And You Thought There Used to Be a Lot of TV Talking : Television: Big-breasted women, goofy ‘news’ antics, screaming audiences, screaming panelists--a channel surfer’s guide to the latest batch of talk shows.
Big boobs, shmoobs, floobs, to say nothing of gloobs. All of this is getting very old.
Yet how about this for a talk-show topic? “People Who Spend Their Days Watching Talk Shows.” It would be brilliant, innovative, fascinating, irresistible, marvelous, spectacular, utterly stunning. It would be. . . .
Straitjackets don’t work on television.
Meanwhile. . . .
TV continues to superovulate talk shows that are mostly repetitive. Forget China, India, the overflowing Third, Fourth and Fifth Worlds. This is a population explosion, a mushroom cloud of chat. Here’s a sample of some of the new weekday entries:
* On KTLA-TV Channel 5, “The Morning Show” is a 9-10 a.m. extension of the two-hour KTLA “News” at 7 a.m., which is an extension of the “News” at 6 a.m., making mornings on this station the closest thing on Los Angeles television to a radio drive-time program.
The 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. programs are especially alike--different set but same cast: anchors Barbara Beck and Carlos Amezcua, weathercaster Mark Kriski and entertainment reporter Sam Rubin.
And, of course, the same act.
On paper, this program began as Rubin’s talk show, then became a show co-hosted by Rubin and Beck, and finally evolved to what is now on the air: a self-derivative hour that enables the Big Four to do what they most like to do, what they live to do, what Channel 5 wants them to do, what their fans seem to want them to do.
Talk about themselves.
And their gaffes.
The inevitable guests intrude. One day last week, for example, Susan Dey, Jack Klugman and Tim Matheson showed up to promote their various imminent TV projects. But in exchange for these free ads, guests become props for the cast’s clowning.
With famed hairdresser Cristophe scheduled to appear one day last week, the hottest topic during the 7 a.m. program was Rubin’s coif, and it was just as sizzling moving into the 9 a.m. program.
Overlapping the 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. programs on Tuesday was a visit to the set of the syndicated series “Baywatch.” Actually, it was less “Baywatch” than it was Rubin--frolicking on the beach with the cast--who spread across both programs like a beer belly, as always in self-mocking form, wielding his very own “Sam Rubin” microphone clip prior to scampering into the water with a statuesque actress.
The eclectic format requires that the cast screechingly halt their shtick on a dime for news--as when Beck followed a half-giddy Amezcua interview at the end of the 7 a.m. Tuesday show with an urgent report about two children having been hit by a train. After a commercial break, it was time for the 9 a.m. program, and, as if the train story didn’t exist, everyone was back laughing.
For those who don’t watch them back to back, KTLA’s morning programs can be fun. For those who do, however, “The Morning Show” may be one show too many.
* Yes, it’s “The Ricki Lake Show,” at 5 p.m. on KCOP-TV Channel 13, where one day last week the audience was screaming at the panel, the panel was screaming at the audience, and at least some viewers must have been screaming at the set. The topic: “Honey, I Hate Your Friend.”
A husband was jealous of his wife’s best friend, a man. It was “The Newlyweds” revisited.
“I got friends, too!”
“I had a life before you, too!”
Couple No. 2.
“All right, I’m married now, but I’ve got to ditch my best friend?”
“Nineteen years down the road, are they going to take vacations together?”
Questions, questions. Occasionally, Lake, an actress, weighs in. “When we come back we’ll find out who our audience thinks is right.” But her verbal contributions are minimal. Look, someone has to hold the mike.
* Airing at 10 a.m. on KTTV-TV Channel 11, “The Bertice Berry Show” is part of the “Sally Jessy Raphael,” “Geraldo,” “Jane Whitney"--pick your sleaze--backlash. Not a Nazi transvestite in the house.
Because Berry is said to have a Ph.D in addition to being a stand-up comic with a kind of Oprah earthiness, this show was going to be different. You know, like issue oriented. As in big -issue oriented.
Hence, Tuesday’s show featured whites who had had the experience of being the minority in predominantly black environments. There was disagreement, but the atmosphere was calm and reasoned, unlike the war that would have occurred if “Geraldo” had pounced on this topic.
However, if you tuned in “The Bertice Berry Show” another day recently, you also could have heard a discussion on the probability of close dancing leading to rape. On another day, the topic was “Boobs, Boys and High Heels.”
One day last week, moreover, Berry’s show really started cooking, just talking the hell out of “Wild and Crazy Funerals.” Berry: “Meet the man who did Elvis’ final make-over.”
Although not enormously illuminating, Charlie Hodge did confirm the controversial hypothesis that Elvis is dead. And the celebrity funeral crasher, the tombstone sculptor, the discount mortician and the woman “who went to her own funeral” were really great, too.
Berry is very likable. On most days, more likable than her show.
* “Hello, I’m Mo Gaffney, and these are my breasts.” That was the opening for Gaffney’s second show.
Monday’s premiere of “The Mo Show” (11 a.m. on Channel 11) had guests reminiscent of just about every other daytime talk show. First came the recovering alcoholic, then her daughter the recovering heroin addict, then the recovering addict’s sister, who cared for her kids. But the two sisters were hardly speaking. You see these kinds of troubled families all the time on daytime talk shows. There was one difference, though.
This was Gaffney’s family.
The personal link didn’t make the segment any less derivative or even more interesting, but it did make it distinctive. As distinctive as Gaffney herself, an innovative comic-actress-writer whose fresh, spontaneous, earth-motherly wit and brashness immediately set her apart from nearly everyone else on the talk landscape.
The boob segment featured a clash of philosophies among big-breasted women. One used her ampleness for career opportunities, another said that that was a mistake. “These are brains,” she said, pointing to her head, “and these are boobs, and we shouldn’t ever get them mixed up.”
On other talk shows, the “B” issue is usually sized up by women with breasts the size of Goodyear blimps. With these panelists, though, the big breasts didn’t appear all that big. The important thing was that Gaffney was able to take a dumb topic and make it fun.
But no less dumb.
* Of all the newcomers, “The Les Brown Show” appears to be the most strait-laced--and the most positive. It airs at 2 p.m. on KCAL-TV Channel 9.
On Monday, Brown’s guests were high achievers who went on to success after being stamped failures as children. “It never occurred to me I would have success in life,” said the enormously successful TV producer Stephen J. Cannell, who is dyslexic. Former swimming great Greg Louganis, who has the same impairment, said that he was called a “moron” as a child. And Brown himself recalled being called “stupid and all kind of names.”
Although tending to overheat his accolades (“That is really powerful”), Brown appears earnest as he interacts with his guests, and this is a series that attempts to make good on its promise to offer solutions in addition merely to presenting problems.
Not that “Geraldo,” “Montel Williams” or some of the others haven’t done the same topic.