Top 10 Most Confrontational Talk Show Moments
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut
Be prepared for a lot of awkwardness with the most confrontational talk show moments. For this list, we'll be looking at the most confrontational talk show moments. Our countdown includes “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Today,” “Geraldo,” and more!
Be prepared for a lot of awkwardness. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Confrontational Talk Show Moments.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most confrontational talk show moments. To qualify, the moment must be genuine in some way, so staged confrontations like Jerry Lawler’s fight with Andy Kaufman on “David Letterman” won’t be considered. And while R. Kelly’s interview with Gayle King on “CBS This Morning” is infamous, it won’t be included either as the focus is solely on talk shows.
#10: Dakota's Birthday
“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (2003-)
Ellen DeGeneres is rarely caught off guard by any of her guests, which makes this particularly awkward exchange with Dakota Johnson all that more captivating. After inquiring about the actress's birthday party, Ellen made the mistake of mentioning that she was not invited, a throwaway joke that ended up not being true, a fact Johnson wasted absolutely no time in correcting. Ellen's comedic timing does manage to diffuse some of the tension out of the situation, although that does not make the interview's opening few minutes any less uncomfortable to watch.
#9: Norman Mailer vs. Gore Vidal
“The Dick Cavett Show” (1968-86)
"The Dick Cavett Show" had its share of explosive sessions over the years, but few compare to the sheer ferocity that defined Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal's segment. While everyone got their licks in, Mailer was the driving force behind this confrontational debate, with the writer mocking Vidal's career, personality, and pretty much everything besides his political campaign. Mailer even challenged Cavett and the audience's intelligence, while a bored Janet Flanner sat there like a frustrated teacher presiding over a couple of school children. While things never quite got violent on-screen, Mailer reportedly headbutted Vidal earlier that night.
#8: Vince McMahon vs. Bob Costas
“On the Record with Bob Costas” (2001-04)
While some discussions start gently and gradually grow more confrontational, Bob Costas' interview with WWE's Vince McMahon is underpinned by a palpable fierceness right from the start. Coming across more like an interrogation than a discussion, Costas grilled his guest on the failings of the XFL – a then new football league created by McMahon that would ultimately go bust within a year of debuting – while also not painting professional wrestling in the most positive light. By the time the interview came to an end, McMahon appeared on the verge of body slamming the host, although the pair would meet up for a much more cordial episode a year later.
#7: Morton Downey Jr. vs. Seka
“The Morton Downey Jr. Show” (1987-89)
In hindsight, “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” was closer to programs like "The Jerry Springer Show" than modern-day talk shows. The pilot episode dealing with the adult film industry instantly established the tone for the show, as the host utilized an aggressive interviewing style designed to put actress Seka immediately on the defensive. The live audience ate up Downey's savage takedown of his guest, even if the whole thing comes across as a sensationalist stunt that sought to belittle Seka for easy ratings. It is hardly surprising that Seka walked out during a commercial break.
#6: Patti LaBelle Isn’t Having It
“The Tyra Banks Show” (2005-10)
Who knew that a pretty short conversation revolving around cupcakes and paper could be so uncomfortable? What seems to start out as a genuine misunderstanding between chef Brandy Norwood and guest Patti LaBelle regarding the paper surrounding the cupcakes, quickly turns into an improv session with cringe-worthy attempts at humor and condescending remarks. All things considered, LaBelle managed to keep her cool despite being spoken to like a toddler. While the animosity dies down relatively quickly, a segment about cupcakes should never have been this tense to begin with. The incident was so infamous that it inspired a 2020 “Saturday Night Live” sketch, starring “SNL” cast member Ego Nwodim as LaBelle stand-in “Cookie LaFloof”, and host Daniel Craig as the put-upon celebrity chef.
#5: Tom Cruise vs. Matt Lauer
During an interview with "Today's" then undisgraced host Matt Lauer, Tom Cruise opened up about life and mental health in a rant that would arguably change the public perception of the actor forever. The strangest thing about this whole ordeal was that the interview was perfectly cordial for the first half, but the tone changed once Lauer mentioned Scientology, which snowballed into Cruise sharing his distrust about psychiatry as someone who knew the profession's long history. The interview got particularly heated once Brooke Shields became the topic of discussion, with Cruise even going so far as to describe Lauer as a glib.
#4: Whoopi Goldberg vs. Bill O'Reilly
“The View” (1997-)
As multiple arguments on "The View" can attest, it is only natural that discussions get heated when politics, religion, or 9/11 are involved. Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck had a notable exchange in 2007, but it was Bill O'Reilly's guest appearance in 2010 that saw tensions boil over to unprecedented heights. O'Reilly's generalization of Muslims prompts a verbal tirade from Whoopi Goldberg, who then proceeds to leave the set alongside co-host Joy Behar. In retrospect, there was friction immediately between O'Reilly and Goldberg, but things certainly did not take long to escalate.
#3: Rosie O'Donnell vs. Tom Selleck
“The Rosie O'Donnell Show” (1996-2002)
In the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre, Rosie O'Donnell and Tom Selleck ended up in a now-infamous debate over gun control. Selleck, who came on the talk show to promote the romantic comedy "The Love Letter" was blindsided by O'Donnell who was far more interested in discussing the NRA, guns, and the second amendment. While Selleck tried to maintain a degree of composure and civility early on in the debate, the actor seemed to give up once it became apparent this argument was just going to go around in circles.
While sometimes arguments arise from unlikely pairings, certain situations are purposefully crafted to spark controversy and hostility. When "Geraldo" invited a White Aryan Resistance Youth member onto the same show as civil rights activist Roy Innis, the talk show presumably anticipated a few fireworks, although a full-on brawl presumably exceeded the expectations of even the most ambitious of TV execs. After one particularly racist comment, Innis took matters into his own hands before the show lost complete control of its guests and audience. By the end, Geraldo Rivera ended up with a broken nose, and a ratings smash.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Abel Ferrara Interview
“Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (1993-2009)
Because Ferrara Wanted to Be Anywhere But Doing an Interview with Conan O’Brien.
Morton Downey vs. Kellie Everts
“The Morton Downey Jr. Show” (1987-89)
Because Unwanted Pelvic Thrusts Have No Place in a Civilized Conversation
A Rude Interruption
“The Wendy Williams Show” (2008-)
Because Wendy Williams Cut Loose on an Audience Member with a Disruptive Phone
Harvey Pekar Wilds Out
“Late Night with David Letterman” (1982-93)
Because Bad Mouthing the Host’s Boss on Live TV Is Bad Manners
“Late Show with David Letterman” (1993-2015)
Because Letterman Wanted to Know About Hilton’s Time in Jail & Refused to Let Up
#1: Jim Everett vs. Jim Rome
A moment so infamous, "South Park" parodied it more than a decade later. After years of "Talk2's" Jim Rome poking fun at Jim Everett by calling him “Chris” instead, in reference to the female tennis player of the same name, the Los Angeles Rams quarterback dared the host to repeat it one more time during an interview. Rome did so, and instantly regretted it. This segment is so outlandish, it almost seems staged; however, Everett has always maintained that it was legitimate. Considering neither party came out from this scuffle looking particularly good, it does seem pretty real.