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VULTURE DROPPINGS OF THE WEEK: Short-lived Talk Shows

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Its Friday! Which means it’s time once again for the weekly video round-up of my favorite pop culture atrocities, misfires and entertaining train wrecks. This week’s theme: Short-lived Talk Shows!

There’s a reason that The Tonight Show has been stealing headlines for months. Talk shows are a big business and the host is the linchpin that can make or break any such endeavor. There’s a certain chemistry that needs to exist in order for a viewer to revisit a show time and time again. If a host is missing that, it becomes an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved.

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‘THE PAT SAJAK SHOW’ (1989 – 1990)

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Executives at CBS must have noticed a particularly witty exchange between Vanna White and Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune one day. Something like: “No, no R’s.  Would you like to buy a vowel?!” And the idea was born. They would give Sajak a time slot opposite Johnny Carson‘s Tonight Show. It would prove to be an ill-fated project. The Pat Sajak Show premiered on January 9, 1989. At the time of its premiere, John J. O’Connor wrote in The New York Times:

Dick Cavett, Joan Rivers, David Brenner, Jerry Lewis, Joey Bishop, Alan Thicke – the list of those who tried, and failed, to put a dent in the Carson empire is long… Mr. Sajak’s show, produced by Paul Gilbert, makes no attempt to conceal its role model. The 42-year-old star, formerly a television weather announcer and the host of ”Wheel of Fortune,” does an opening monologue, engages in easy banter with the band, led by Tom Scott, and even has a sidekick anchor, Dan Miller, who laughs at his jokes in the established Ed McMahon tradition.

Unfortunately for Mr. Sajak, having no clear personality made for uninteresting viewing. By April of 1990, the show got axed. In the afore-mentioned premiere episode, clip below, Sajak seems ill-equipped to handle of the rigors of late night television. In fact he seems like a five year old child. In the first ten minutes he complains about the lack of water on the set and of being “hot.” His first guest is Betty White and the interview goes smoothly enough because she’s a pro in these situations. She makes Sajak feel at ease. Then William Shatner shows up and, well, you’ll see.

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2. ‘THE CHEVY CHASE SHOW’ (1993 – 1993)

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This was a show so notoriously bad that, even five years after its demise, was still being made fun of. The Chevy Chase Show, despite being heavily hyped, was a weak attempt by Fox to compete with Jay Leno and David Letterman in the late night wars. Chase jokes in the monologue of the first show, “Had I known you all would have been this excited, I would have actually rehearsed.” This might have been just a throwaway line if he didn’t come across as so unprepared and uncomfortable for the duration of the show. All of the interview segments are extremely awkward. He tells his first guest Goldie Hawn that he’s s a “mom”, too. Ho ho ho.

In a 2007 interview with Time, Chase had this to say about the experience:

The talk show that I went to Fox with was an entirely different concept than what was pushed on me. I would never do it again. What I wanted had a whole different feel to it, much darker and more improv.  But we never got there.

The excerpts below are taken from the infamous premiere episode.

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3. ‘THE ROSEANNE SHOW’ (1998 – 2000)

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After reaching the heights of stand-up comedy and starring in a hugely successful sitcom, Roseanne could have done anything. Hit the stand-up circuit again. Publish a memoir. Take a movie role. So what did she decide to undertake? Her own daytime talk show, ala Oprah. The Roseanne Show debuted on Sept. 14, 1998 with little momentum. In Entertainment Weekly, Ken Tucker wrote:

After a few viewings of her new daytime talk show, you begin to realize what Roseanne is trying to do: everything. The Roseanne Show shifts gears like a funny-car racing driver; she wants to be Carol Burnett taking questions from the audience one minute, but then she turns dead serious the next, dispensing advice to live-in-the-studio unwed mothers (as she did on her premiere) with the same earnestness that made us love her when she used to soul-search Sara Gilbert‘s sullen Darlene on Roseanne. Except that this time out, there are no punchlines, so the advice can seem trite and not a little cavalier.

The Roseanne Show managed to last two more seasons before being canceled in the spring 0f 2000. In the clip below, her guest is, yet again, the one and only William Shatner. Shat does his best to channel the host’s bizzare energy into something executives like to call “TV friendly”. He almost succeeds.

Apologies to the glaring omissions of The Magic Johnson Hour, and The Whoopi Goldberg Show.  Maybe next time!

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