Top 20 Most Confrontational Talk Show Moments

Top 20 Most Confrontational Talk Show Moments
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut
Shots were fired during the most confrontational talk show moments. For this list, we're looking at the most combative back-and-forths on talk shows. Our countdown includes "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," "The View," "Geraldo," and more!

Top 20 Most Confrontational Talk Show Moments

Shots fired! Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 Most Confrontational Talk Show Moments.

For this list, we’re looking at the most combative back-and-forths on talk shows. We’ll be excluding staged confrontations, like Jerry Lawler’s fight with Andy Kaufman on “David Letterman”.

#20: Aziz Ansari Calls Out CBS
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (2015-)

Representation has been a topic of discussion in showbusiness for a long time, and it’s something that Aziz Ansari has spoken candidly about. During an interview with Stephen Colbert, the "Parks & Rec" comedian took some not so subtle jabs at CBS's track record when it comes to diversity. And Ansari managed to do it while still being funny. Fortunately, Colbert was able to roll with it and poke some fun of his own - defusing potential awkwardness, and making it easy to focus on the comedian’s point.

#19: Abel Ferrara Awkward Interview
“Late Night with Conan O'Brien” (1993-2009)

Conan O' Brien has interviewed almost every celebrity imaginable, so the fact the host picked Abel Ferrara as his most difficult interview means something. From the very start, the accomplished filmmaker comes across as though he’d rather be anywhere else. Despite Conan's best efforts to get a conversation going, Ferrara mostly mumbles through a couple of half stories about Madonna and Harvey Keitel while playing around with a cigarette. As awkward as this interview is, there IS almost a comedic brilliance to it, especially since it kind of ends on a punchline.

#18: 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.

#17: A Rude Interruption
“The Wendy Williams Show” (2008-)

Few things can ruin a person's focus quite as instantly as a ringing phone. During a recording of "The Wendy Williams Show," the host found her train of thought interrupted by the sound of a mobile, a crime that could not go unpunished. At that moment, Wendy Williams uttered the phrase anyone who has ever been stuck in a theatre with a disruptive audience member has always wanted to say. Although Williams defused the situation within a few seconds, that does not mean the host's initial frustration was not genuine.

#16: 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.

#15: Bill Maher Kicks Out an Audience Member
“Real Time with Bill Maher” (2003-)

This long-running show tackles sensitive and controversial topics using irreverent humor that adds to the debates without necessarily overshadowing them. Typically cool as a cucumber, Bill Maher is always in command and does not react kindly to any attempts to hijack a panel, especially from hecklers. While the first heckler received a personal goodbye from Maher, the tension only escalated from there, as waves of unrest echoed from the audience. Throughout it all, Maher still manages to get a couple of laughs, although each one-liner is fueled by anger.

#14: 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 a chef 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.

#13: 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.

#12: Harvey Pekar Wilds Out
“Late Night with David Letterman” (1982-93)

This exchange was memorable enough to be recreated in a biopic. Harvey Pekar's appearances on David Letterman's talk shows are the stuff of legend, especially the heated exchanges the pair had during the 80s. The duo always seemed to be stuck in a power struggle, and that was never more apparent than when Pekar went on a rant about General Electric, the parent company of NBC, the network that aired "Late Night with David Letterman." This was not some previously discussed routine, as Letterman did not hide the fact that Pekar's comments were highly inappropriate and unwelcome.

#11: Meghan's Choice Words
“The View” (1997-)

Political discussions naturally tend to grow a bit fiery, but certain words are practically never heard on daytime television. While Meghan McCain and Joy Behar are known to snap at each other, "The View's" co-hosts usually refrain from using profanity. While debating a Trump rally, McCain grew increasingly frustrated with Behar's occasional interruptions. It reached the point that Whoopi Goldberg had to try and cool down the panel. McCain and Behar have had several blowouts over the years, but this was one of the more memorable ones.

#10: Cher vs. Letterman
“Late Night with David Letterman” (1982-93)

It’s rare that a talk show interview starts out confrontationally, then becomes progressively calmer. But that’s exactly what happened when Cher first appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman." During the initial stages, Letterman attempted to learn why Cher had previously rejected the show's invitations, and there was a definite tension during these moments that made the exchange uncommonly awkward. When Cher finally revealed the reason, it could have come across as a punchline if it were not for the fact that the singer did not laugh for a couple of seconds after the fact. It was no joke.

#9: 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.

#8: Madonna vs. Letterman
“The Late Show with David Letterman” (1993-2015)

This interview was off to a rough start with Letterman’s derogatory introduction. He then told Madonna to kiss a man in the audience. Even so, no one could have predicted what followed. Filled with expletives from Madonna, and innuendo from both parties, this interview toes the lines between playful banter and outright hostility. To say that it takes some weird turns is an understatement. By the last few minutes, it had gone completely off the rails, as any semblance of structure gives way to confusion, cigars, and shocked audience members.

#7: Tom Cruise vs. Matt Lauer
“Today” (1952-)

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.

#6: 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.

#5: 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.

#4: Rush Limbaugh vs. Protesters
“The Pat Sajak Show” (1989-90)

The most infamous episode of this show didn’t even feature the titular host. A couple of weeks before the show's cancellation, Rush Limbaugh took over for an episode about a recently vetoed abortion bill and, in a move that backfired instantly, asked an audience member for their opinion. The rest of the episode involved Limbaugh trying and failing to gain any sort of control over a restless crowd, with many vocal members who did not agree with the guest host's political views. The experience was such a trainwreck, Limbaugh would later claim it was a publicity stunt staged by the talk show's producers.

#3: Marc Summers vs. Burt Reynolds
“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” (1992-2009; 2010-14)

Sometimes things escalate slowly before reaching a boil; this was not one of those times. Marc Summers and Burt Reynolds share one cordial exchange before the bitter jokes, cups, and pies begin to fly. From the moment Summers made a crack at Reynolds' past divorces, it felt like the pair were constantly on the brink of a fight. Neither party came out of this segment looking particularly great, while Jay Leno seemed simultaneously delighted and terrified by what was unfolding in front of him. Things might not have worked out as planned but it did lead to an unforgettable interview.

#2: Gebrawldo
“Geraldo” (1987-98)

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.

#1: Jim Everett vs. Jim Rome
“Talk2” (1994-95)

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.