In 1970, he was allowed to produce The George Kirby Show, a television special, to gauge whether he could attract an audience for a weekly series. This led to his hosting Half the George Kirby Comedy Hour, a sketch comedy and variety show, which lasted for 22 episodes in 1972; it was one of the actor-comedian Steve Martin’s first credits in front of the camera. The series was in many ways an uneasy compromise between Kirby’s natural gifts and what the public would accept of black actors at the time; a regular feature was a shaggy dog story segment entitled the “Funky Fable”. He was also a regular in the British series The Kopykats, with other impressionists such as Rich Little, Charlie Callas, Marilyn Michaels, and Frank Gorshin.
Following the demise of his show, Kirby’s career declined, especially as audiences began to look for more cutting-edge comedy. He had been an occasional drug addict; now, to make up for lost income, he took to selling drugs. In 1977 he sold heroin to an undercover police officer; he made a plea bargain to a 10-year prison term and was released after 42 months.
His career never again reached its former heights, but he did register featured guest appearances on Gimme a Break with Nell Carter, Crazy Like a Fox, and 227.