging in there. I've now come to dislike his show, but he's lasted.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      To argue with your choices seems somehow really wrong. So I say thank you

    • NiaG profile image


      5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Very cool young man. I had forgotten about some of these. Levar and Phil Donahue. I still can't believe Jerry is still on the air. ha!


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