Thursday, September 19, 2013

My VH1 Years: Be My Guest

Those of you who know me know that my VH1 years in the late 1980s continue to be some of the happiest and most fulfilling of my broadcast career.  I had great opportunities and a great crew in the studio.  That gig didn't really feel like work.  I was eager to get back to the studio on Monday mornings.  Not many folks can say that about a workplace.  At VH1, executives acknowledged my skills as an entertainer and as a talk show host.

Some of you have seen these clips already.  No need to let me drag you kicking and screaming down memory lane once again.  If you've not seen my VH1 talk show host work, I hope you enjoy the retro footage.  The first show I hosted was Celebrity Hour.  What did acclaimed novelist Norman Mailer...
...future Grey's Anatomy TV heartthrob Patrick Dempsey....
...novelist/actress Carrie Fisher and her famous movie star mom, Debbie Reynolds all have in common?  They were my guests on VH1's Celebrity Hour.

The network later gave me my own prime time half hour called Watch Bobby Rivers.  I loved it!  My first and only guest for the premiere show was Spartacus -- screen legend Kirk Douglas.

Other greats of film, TV and music followed my night with Spartacus -- greats like recently-named Kennedy Center honoree Carlos Santana, Meryl Streep, the late Raul Julia and TV's That Girl star, Marlo Thomas, and cartoon voice actor, Mel Blanc.

In London, Paul McCartney told me what famous lead role for a movie he turned down.

Mel Gibson told me what famous lead role for a movie he turned down.

Oscar-winning movie director Steven Soderbergh asked me for permission to use some of this clip from my talk show in And Everything Is Going Fine, his 2010 documentary on the late actor and monologist Spalding Gray (The Killing Fields, True Stories, Beaches).
I, of course, said "Yes!"  I loved having Spalding on my show.  I was inspired by his autobiographical monologue work in Swimming to Cambodia.

Another one of my favorite guests was two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine.  Such a delightful storyteller and a totally cool gent.  Very early in his film career, he was told he'd never be a star.  Movie producer Joseph E. Levine told him he seemed "gay" in the historical war epic, Zulu -- too gay to be a star.  Zulu was a 1964 release.

American moviegoers totally dug him as a spy in the 1965 thriller, The Ipcress File.

He got his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing amorous Alfie, a 1966 hit movie.

Michael Caine had a memorable kissing scene in Deathtrap, a 1982 murder mystery directed by Sidney Lumet.

VH1 execs were thrilled with the reviews my talk show host skills got from The New York Times and TV Guide.  I am still grateful for that TV opportunity, proud of the reviews I earned and especially proud to have been the first African-American given a celebrity talk show host spot on VH1.

Production note:  I did my national talk show without a TelePrompTer, without cue cards, without a team of writers and without a band.  I used my terrific floor crew as my studio audience.

And I was still being turned down by broadcast agents who said that they wouldn't know what to do with me.  As Jack Paar used to say, "I kid you not."  Thanks for watching.


  1. I was a regular viewer of your show back in the 80s. I always wondered what happened to you so Iwas glad when you turned up on Twitter. I try to catch you whenever you are on shows like RLTV's Bookmarks. I have to honestly say if given a choice between seeing you and Arsenio back on the air, I'd choose you because I found you quite entertaining. SO much of television these days is PAAAAAINFUL.

  2. You have no idea how deeply grateful I am for that compliment. Thank you so very, very much.


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