Television's Dustbin: Canceled Celebrity Talk Shows
May 7, 2005
Chevy Chase. Sharon Osbourne. John McEnroe. Here one day, gone the next. Such is the life span of the
celebrity talk show host. Dozens, possibly hundreds, have
tried their hand (mouth?) at chat with guests large and small. Very few last more than one season; some only a few weeks...right Chevy?
There's a reason they became celebrities in the first place and it usually has nothing to do with charm, wit
or the ability to win over pregnant teens, transvestite boy scout leaders or other celebrities plugging crappy movies.
The mid-1990s in particular saw an explosion of trash talk TV. It seemed as though everyone wanted to toss his or her hat into the ring.
One must keep in mind that product is a direct response to demand. In other words, people were watching...and they loved it.
I fondly recall the after school hours wiled away in front of Montel and Richard Bey. The Richard Bey Show is probably the worst of the worst.
His show featured not only the standard white trash guests, but they were often forced to compete. I love watching obese
Life is full of difficult choices and it was hard to select only a few to ridicule. But choose I must.
Let's take a look-see at the most poignant of the failures.
An endlessly enthusiastic (or tearful) Carnie takes on the troubled and the heartfelt.
Celebrity Host: Carnie Wilson
Claim to Fame: Daughter of Beach Boy, Brian Wilson; The Fat One in Wilson Phillips
Air dates: April 1995 - May 1996
Yes, she was large and yes, I'm not above making fun of her for it. Along with younger sister, Wendy, Carnie
Wilson was born to Beach Boy Brian and Marilyn Wilson in 1968. Carnie and Wendy
joined Chynna Phillips, daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, to
form Wilson Phillips in 1989. Their first and biggest hit, Hold On, featured a video where
hefty Carnie was hidden behind boulders and tent dresses. Shot in black and white on a beach,
there was a lot of fist clenching during the lines "Why do you lock yourself up in these chains?"
Chynna and Wendy were given prominent close ups. Carnie sang from beneath a tarp. Her harmonies
were beautiful, if muffled.
Wilson Phillips broke up in 1992. Topping out at over 300 pounds, the world at large met large Carnie
when she was invited to host her own talk show in 1995. Carnie! covered the usual line up of wife
beaters, cheaters, fat housewives and teens in gangs (and their babydaddies). Carnie blubbered, she simpered,
she hugged. It was puke worthy.
Due to floundering ratings, Carnie! last aired in May 1996. The spot was shortly filled with the
Rosie O'Donnell Show. One fatty swaps in for another. Go figure.
Carnie had gastric by-pass surgery in 1999, an event shown live to 50,000 Internet viewers.
She lost over 150 pounds and posed in the August 2003 issue of Playboy. I would show
you the pics, except I'd like to keep my breakfast down. Go find them yourself on the web if
you dare to see some tig ole bitties. The celebrity women who pose nude to "prove to the world"
their own espoused hotness is something I'd rather be spared. Cher plans to celebrate her
May 2006 60th birthday (ahem, 75th) by disrobing in Hawaii to show off her "amazing" body.
(The wonders of plastic never fail to shock and awe.) Only one year to go before you can see her
Fitness guru Richard Simmons grants the wishes of everyday people, and tries to make their dreams come true.
Celebrity Host: Richard Simmons
Claim to Fame: Sweatin' to the Oldies fitness instructor; fruit
Air dates: September 1999 - January 2000
Known universally for his striped short shorts, tank tops and squawking fitness infomercials
filmed in suburban shopping malls, Richard (real name Milton) Simmons grew up as a fatty in
New Orleans. After wrestling his bulk down to a healthy weight, he moved to Los Angeles in 1973
and established SLIMMONS, a health club catering to all body types and fitness levels. Since then
he's released dozens of exercise videos (most famously, Sweatin' to the Oldies), weight loss guides,
best-selling cookbooks, a four year stint on General Hospital and The Richard Simmons Show, an
aerobics program that aired 1980 - 1984. He also has his own line of collectible dolls (available on QVC and other
fine home shopping channels). It's hard to put my finger on exactly what it is, but the dolls all seem to freakishly resemble him.
Then came Dream Maker.
Despite all these accomplishments and public appeal, why did Dream Maker fail so miserably? I guess
the world wasn't ready for a sobbing, afro-bearing gay man on daytime talk television. Richard appeared
fully clothed, nary a glimpse of tanned, hairless thigh or armpit in sight. We've come to know and love
the Richard who bounces about, screaming at obese women in XXL Danskin spandex to SWEAT. We don't want to see
him all covered up in a sequined vest, placing a sympathetic hand on a woman whose dream is to own a camera.
We want to see those rippling Simmons abs, the scrunch socks, moving in time to Jail House Rock.
Alas, not all dreams can come true; not even for Richard. Dream Maker was axed after only two months on the air.
Always the fighter, Richard picked himself up, dusted himself off and went on to release new doll collections,
books and videos.
The latest Simmons dish, and this should have been included in the Celebrity Arrests
article, is Richard's embarrassing assault debacle in March 2004. The plaintiff, Mr. Chris Farney,
a 23-year-old Harley Davidson salesman and occasional cage fighter, spied Richard mincing down
the concourse at a Phoenix airport. Mr. Farney blurted out, "Look, Richard Simmons. Drop your bags,
let's rock to the 50's." Richard, claiming to feel "threatened" by these remarks, strode over to the
6'1", 255-pound Farney, slapped him, and proclaimed, "It's not nice to make fun of people with issues."
(Richard Simmons has issues? Never!) When told he was being arrested and charged, Richard collapsed into
an emotional apologetic blob. What's funnier: Richard Simmons slapping a cage fighter or Richard Simmons kissing
cage fighter ass? I think they should settle it by a Sweat-off. Name the time and place and I'll be there.
At least she beat Ian Ziering to the punch.
Celebrity Host: Gabrielle Carteris
Claim to Fame: Andrea Zuckerman on 90210 (the Jewish one)
Air dates: 1995
What did we learn from Gabrielle Carteris/Andrea Zuckerman? Nothing. That's why her show was canceled
almost immediately. Go back to the school paper, Andrea. The future's in print.
HIV-infected, former Lakers point guard and coach painfully interviews celebrities. Wince.
Celebrity Host: Earvin "Magic" Johnson
Claim to Fame: LA Lakers; celebrity with HIV
Air dates: June 8, 1998 - August 6, 1998
"I'm not Jay, I'm not Dave, I'm not a comedian, and I'm not trying to be, either,"
the man with the notoriously huge grin tells USA Today. "The show is about my personality.
I'm a real person, and I think people are attracted to that. They just want you to be yourself."
Yes, but...it also helps if you have a personality.
One would have thought that an internationally-known
host, an ex-Prince slut leading the band and A-list celebrity guests would have been a recipe for success.
What went wrong with the Magic Hour? What didn't?
Snarkily coined the "Tragic Hour" by some, Magic Johnson's late night show was an exercise
in strength, endurance and speed. It took strength and endurance to watch an entire episode; the speed at which it was
canceled made one's head spin.
Magic shocked the world in 1991 when he quit the Lakers by announcing his HIV-positive status. AIDS
was regarded largely as a "gay disease" in the early 90's (still is in many parts of the less
enlightened world); Magic's news hit home with many that HIV/AIDS can happen to anyone -- even sexually
promiscuous, unsafe sex-having basketball players. I personally always thought that people of fame
developed immunities to disease. They are better than the rest of us, after all. I guess
I was wrong. Magic is an active speaker and educator for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. He uses his celebrity
status to reach a wide range of people and create greater consciousness and knowledge of the disease in the
mainstream. These activities are admirable and he is to be commended for using his status to help others.
However, public appearances and speeches do not necessarily lend themselves to the making of a successful
talk show host. It also helps if one can speak the English language relatively well.
The Magic Hour opened new doors to the meaning of pain. His interviews were stilted, his comedy sketches left
a bad taste, his sidekick, Tommy Davidson, was insufferable. Not even Sheila E, leader of his studio band, could save it with her animal magnetism.
Ironically, the show received its highest ratings during the final week of filming. Howard Stern,
infamous for ripping the Magic Show a daily new asshole on his morning radio show, appeared
in the guest seat opposite the ex-Laker. Howard openly made fun of the show on air, garnering probably
the biggest laughs seen in its pathetic two-month run.
Alf's Hit Talk Show
Um, a puppet interviews people.
Celebrity Host: Alf
Claim to fame: Starred as Gordon Shumway, aka ALF, (Alien Life Form) on Alf, 1986 - 1990.
Air dates: July 2004 - December 2004
If you've seen or read Permanent Midnight (1998), you'll have a pretty good idea why
Alf evolved as it did. As one of the only Ben Stiller movies I can tolerate watching more than once,
Permanent Midnight is based on the autobiography of Jerry Stahl, the in-demand TV writer who was making upwards of $5,000 a week
writing for Alf, thirtysomething and Moonlighting in the mid 80's. Unfortunately, his $5,000 a week
salary fell a little short of his $6,000 a week smack
habit. The habit, exacerbated by his father's death, mother's suicide and the fact that he was writing
for a lame-ass TV show about an alien puppet, eventually led to him bottoming out while babysitting his infant son high as fuck.
In a nutshell, Alf was about an alien named Gordon Shumway from the planet Melmac. He crashed his spaceship into the Los Angeles
home of the Tanners. They soon adopted the "lovable" cat-eating alien and kept him around for four years. Along with his
catch phrase "I kill me," Alf would deliver witty zingers from the Tanner's kitchen. I hated Alf.
Yeah, so Alf, was written by a drug addict. I'm convinced that whoever decided to bring the puppet back to host
a talk show must have been experiencing similar distress. Prior the talk show, Alf was reintroduced via hawking long distance on the 10-10-220
commercials. The American public had to warm again to the furry, hook-nosed alien before stomaching (and subsequently regurgitating)
Alf's Hit Talk Show.
Alf's 30-minute syndicated show aired on TV Land. It features his sidekick, Ed McMahon (doing a tired-sounding "and now heeeeeeeere's.....Alf!"),
comedy skits, and celebrity interviews. Henry Winkler, aka The Fonze on Happy Days, was among Alf's first guests. Shoot low, score low.
Alf's Hit Talk Show lasted a few months. C-list celebrities finally figured out that even they had better things to do than talk to
a puppet behind a desk. Everyone has to do laundry some time, you know. Clean socks and underwear don't grow on trees.