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John Kiesewetter on the world of local and national TV

Senior Entertainment Reporter John Kiesewetter has been covering TV and media issues for 20 years. After joining the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1975 as a summer intern, he worked as a county government and suburban reporter; assistant city editor and suburban editor; and features editor supervising the Life section. He has a B.S. in journalism from Ohio University.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Remembering Merv Griffin

With Letterman, Leno, Kimmel, Conan and all the late night talk shows today, it's hard to remember how revolutionary it was for Merv Griffin to be hired by CBS to host a late-night talk show back in 1969. Griffin had a successful daytime talk show, so CBS put him on at 11:30 p.m. to compete with late-night king Johnny Carson on NBC, and Joey Bishop on ABC. It was the first time both ABC and CBS went after Carson, and it didn't work for CBS. But it was great fun having the choice of three shows to see lots of stars, much more than today -- because each show ran 90 minutes, and had a wider guest list. (The first casualty was Bishop and his sidekick Regis Philbin, replaced by Dick Cavett six months later.)

It was the same way with Griffin's daytime talk show. Along with Mike Douglas, and Steve Allen and others, daytime viewers had a chance to see many of Hollywood's greatest/newest stars. I recall Griffin, a former band singer, as a good listener and interviewer, but he would gush over his guests. (Was it "Second City" that did the killer parody of him gushing? Help me out here.)

He made his money, of course, creating "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune." He created a new show for call, "Merv Griffin Crosswords," will will debut Sept. 10 on WKRC-TV (10:30 a.m., Channel 12). It replaces "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," which was not renewed by Ch. 12.
For more about "Crosswords," go to

For a perspective on the career of the game show creator/producer/talk show host/singer Merv Griffin, I contacted Raymond J. Brune, the 1980 Elder High School graduate who is one of the two co-heads of television for Merv Griffin Entertainment. Brune said he couldn't talk, deferring comment on Griffin to Griffin's son. So I thought it was worth repeating comments about Griffin from my November Q&A with Brune:

What's Merv like?
"Merv is amazing. Every day is like being in graduate school – watching him work, negotiate, produce, create and manage people. One of the cool things about Merv is that he's in a position to produce shows just for the love of TV. Making money is not the priority. He’s not afraid to tell network presidents to get lost if they don’t agree with his vision. "
So he gives you clout?
"He can call anyone in Hollywood for a meeting. Through Merv, I've met (and pitched to) Rupert Murdoch (Fox), Les Moonves (CBS), Kevin Reilly (NBC) and all the power players in Hollywood. It's incredible that we can finally get projects on the air without going through the layers of management that develop shows. "
He knows everyone?
"In May I had dinner with him and Nancy Reagan. On Merv's 81st birthday in July, our meeting was interrupted by a call from Air Force One. The president wanted to wish Merv happy birthday. "

Were you a Merv Griffin fan? Have a favorite memory to share?


at 8/13/2007 3:23 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all do respect to the dearly departed - imitation being the sincerest form of flattery - yes SCTV did a hilarious send-up of the Merv Griffin Show. Especialy funny was they way Merv lounged his chair. I seem to recall Rick Moranis portraying Merv.

at 8/13/2007 5:34 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember watching Merv when I was growing up. I loved the way he treated his guests.He was always kind. Totie Fields, Moms Mabley, and that little old lady in the audience Mrs. Miller. Great host. He will be missed.

at 8/13/2007 5:58 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in the town where Merv was born and raised (San Mateo, CA). We're very proud of our native son who gave so much of himself to this community throughout the years. In fact, just last year he donated $250,000 to help pay for upgrades to San Mateo High School.

God bless Mr. Griffin.

at 8/13/2007 8:13 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed Merv, along with Mike Douglas(Michael Delaney Dowd). Now they are both gone.
God Bless them!
from the neighborhood

at 8/14/2007 12:03 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point about Merv "gushing" completely misses his appeal. He was totally comfortable being himself, and that meant gushing, chuckling, and fawning when he felt like it. Merv was a success on television for so long because he was honest and relaxed enough to let the audience see who he really was. On his best nights, it seemed like Merv was taking us into his living room with friends. And he no doubt "gushed" there too.

at 8/14/2007 11:17 AM Anonymous Scott said...

Is Who Wants to be a Millionaire being picked up by another cincy affilate?

at 8/14/2007 12:27 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merv was always fun and he also had a lot of young comedians on though the coveted spot was still the Johnny Carson show but most comedians also wound up on Merv's show.

God bless him, now he is with Arthur Treacher.

at 8/15/2007 11:53 PM Blogger skippercollector said...

I have a copy of an article that Steve Hoffman did about John Denver's appearance on the Merv Griffin Show. I am a diehard Denver fan and started collecting articles about him more than 30 years ago. John was a guest on the Griffin show on Feb. 23, 1976.

I scanned the article but unfortunately the entire article, plus the accompanying photo, were a bit too wide to fit onto my scanner. The last paragraph is cut in half, but I think you can get the gist of the article. It's on a John Denver discussion group website. You can find it on the far right with the photos.

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