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Top 23 Most Confrontational Talk Show Moments of Each Year (2000 - 2022)

Top 23 Most Confrontational Talk Show Moments of Each Year (2000 - 2022)
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Andy Hammersmith
Sometimes, the most confrontational moments on talk shows are the most entertaining. For this list, we'll be looking at talk or news programs with notably hostile interactions between the years 2000 and 2022. Our list includes Dakota Johnson's Birthday from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (2003-22), Michael Richards vs. The Audience from “Late Show with David Letterman” (1993-2015), Whoopi Goldberg vs. Bill O'Reilly from “The View” (1997-), and more!

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 23 Most Confrontational Talk Show Moments of Each Year. For this list, we’ll be looking at talk or news programs with notably hostile interactions between the years 2000 and 2022. Did we forget a contentious 21st century talk show moment? Let us know in the comments below.

2000: Timothy McVeigh on “60 Minutes”

“60 Minutes” (1968-)

Timothy McVeigh went to prison for the Oklahoma City attack in the 1990s. Several years later, “60 Minutes” interviewed him about the event. McVeigh avoids showing any remorse for his actions, but he tries to explain himself and his own perspective on the destruction. Ed Bradley questions the convict about his feelings in an exchange that doesn’t pull any punches. The interview touches on contrasts between the subject’s war history and his later crimes, in a segment that explores the depths of evil. This is also one of the last major recordings of the prisoner before his eventual execution.

2001: Vince McMahon vs. Bob Costas

“On the Record with Bob Costas” (2001-04)

Known as the executive chairman of the WWE, Vince McMahon could spar with the best of them. His appearance with sportscaster Bob Costas includes some of the greatest verbal wrestling in the history of “On The Record.” The host questions McMahon about the WWE and his recent misadventures with the XFL. Defending his organization, the executive doesn't take kindly to assertions that the football league isn’t doing well. This also comes with an invasion of Costas’ personal space as the incisive questions push the guest to the edge. Decades after this aired, it remains perhaps the most famous interview for the sports broadcaster.

2002: Whitney Houston Talks About Substance Use

“Primetime” (1989-2012)

During her lifetime, Whitney Houston was one of the greatest singers in any genre. This interview with Diane Sawyer captures her during a pivotal moment concerning her personal life. Sawyer directly asks her about her weight and past substance issues. The singer admits that she once lived in a party lifestyle, but she flatly denies ever doing one thing in particular. This is followed by her saying an infamous phrase that rhymes. Clearly flustered by the questions, the performer appears cornered by the interrogation about her potential problems. While the interviewer presses the issue, Houston doesn’t seem to fully convince the broadcaster that she’s being completely truthful.

2003: Jennifer Garner

“Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (1993-2009)

It’s usually wise not to question a Harvard graduate, especially when they have their own comedy program. Actress Jennifer Garner fails to follow that advice and confronts Conan O’Brien about his vocabulary. The quick-thinking host initially brushes it off with a joke, but secretly plots a comeback later in the show. Garner ends up receiving a lesson from O’Brien with some helpful reference material. With a trusty dictionary in hand, he serves up a memorable finishing move on the unsuspecting guest. The secondhand embarrassment that follows might just be some of the most cringe-inducing in talk-show history.

2004: Jon Stewart on “Crossfire”

“Crossfire” (1982-2005; 2013-14)

The then-“The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart joins the controversial program "Crossfire" in this clip. Stewart throws caution to the wind as he rebukes his interviewers and the show’s format. He doesn’t mince words either, directly pointing out the flaws of the operation. This leads presenter Tucker Carlson in particular to throw in some critiques in retaliation. The segment comes crumbling down in hilarious fashion as the comedian easily dismisses the two personalities. Some see it as the interview that eventually brought down the show in its original run. Either way you look at it, Stewart’s semi-serious takedown strikes a chord to this day.

2005: Tom Cruise vs. Matt Lauer

“Today” (1952-)

Few celebrities had a more exciting or controversial 2005 than Tom Cruise. His antics on Oprah are especially memorable, but it’s his time on the “Today” show that makes this list for its bad vibes. In an interview that delves into his views on Scientology, Cruise receives questions about his disputed stance on psychiatry and medication. The questioning also stems from the star’s misgivings about Brooke Shields’ treatment for postpartum depression. Lauer holds strong in an uncomfortable moment that bumps up against the actor’s usually positive image. Cruise asserts his views with the dramatic intensity of his finest roles, making for an especially uncomfortable segment on the morning program.

2006: Michael Richards vs. The Audience

“Late Show with David Letterman” (1993-2015)

After his racially insensitive tirade on stage, Michael Richards appeared on “Late Show with David Letterman” to apologize for his actions. This doesn’t go as planned as the comedian delivers a statement via satellite that nobody knows how to take. Some audience members laugh as parts of the speech come off like an unintentionally humorous stunt. Guest Jerry Seinfeld even steps in at one point to say that the entire thing isn’t a joke. Letterman attempts to bring the conversation back to reality, in a segment that ranks among the more serious in his tenure as a host.

2007: Rosie O’Donnell vs. Elisabeth Hasselbeck

“The View” (1997-)

In this segment from “The View,” the discussion starts with Joy Behar’s comments about President Bush and turns into a feud between Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. This leads to O’Donnell scolding Hasselbeck for her views about the Iraq War. Their bad blood goes well beyond the show with the on-screen pairing fighting over one of the former’s statements regarding the American military. The more conservative panelist mentions that she doesn’t feel the need to defend her liberal counterpart, even if quotes are taken out of context. Not to be outdone, Bill Maher also had a hectic 2007 when he confronted an audience member (xref). Even with the confrontational aspects of that HBO program, this verbal altercation remains one of its defining episodes.

2008: Ellen DeGeneres vs. Mariah Carey

“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (2003-22)

Ellen DeGeneres rarely passes up an opportunity to prank her guests. For Mariah Carey’s appearance in 2008, the host and comedian finds an indirect way to ask about a possible pregnancy. The singer plays coy and attempts to find the cringey humor of the moment. DeGeneres turns the interview into a test involving alcohol, pressuring the vocalist to reveal the answer despite her objections. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the performer later mentioned the massive amounts of discomfort she felt during this episode. It’s also worth mentioning Patti LaBelle’s discomfort during a cooking segment on Tyra Banks’ show, even though this moment’s diabolical nature takes the cake for 2008. We can’t blame Carey either because the subtle hints of her anxiety are all over this clip.

2009: Billy Bob Thornton

“Q with Jian Ghomeshi” (2008-14)

Billy Bob Thornton takes music as seriously as his movies. In this “Q with Jian Ghomeshi” interview, Thornton is especially mad about interviewer Jian Ghomeshi mentioning his more famous and cinematic credentials. Things are so dire at several points that his bandmates jump in to save the day. According to the acclaimed actor, he does not want to talk about anything other than his musical group. His grimace says it all as there’s a visible stare down between guest and broadcaster. The band leader claims he briefed the show’s producers about his intentions to avoid talking about his films, but the message went largely ignored for this segment.

2010: Whoopi Goldberg vs. Bill O’Reilly

“The View” (1997-)

TV personality Bill O'Reilly brings along plenty of controversy and tension to this clip from "The View." The panel discusses the planning of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York City, with more than a few strong opinions to support each side. O'Reilly condemns the project and makes other generalizations about Muslims that provokes Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar to leave the set. There've been plenty of fights on the program, but they almost never result in someone walking off the stage. Goldberg and Behar return, at which point the former sits in silent protest next to the conservative guest.

2011: Shannon Tweed

“The Joy Behar Show” (2009-11)

The complicated relationship between Gene Simmons and his partner Shannon Tweed is never more apparent than on this episode of the “The Joy Behar Show.” Looking over clips from their reality program, Tweed states plainly that she’s sick of Simmons’ rockstar lifestyle. The Kiss bassist points out that they’re soulmates even after ample evidence to suggest otherwise. Behar inquires about the musician’s possible affairs with other women, leading to a breaking point between the celebrity couple. An off-color joke by the rockstar finally sends Tweed off the set. Even the presenter appears shocked by it all, confronting the performer about his plans to win back his beloved.

2012: Barbara Walters Confronts Chris Christie

ABC News (1953-)

There was arguably no more feared interviewer in history than Barbara Walters. She was as quick to compliment someone as she was to dish out a hard-hitting question. This interview with then-Governor Chris Christie about 2012’s Hurricane Sandy allows for the guest to receive both kinds of questions in equal measure. One in particular shifts the subject towards the leader's weight. Walters wonders about the guest's overall health in relation to his job, causing a few eyebrow raises from viewers everywhere. Christie fields the intrusive inquiry as best he can despite the awkwardness of it all.

2013: Alex Jones Gets Heated on “Piers Morgan”

“Piers Morgan Live” (2011-14)

This “Piers Morgan Live” discussion focuses on the issue of gun violence in America, bringing out the passion in guest Alex Jones. Morgan offers up statistics and the possibilities of regulations while enduring the wrath of Jones’ rage. The “InfoWars” personality goes off the deep end in a rant about US History. As a fierce supporter of the 2nd Amendment, the interviewee lays it all on the line in one of his early viral speeches. The presenter watches in horror as he completely loses control of the guest. Also from the contentious year of 2013, one could argue that Sarah Ferguson’s interview went as poorly in regards to her scandal. However, there’s an almost-sinister atmosphere to the CNN-based exchange that makes it even worse.

2014: Jordan Belfort on “60 Minutes”

“60 Minutes Australia” (1979-)

“The Wolf of Wall Street” has some explaining to do in this “60 Minutes Australia” interview. Asking about Jordan Belfort’s new life as a business guru, the interviewer digs into his prior convictions and the financial hardships of his victims. Belfort attempts to prove that he’s a changed man with several well-meaning answers about his positive outlook after prison. The conversation also turns to his personal finances and whether or not he should be paying restitution to those who deserve it. Belfort grows flustered with the investigation and eventually asks for another question. A similar thing also happens with Joan Rivers in her infamous CNN appearance from the same year, but the particular segment with Belfort is even more tense for its connection to a serious crime.

2015: Robert Downey Jr. on Channel 4

Channel 4 News

Promoting “Avengers: Age of Ultron” in 2015, Robert Downey Jr. sat down with “Channel 4 News” to discuss the movie. Instead of talking at length about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Downey Jr. quickly realizes that the interview is veering towards his personal life. He gets wind of this and criticizes the questions that aren’t about the film. Interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy ventures forward without realizing that the star really wants to stay on track. After the presenter brings up more serious topics, such as politics and prior run-ins with the law, the actor exits the space altogether. His parting attitude shows that he’s not interested in feeding the press with stories about his past.

2016: Wendy Williams on “Ellen”

“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (2003-22)

Ellen DeGeneres puts on a pleasant face for this interview, but it’s apparent that there’s a disconnect between her and Wendy Williams. To make matters worse, the two play a game of Heads Up where the guest says that DeGeneres looks like Justin Bieber. They brush it off together as a positive, but it’s uncertain if this kind of comparison helps clear up any alleged problems between the supposed rivals. This also feeds the rumors that the two have had a feud that’s lasted for several years. Long after this clip, Williams weighed in on the negative reports about the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” with her own bad review of her experience.

2017: Jane Fonda & Megyn Kelly

“Megyn Kelly Today” (2017-18)

Promoting the Netflix movie “Our Souls at Night” with Robert Redford, Jane Fonda spends the bulk of this interview trying to sell the project. The host Megyn Kelly has other plans as she pries into her guest’s private life. This includes referencing Fonda’s plastic surgery, which induces a shocked look from the Hollywood legend. Bringing the segment to an awkward impasse, Kelly presses forward with a compliment that comes too little and too late. The actress takes the wheel and brings the focus back to the film in an attempt to salvage the appearance. Nothing short of professional, the performer beautifully segues out of a sticky situation.

2018: Bill Burr

“Love You, America with Sarah Silverman” (2017-18)

Sarah Silverman invites Bill Burr onto her talk show “I Love You, America” with some surprising results. Both comedians have clashing personalities, but the host mentions that she loves and respects her guest. Regardless of her statements, there’s still plenty of jokes that happen at the expense of their relationship. Burr largely rejects the usual talk-show banter and this appearance proves that he’s not one to conform. He never quite connects to her conversation and their apparent friendship feels much more prone to fights than any sort of amicable connection. Thankfully for the viewers, this makes for some fascinating television.

2019: Dakota Johnson’s Birthday

“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (2003-22)

In a scandalous appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Dakota Johnson brings up her recent birthday party, mentioning to DeGeneres that she had sent an invitation despite the host denying it. Johnson presses the issue in rather blunt fashion, nearly grinding the whole episode to a halt. The awkwardness continues as the “Fifty Shades of Grey” actress mentions her favorite comedian. It’s not hard to imagine that the performer and host didn’t become close friends after this appearance. 2019 was a year for other intense interviews, such as R. Kelly’s blow-up with Gayle King, but this particular moment captured our imaginations even more.

2020: Steve Bannon & Bill Maher Argue Over Trump

“Real Time with Bill Maher” (2003-)

Being a former chief strategist to President Trump, Steve Bannon knew what he was up against when appearing on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” His interview ends up being as argumentative as expected. After giving the commander-in-chief props for some political successes, Maher still grills the guest about Trump’s tactics and his impeachment. There’s also several points to argue over regarding his messaging and the flaws in American politics. Bannon and the host mostly maintain their composure, but the latter still finds time to make a few unsavory jokes. The host manages to let out a controversial final line that sounds like a twisted compliment.

2021: Sharon Osbourne Defends Piers Morgan

“The Talk” (2010-)

After Piers Morgan came under fire for his opinions regarding Meghan Markle, Sharon Osbourne decided to defend her friend on “The Talk.” She then received pushback from her co-hosts about the defense. The TV personality looks largely shell shocked throughout the episode as she stands firm in her previous statements. As panelists such as Sheryl Underwood express their disapproval, the contentious discussion covers the nuances of racism and Markle’s story. This moment eventually led to Osbourne leaving the talk program. Osbourne felt that her comments weren’t at all offensive and a debate continued about her exiting the show.

2022: Ted Cruz Gets Heckled

“The View” (1997-)

An undeniably outspoken US senator, Ted Cruz generates controversy at almost every turn. This appearance on “The View” is no different, with the politician facing protests from audience members. The climate activists want to get across their message, but Cruz mostly ignores them. Ironically enough for him, the lawmaker had just addressed a recent event where he received a cold reception at a baseball game. He even attempts to keep going until Whoopi Goldberg steps in to shut down the heckling. Needless to say, the entire segment derails in the wake of the shouting.
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