The technical glitches that marred the first two nights of "Vibe," signs that perhaps Columbia TriStar's new latenight talker wasn't quite ready, were pretty much history by night three when the energy level found a healthy hip-hop stride. The show is relying heavily on tried-and-true talker trademarks of couch and chair with an upbeat house band; its unique touch is the inclusion of two musical segments that get the show away from the couch for much-needed breathers. But therein lies the problem. Host Chris Spencer hasn't exhibited much of a personality and his interviewing style is little more than a collection of pandering and glad-handing. His comedy is tired at times (what if gang members feuded by dancing as in "West Side Story") and any pop culture reference requiring pre-1980 knowledge is greeted with silence. The alleged aim is hipness, which means Spencer can do jokes about basketball star Allen Iverson, a target probably too obscure for Dave's or Jay's crowd; that the jokes aren't funny is what will be remembered longer.
The bookings are pretty much contemporary established stars — black musicians, actors, Demi Moore, a supermodel and a comedian — who are given free rein to plug recent efforts. And Spencer is clueless in directing an interview, figuring that constantly changing the subject will hold the aud’s short attention span. He allowed Brandy to explain the plot of “Cinderella.” Vivica A. Fox spilled the details on karaoke. Teen singer Aaliyah gave Spencer a gift basket full of Aaliyah promo items. Salt-N-Pepa recited a list of upcoming guests that Spencer had just finished reading. Guests might be enjoying themselves, but as television, couch segs are deadly.
Debut episode began with exec producer Quincy Jones interviewing a tape of President Clinton. What could have been clever turned into a rambling position speech on America’s youth. Jones, who made one other appearance, has trouble with cue cards and fails to deliver on his image as a cultural benefactor. Taped bits that poked fun at Spencer’s anonymity and the show’s undecided direction were far too obvious.
Vibe’s success as a magazine comes through its diversity; the TV show is showing itself as a more mainstream version. While it doesn’t have the wacky foolishness of a “Def Comedy Jam,” it doesn’t feel like a celebration of black or urban culture. Snippets of older black stars appearing on TV in the ’60s, it is hoped, are laying a foundation for what “Vibe” can become — a show that provides exposure to new young stars as well as the artists who didn’t have a venue for their talents in the ’70s and ’80s. A better balance and improving Spencer’s interviewing skills will go a long way in bringing in a loyal audience.