Sunday, May 31, 2009

Failed Late Night Talk Shows Through The Ages


On Friday night, Jay Leno was officially kicked out of his job after 17 years as the host of The Tonight Show. And really, the part that sucks the most is that he was kicked out. Nothing wrong with ratings. Nothing wrong with him. NBC just wanted to move things along, apparently. Move them along where is hard to say. But I guess they know what they're doing. After all, their network has been in last place for the past few years, but maybe this will be the one decision that finally turns things around! (Of course it won't be the magic decision, but there's nothing wrong with spreading a little false hope and empty encouragement.)But here's the thing: Everyone acts like he's going all Johnny Carson on us and will never be seen or heard from again until it's in the form of an obituary. That's not the case. Actually, I'd be willing to bet that more people will be seeing more of him more often because all they're doing with him is moving him to a different time slot. An earlier time slot. Seems that since those hour long dramas which used to fill up the 10pm slot over there at NBC were so expensive to produce, they decided that they'd have Jay do a show that sounds pretty much identical to what he's doing now, just an hour and a half earlier is all.

I happen to think that it's a brilliant move. I enjoy a late night talk show. Jay is a pleasant guy and pretty funny in a predictable/traditional sort of way. I really like Letterman. He's hilarious in an predictable/non-traditional sort of way. (AND on Dave's show, Drew Barrymore once flashed him! Not many opportunities to see a fine pair of perky young breasts on The Tonight Show, that's for sure!) But the thing with Letterman is that the damn thing starts at 12:30am! Who am I? Elvira? I'm always amazed at how many people watch his show because it's on so dang late. It's an hour long, that keeps you up until 1:30am! Do you people not work? Why don't you have jobs? Are you still living in your parents basement? I don't get it.


So having Jay on at 10pm I think is great and I hope it works out for him. And Conan O'Brien is taking over The Tonight Show hosting duties starting tomorrow and I hope that works out well for him too. Because all of it kind of got me thinking about how long it took us to come up with a decent late night talk show line up that has been fairly stable for quite some time now. It wasn't always like this. We didn't always have Jay and Dave and Conan to rely on. There were a bunch of late night talk shows that were just crap and were, thankfully and mercifully cancelled rather quickly. But man, did they suck!

Dateline 1989. "The Pat Sajak Show". Yes. Pat Sajak. Of "R S T L N E" fame. The host of 'Wheel of Fortune.' That Pat Sajak. Pat tried his hand at the late night scene for a while there. And when I say 'for a while' I mean both the length of time that his show was on the air AND the length of each episode. It was 90 minutes long! 90 minutes! Of Pat Sajak! Did anyone not notice that 'Wheel' is a mere 30 minutes? With commercials, we're talking 22-23 minutes. Figure camera time divided three ways between Pat, Vanna and the contestants and you're looking at 7 minutes face time on camera each! But for some inexplicable reason, someone thought that what America needed was almost 13 times more Pat Sajak! Why? Why would we want that?! He talks to each contestant on 'Wheel' for what? 30 seconds? Why would anyone think that he'd be really good at filling up the other 88 1/2 minutes of a 90 minute show where the host interviews people? Maybe if the show had rotating guests that just came through on a conveyor belt and he could say a few words as they glided past his desk, maybe that would have been more comfortable for him. Short of that, it was pretty much doomed from the start.


There was 'The Magic Hour' with host Magic Johnson. That lasted for 40 horrible shows over an unbearably long span of 8 weeks. Naturally, one would think that if someone used to be a remarkable championship NBA player that they would be a natural choice to host a talk show! There's just so much talking and conversational interactions between players on the court throughout an entire NBA game, he should have been a natural, right?

Yeah, not so much. But you know what the problem was, right? Exactly! That not enough black actors and actresses would commit to go on the show and instead preferred to go on Leno or Letterman, that is correct and that is why it failed. Wait. That's not wha....Oooohhhh. That was Magic's reason for the failure. OK. So what I'm really saying is: It just sucked.

40 shows? That's it? Well, even with 40 shows, at least he garnered some ratings! Unlike John McEnroe who, unbeknownst to me or my memory, had a talk show in 2004. While it technically lasted for 6 months, it averaged somewhere right around about 75,000 viewers per night. No, I did not forget a zero. Seventy-five thousand. That's it. His Nielsen Rating number? 0.00. That's pretty sad. Then again, giving him a show in the first place was pretty sad to start with. But I guess there must be something within producers everywhere that just makes them think that if someone used to be a successful athlete that they would be a natural at hosting a late night talk show. Hey! Producers! I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Those journalism degrees and communications degrees that a large percentage of professional athletes (the ones that even bothered to finish college) have? Yeah, they don't mean anything. Those are just the easiest majors for athletes to declare, so they do. They didn't learn anything from it. Obviously! Look at Magic and McEnroe!

Another failed attempt at a late night talk show that could last longer than six months was a venture by a one Keenen Ivory Wayans of "In Living Color" and of Now Defunct Talk Show fame. According to TV.com the show was "...a party-themed talk show with a hip, urban edge. The set resembled a nightclub and the atmosphere was rowdy. The show wasn't hip enough, as it was canceled within the year." "Within the year" seems pretty generous, as I can only find reference to there being just eleven shows. ELEVEN? I think milk sitting on your counter lasts longer than eleven days. I'm pretty sure that the same milk would last longer than eleven hours, which would be the total amount of time the show spent on the air. If you can't outlast a dairy product, you really need to rethink what you're doing. For reals.


The biggest disaster of the failed late night scene would have to be, hands down, Chevy Chase. Chevy is a likeable enough guy when he's doing the one thing that doesn't make him unlikeable and that is not being himself. Apparently, Chevy as Chevy is not fun and people don't like it and they don't like him. It would seem that even Chevy doesn't like Chevy when he's just being Chevy, as he never seemed comfortable, his hands were noticeably tremoring when he was interviewing (and I use that term loosely) guests and yet somehow, he still managed to make it to 25 shows. No telling how many viewers made it through the same 25 shows, but I'm guessing not many. Oh, wait! Unless the crew working on the show counts as viewers! If that's the case, then them! If you'd like to witness this disaster for yourself, check it out on YouTube, via that link.

So Chevy only made it through 25 shows. Keenen made it through at least 11 shows (possibly more, but I can't verify that. I CAN verify the pathetic 11. 12 and over? No one's talkin'!). Could there be any show that would be worse than those two? Could there have been a late night show that lasted less than 25 or, worse yet, less than 11 shows? Is that possible? That would have had to have been a horrible show! The host would have had to have been less than human or not human at all in order for something to do so poorly that it would get pulled after, say, only seven shows, right? Is there a former late night talk show host who bombed that bad? There is! And my less-than-human assumption/assessment is right on, too! Drum roll, please. (Do I look like I have a budget around here? Of course not. Get two pencils and pound them on your desktop yourself. Wish I could do more, but, I can't because I don't want to.)

The host!

Of the!

Shortest run!

Of a late night talk show!

Ever!

In the entire world!

In the entire universe!

iissssss....................

ALF!


Wait. ALF? ALF as in 'Alien Life Form'? THAT ALF?

Yes.

THAT ALF.

And the really frightening thing about this venture? It wasn't in the late 1980s or right after ALF's 4 year run on network TV ended in 1990. No, this was in 2004! WTF?! Why the 14 year wait? Because the producers thought that every almost fifteen years or so that public get a real hankerin' for some ALF? I don't think we do! Perhaps they were hoping that the folks who actually watched ALF in the 1980s would now be old enough to stay up kind of late and would want to rekindle the warmth of their youth by watching ALF. I don't know what they were thinking, but whatever it was, it was wrong. All wrong.

'ALF's Hit Talk Show' aired its first episode on TV Land on July 7, 2004 and was promptly placed on hiatus until November, 2004, proving that it was not only unpopular, but it also had a misleading name. After the first episode hit the airwaves it was announced that six more episodes would air weekly! But not until November! Why someone thought it was a good idea to let this notion simmer in the brains of anyone who even knew it was on is beyond me. But after those six, it was over. According to
ALFtv.net, the cameo appearances by 'celebrities' ended after the second show, having only cameo-ed Joan Rivers, Henry Winkler and someone named Jack Sheldon who, as it turns out, was the voice for the "I'm Just a Bill" and "Conjunction Junction" productions of Schoolhouse Rock lore. Go figure.

ALF's guests ranged from Drew Carey and Dennis Franz on his first show to Tom Arnold, a fitting guest for the last show. In between were a bunch of people who just happened to be walking by the studio when they were getting ready to tape and they pulled them in and made them the 'Guest Star'. That's all I can figure. And what talk show host would be complete without a sidekick/announcer guy who has milked that aspect of his career for the better part of 35+ years? And when you think sidekick/announcer guy, that's right, you think of Ed McMahon! Behold!


Again, if you find yourself sitting on a stage with a 1980s B-List puppet creature that isn't even human who is hosting a talk show, you really need to take some time alone and think really hard about the choices you've made to get you on the other side of the desk from ALF. Especially if you find yourself saying, "Heeeeerrrrreeeee's AAALF!!"

But you know, when I asked a friend if she knew of this phenomenon, she absolutely did! She knew about Ed! She knew ALF had a coffee cup and a desk! I didn't ask her how she knew this, as some things between friends are better left unsaid. But when I said that, had I known it was on when it was on, I'm pretty sure I would have thought the end of civilization as we know it was near. She explained to me in all seriousness that the reason that ALF didn't last more than 7 episodes is because "he was ahead of his time" and "people weren't ready for him." ::: blink ::: ::: blink ::: (She has been under the weather lately. Perhaps the fever got to her!)

But maybe she's right. Maybe humans just aren't to the point where they can process an alien puppet (that has a penchant for ingesting cats) as taking them through the late hours once a week. Maybe (God willing) we never will be. But we don't have to have any cerebral transformation at all in order to continue to enjoy Jay Leno AND get to bed a little bit earlier. We just won't be able to do it until September when his new show hits the air. Until then, well, just be glad it isn't ALF filling the time slot for three months.

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