Netflix has poached another one. After nabbing Ryan Murphy, David Letterman and Shonda Rhimes, the streaming goliath has recruited Joel McHale, the former host of E!’s “The Soup,” who has landed his own weekly pop culture commentary series, “The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale,” set to launch Feb. 18 on Netflix.
This isn’t the first time McHale has entered the streaming game. Amidst his 12-year run hosting “The Soup,” his NBC comedy “Community” moved to the now-defunct Yahoo Screen for a short-lived revival.
“According to the former Yahoo Screen executives, we apparently single-handedly brought down their streaming service, so I have to thank Netflix for allowing me another chance back on a streaming service,” McHale quips during a recent phone interview with Variety.
The Lionsgate-produced “Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale” sounds like an updated version of “The Soup,” which was canceled in 2015, but McHale promises the two shows are “totally different.”
“Now instead of a kelly green curtain, we’ve settled on a forest green — it’s a slightly darker shade,” he jokes of the green-screen. “It is a clip show, but what’s going to be different about it is that Netflix has really nice studios and catering.”
With Netflix as his new home, McHale is excited for his global reach, which means he’ll be covering international content. Plus, working in the non-traditional television landscape, he says, comes with more creative freedom.
Here, McHale tells Variety why he signed on with Netflix, how the new show will be different, and what’s off-limits — and what’s not.
Have you missed hosting “The Soup” over the past two years?
We went off the air because when the WGA made us union, along with “Chelsea Lately” and with Joan [Rivers, “Fashion Police”], E! does not make money that way. They get their money off of repeating shows. So that’s why we went away. But yes, I did miss it. I am a whore when it comes to performing. I like doing it, and I like being in front of people.
How has your experience with Netflix been different than your experience at other networks?
Netflix was so generous, and Ted Sarandos, he really cheers you on when you work on something with them. It’s this wonderful attitude and it’s been really great. Netflix is just wonderful. It’s just a whole other thing. There are no focus groups, they have great taste, they know exactly who’s watching and when they’re watching so there’s no guessing game [with research], so it’s been great. We said, “How long should the show be?” And they said, “How long do you want it to be?”
How will the content on your new show differ from the content on “The Soup?”
You’re used to celebrity stuff and reality, but we’re opening it up to the world because Netflix has such huge access, so we are going to make fun of shows around the world, but we’ll still be hitting “The Bachelor,” which I think almost every American secretly watches. E! didn’t like it when we’d make fun of clips from ESPN — they’d be like, “That’s sports! That’s not our audience!” So we’re going to open it up to all of that.
So were you expected to cover certain topics and not cover others, while hosting “The Soup?”
When Ted Harbert got in there, he basically said the sky is the limit and do what you want to do. Way back when, Kris Kardashian would complain about our jokes, and Ted would literally go, “Hey man, Kris called, can you just lay off of her for a week?” It was like our softball went into our yard and they were like, “Just don’t throw it over the fence.” So that was cool and that’s as far as it went with him, but when he left, things changed and they definitely had a different feeling. The next administration, the president said to my face, “Don’t make fun of the Kardashians. We don’t want you to make fun of the Kardashians anymore.” So I was like, oh this show is doomed because that’s why the show worked, because we would make fun of ourselves. It’s like when Letterman made fun of GE in the ‘80s. You have to bite the hand that feeds you. The network really did not like when the Kardashians first came out and then we just said Kim Kardashian was only famous for having a big a– and a sex tape. (When contacted by Variety, E! declined to comment.)
Now that you’re not on the same network, to what extent will you be covering the Kardashians?
That is a week-to-week thing. If the clips are good and engaging, absolutely, we will cover them. Even on “The Soup,” if we didn’t have a good Kardashian clip, we wouldn’t just do it. So I don’t know. It could be a lot and it could be very little. There is more reality programming on right now than there was television in 2012. It’s not a thing where I’m like, “Finally, I get to say what I want to say about the Kardashians!” I’m also a tiny little pilot fish on a huge whale shark that is the Kardashian empire. I don’t think they’ve thought about me much. They probably saw a bloated Paul Bettany somewhere and thought it was me — not that Paul Bettany is bloated.
Will you be making fun of Netflix shows on your new show?
We’re going to be making fun of all of the streaming shows and all that stuff. We’re definitely having a tribute to “Stranger Things” in our first episode. Ted Sarandos is obviously widely successful and confident in his job, and he’s been great, so creatively, we are unrestricted. All I care about is making jokes that are funny and making people laugh.
Now that you’re catering to a global audience, how will your content change?
We used to do the show and we didn’t think anyone was watching so we would just make ourselves laugh, but now, hopefully 160 languages laugh. But, I don’t know how you translate a crying girl from “The Bachelor” who farts in the fantasy suite, so hopefully that translates.
Will you be touching politics? It seems as if you can’t really do a clip show without it, since you can’t turn on the TV without seeing President Trump on the news.
No matter what your politics are, the Trump administration takes up 90% of news and entertainment these days — maybe besides some ice skating right now. If something happens, we cover the coverage, but this is definitely not going to be serious political commentary.
Many comedians have spoken out about the difficulty bringing comedy into coverage of the #MeToo movement. How will you deal with that on your show?
I don’t think there’s a lot of comedy in that movement, which is rightfully so because there have been so many systemic crimes for so long that it needs to be rooted out and weeded out and exposed. I suppose there’s a scenario where someone may be covering it, and there may be something there, but as far as the #MeToo movement goes, other than support, I don’t think there’s a lot of comedy there at all. It’s a crime.
How do you think TV has changed since you’ve started, especially since you’ve gone from broadcast to cable to streaming?
Now, TV is very a la carte, where you can choose anything you want…The networks, they’re obviously freaking out, but Netflix is the future, and I know I’m saying that as a person who now works for them and I sound like a company man, and I am, but I agree with that. Television has never been better, and it’s the best time and the highest quality. Yeah, of course there’s a bunch of junk, but that’s always been the case.
You just said “Netflix is the future.” Do you think that network TV is dying?
I think they’re all looking at this model and they’re copying it. 35 million people are not tuning into “ER” anymore. “This Is Us” has huge ratings and so does “The Big Bang Theory,” but compared to what ratings were 20 years ago, there are just not as many people watching together at once, and that is changing the model. My children do not know what it’s like to flip around channels. They either go to Netflix, Apple TV, or they pull up YouTube and they can watch their shows. My kids, it’s all a la carte where you ask for what you want. The only time we watch TV is for live sports and, for me, news. I think in 10 years, it will look very different.
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