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Television

Chelsea Handler ready to twist the talk show with her Netflix gig

Chelsea Handler
Chelsea Handler will whet appetites with Chelsea Handler: Uganda Be Kidding Me Live tour footage.
(Netflix)

Chelsea Handler won’t be starting her talk show on Netflix until 2016.

But her fans won’t have to wait that long to get a glimpse of what her new show might be like. Starting early next year, Handler will be doing a series of specials for the streaming service, where she can experiment with some twists on the old talk format.

The 39-year-old wants to ditch the monologue and guest format that’s been a hallmark of late-night television. There’s an idea to leave the confines of a studio and go on the road. And the comedian known for lampooning the rich and famous might not even work celebrities into the act.

Handler wants to break all sorts of rules.

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“It’s nice to feel like I’m going to be challenged, like I’m going to be doing stuff that is really interesting to me,” Handler told The Times. “I have kind of the whole landscape ahead of me that I haven’t tapped into, so I feel like this is kind of a new career for me almost.”

It won’t be quite so groundbreaking Friday, when Handler will premiere a 71-minute comedy special based on her Uganda Be Kidding Me stand-up tour. The special, based on her fifth book of the same name, brings to Netflix the kind of edgy comedy that HBO has long had a grip on.

Handler’s signature not-safe-for-work style will riff on flirting with safari guides, toilet mishaps and how her dogs fly on private jets. It’s the sort of crass humor fans were accustomed to on her “Chelsea Lately” show, which ended a seven-year run on the E! Network in August.

The format of her new Netflix show has been much talked about since news of the deal broke this summer. Talk shows are generally topical and feature guests who promote upcoming projects. A talk show on Netflix, where users don’t follow a schedule and stream whenever they like, brings an entirely new set of challenges in breaking through the already cluttered field.

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With some down time behind her after a monthlong trip overseas, she’s ready to tackle the digital beast.

Handler said her team met this week with documentary producers to try to suss out a way for her to “be ridiculous and ask inappropriate stuff to people” for the docu-comedy specials that come out next year. She might explore subjects like finding out how apps are made in Silicon Valley or figuring out how the NBA draft works.

It’s an approach she hopes to mimic on her talk show as she aims a shotgun at the conventional format.

“I want to do really cool interviews and meet with regular people — take a break from the celebrity nonsense,” she said. “I know that maybe doesn’t come across in the many things I do. But it is something I think about.”

No other definitive details have been ironed out in terms of the show’s frequency and scheduling. Handler thinks maybe they’ll release three a week, but the logistics of even that remain unclear.

There is a Culver City studio that will serve as the show’s home. But Handler, right now, envisions episodes of her traveling domestically or abroad.

“It’s not going to be defined by one thing,” she said. “I want [the talk show] to have a different flavor. I don’t necessarily want it to be the same show every night. Maybe in one episode it’s me in snake-immersion therapy because I am so scared of snakes, and maybe the next episode is me talking to people who are in relationships with multiple women.”

The audacity of the objective, she said, is something that could only be realized at a place like Netflix.

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Handler praised the service for the way it has turned Hollywood on its head. The Los Gatos-based company, with 50 million subscribers in 40 countries, has revolutionized the TV format with original programming, including the critically acclaimed “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.” And in recent weeks Netflix has made more eyes pop with deals in the movie market.

Handler contributed to the Netflix-centered media discourse when news broke that she signed a multi-year deal.

“I feel like we are kindred spirits,” she said.

This is also Handler’s chance to distance herself from the format of “Chelsea Lately,” a 30-minute show that banked on gossip and celebrity interviews to get laughs. She had grown very open in taking jabs at E! management for having no direction or creativity. While on Howard Stern’s radio show in March, Handler called E! a “sad, sad place to live.”

“Chelsea Lately” certainly wasn’t a ratings powerhouse in the late-night wars, but she held her own early on, pulling in nearly a million viewers a night as recently as 2011. The numbers hovered around 600,000 near the end, compared with the 2 million-plus her more widely distributed network competition can snag.

Even still, she was the only woman with her own show in the male-dominated late-night TV landscape. (She said she suggested to E! that they replace her with another comedian. “But I don’t think they really wanted my advice.”)

Her new bosses, at least, seem to want the same things she does. Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, said the specials will serve as a Handler resetting.

“What I love about this plan of having her comedy specials come out and then her docu-comedy specials coming up, is it gives the audience a chance to reconnect with her pure brand,” Sarandos said. “I think she is an incredibly unique voice in American comedy. It gives her an opportunity to get back to her roots and strength of her brand in edgy humor.”

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The New Jersey native moved to Los Angeles at 19 to pursue an acting career. But comedy is what took hold. She caused a stir in the TV circuit with stints as a correspondent for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and as a prankster on Oxygen’s “Girls Behaving Badly,” and she would go on to display her humor on a number of comedy specials and in bestselling books.

Whatever the stated goals and eventual outcomes, the move is the latest in a series of changes that have struck late-night talk. Earlier this year, Jimmy Fallon replaced Jay Leno as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show.” Then, just as quickly, David Letterman announced his retirement from CBS next year. Next came Craig Ferguson’s exit from CBS.

Handler got thrown into the mix, with speculation that she was a possible Ferguson successor.

For the woman who was often deemed a footnote in the late-night conversation, suddenly she was giving folks something attention-grabbing to talk about.

“It feels good,” she said. “People kept saying, ‘Why would you leave a job where you could coast for another five years and make a ridiculous amount of money?’ And I was like, ‘Uh, because I’d rather have a broader life than that.’ After making people the butt of jokes for so long, it’s just like, oh, my God. I’m so over it. I’d rather get back to making fun of how stupid I am. I’m preparing myself.”

A pause.

“That’s why I need to go to Silicon Valley for this special, to find out what streaming even means. I’m now streaming. So weird. So cool.”

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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‘Chelsea Handler: Uganda Be Kidding Me Live’

Where: Netflix

When: Anytime, Friday

Rating: Not rated


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