He's Chevy Chase, and they're not.
Yes, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall and Ted Koppel must be real crushed about that.
This was the week that Fox packed its own sardine into this cramped tin of late-nighters (and NBC's Conan O'Brien checks in Monday). Yet the first three installments of "The Chevy Chase Show" were much more of a subtraction than an addition, proving that not just anyone can host a talk show.
Chase isn't really just anyone. He arrived with a resume of mostly bankable-but-mediocre movies (some of which he managed to praise with a stone face this week) and a reputation for broad, physical comedy derived primarily from his association with the early "Saturday Night Live."
And oh yes, he makes funny faces.
Whatever his gifts, they're not tailored to this five-nights-a-week assembly line, or at least not to the poorly conceived, badly directed show that he fronted in his catastrophic first week. After months of development, this is what Chase and the Beavises and Butt-heads at Fox came up with? This is the epiphany with holy music?
Here it is late 1993, and the guy is still doing "News Update"--reading it cold, it appears, while stumbling over many of the gags--and the white-faced pantomimes to music that he did more than two decades ago on public TV's "The Great American Dream Machine."
And those interviews. Whoa!
Chase's Tuesday night opening crackled across the airwaves like a desperate 911 call for help. There's bad, and there's BAD ! It was apparent that he knew nothing was working (there was Dan Quayle-like terror in those eyes) and that his guests, Goldie Hawn and Whoopi Goldberg, knew nothing was working, yet their parachutes got tangled and they took the dive together.
Rarely has there been a more ghastly moment in television than Hawn serenading Chase ("Look at this fabulous face . . .") with the camera on them like the third body in a menage a trois.
On the rebound from her own recently junked late-night talk show, Goldberg told Chase about the smelly flatulence of one of her guests. Speechless, Chase made one of his faces, then came back with a question. "What was the hardest part of doing your show?"
Aside from the nose plug?
On Wednesday night, Beverly D'Angelo told Chase about being distracted by one of host Charles Gibson's nose hairs while being interviewed on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Gas, nose hairs, raunchy jokes, crude swipes at Michael Jackson (Chase never met a double-entendre he couldn't pounce on). It's that kind of show. With nothing clever to say, and often looking terrified, the host resorts to verbal mooning.
Chase has attempted some field pieces a la Letterman (on Thursday he went to an office furniture store to buy a desk and show the camera his rear end in female underwear), but they haven't worked.
For an hour billed as not being a traditional talk show--desk, couch, the usual celeb guests and so on--"The Chevy Chase Show" is very much a traditional talk show. In a week in which he was relegated to sloppy seconds, Chase got movie-promoting Jason Priestley and Kathleen Turner after Leno got them, and Martin Short post-Letterman.
No matter the guest, though, Chase hasn't even rudimentary skills as an interviewer. Seemingly underprepared by his staff, he doesn't know the right questions to ask or when to ask them.
To the mutually fawning Hawn: "I don't know how you do it. You make so many great movies. What keeps you going?" To Priestley: "You are such a big star at a young age. Has it changed you much?" To Harry Anderson, star of the new CBS sitcom "Daves' World": "Now you're doing 'Dave's World.' Why?"
Even the friendly D'Angelo greeted a couple of Chase's question with a "Who-cares?" answer. Whatever the responses, Chase can drive a stake through any guest. He interrupts at the wrong times and is liable to make a guerrilla strike with a terrible quip at any point. He steps on lines (including his own), stammers and blows joke after joke. A proficient host is able to make his or her guest look better, but Chase achieves just the opposite.
The ultimate test of Chase's capacity to spin straw from gold came Thursday. Could he transform even the brilliantly creative and spontaneous Short--who brought down the houses on the Letterman and Joan Rivers shows--into something beige?
Almost. Short cavorted on cue, weaving a funny story through Chase's interruptions and delivering some of his stock impressions. He managed about a C+--acceptable, but well beneath his usual stuff. Somehow, the host had managed to keep his usually scintillating guest in check.
"I feel like $100," Chase said this week. That's inflation for you.