toTelevision producer Burt Sugarman had the idea in 1973 to capitalize on the huge audiences that Johnny Carson's Tonight Show consistently brought to NBC's 11:30 to 1:00 time slot. He pitched the idea to his bosses of a variety show featuring the contemporary musical artists of the period. even though at the time none of the Big Three TV channels had programming after 1 a.m., which meant no competition existed for such a program, NBC initially rejected Sugarman's pitch. This led Sugarman to buy the airtime on his own, also persuading Chevrolet to sponsor the premier. The pilot aired on August 19,1972 as a 90-minute special encouraging young people to vote in the upcoming election. The ratings were high enough for NBC to reconsider and buy the program. On February 2,1973 the show began its run as a weekly series from 1 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. When Carson cut his show from 90 to 60 minutes, The Midnight Special was moved up to 12:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
The show was probably the the biggest televised showcase for popular music ever. Acts were presented From varied genres, Rock, R&B, country and jazz were represented usually all within a single show. Another attraction was that with few exceptions the artists performed live. It was only in the final period of the show's run that more and and more acts performed to backing tracks.
The show also featured the occasional comedian such as Richard Pryor and Andy Kaufman. In addition from time to time the show would air vintage footage of early rock and roll acts such as Bill Haley And The Comets and Eddie Cochran. Guest hosts were utilized, but Helen Reddy and Wolfman Jack served as regular hosts during different periods. The Midnight Special aired its final show on May 1, 1981. To follow is a sampling of the types of acts featured on the show.