Mark Robertson

Mark Robertson

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Throwback Thursday: "The Midnight Special" debuts on NBC today in 1975

It was 50 years ago tonight (February 2nd, 1973) that the late night rock show The Midnight Special premiered on NBC. The show's pilot had aired in 1972, and went on to create a buzz the next year when it followed late night king Johnny CarsonThe Midnight Special originally aired at 1 a.m. on Saturday mornings, but when Carson scaled The Tonight Show down from 90 minutes to an hour, the show moved up to 12:30 a.m.

Among the major guests who performed during the show's first season were John Denver, the Everly BrothersCass ElliottLinda RonstadtHarry ChapinHelen Reddy, the Isley Brothers, the StylisticsSmokey RobinsonKenny Rogers & the First EditionDionne WarwickAl Green, the Bee GeesDon McLeanIke & Tina Turner, and many more.

The show went on to feature timeless performances by such heavyweights as AerosmithAlice Cooper, Blondie, the Cars, Earth, Wind & FireEddie MoneyElectric Light OrchestraFleetwood Mac, Gordon LightfootHeartHelen ReddyJim CroceKC & The Sunshine BandLaBelleMarvin GayeCaptain & TennillePeter FramptonREO SpeedwagonSteely Dan, the Doobie BrothersTom Petty & The Heartbreakers, the Village People, and countless others.

Paul Brownstein, who distributed the show for owner and producer Burt Sugarman, told author Ed Robertson, "Back then, a band would come to Los Angeles on Saturday and lip-sync their hit on American Bandstand, then go to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Sunday and do Don Kirshner's Rock Concert -- which was syndicated. If they really wanted major television exposure, though, they'd have to go to NBC in Burbank and do The Midnight Special, because that was the only opportunity for a network TV gig at the time. They would perform with live vocals, and the concert would air that (Saturday morning) -- before a huge audience."

Over the years, most of the day's top rock, pop, and disco acts appeared on the stage -- with many acting as the revolving guest host. Celebrity DJ Wolfman Jack, who hosted many of the shows as well, was often on hand to introduce the groups and sometimes briefly interview them as well.

The Midnight Special was canceled in May 1981 and replaced with the Canadian comedy show SCTV Network 90, an expanded version of the popular SCTV. In 1997, VH1 aired many of The Midnight Special episodes, many of which hadn't been seen since their initial broadcast.

Here are a few performances:

The 2019 NAMM Show - 34th Annual NAMM TEC Awards

Photo: Getty Images

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