Announcer: Ron Russ.
Band: Tom Scott, David Goldblatt, Eric Gale, Larry Kimple, Johnny Friday.
Guests: Goldie Hawn, Whoopi Goldberg, Johnny Grant, Sam Archer.
Though Chevy Chase landed with a critical thud in his opener for the nightly talkshow wars, that’s not unprecedented for a maiden effort in the genre and, to be kind, the show has potential for growth. Unfortunately, the second night was no improvement.
Chase is better-dressed (Bernini), a better sketch actor, and perhaps brighter than the other late-night comics, though whenever he said anything remotely intelligent during Tuesday’s show, he all but apologized to the young studio audience. Chase’s apparent self-satisfaction may pose a problem, repelling some viewers as it attracts others.
Several of Chase’s opening-night bits were aimed at his 1975-76 “Saturday Night Live” following, counting on the audience’s memory and effect of constant Nickelodeon and Comedy Central repeats.
Yes, he does a nightly “news update,” including reference to the continuing death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Showing restraint (or hoping to build anticipation), Chase waited a good eight minutes before taking his first pratfall. That event took place as Chase placed his handprints into a square of “cement” in front of the Chevy Chase Theater accompanied by “honorary mayor of Hollywood” Johnny Grant, in a gag that could be heard thundering down Sunset Boulevard.
References to his latenight competition were few, and one had to be fairly long-in-the-tooth to recognize references to Spanish ventriloquist Senor Wences, “Kukla, Fran and Ollie”– ask your grandfather — or the pantomime to Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’s “Cloudburst.” Wednesday night’s show included a reference to ’50s actor-comic Arnold Stang that may have puzzled even oldsters.
Other comedy material was of a somewhat more recent vintage, including a couple of OK political jokes (one about the Palestinians finally being awarded a homeland … in Bosnia), and a couple of real clinkers, none older or dumber than an admonition for showering Camp Pendleton Marines not to stoop for the soap. Wednesday night, Chase opened the show by pulling a gerbil from the bell of bandleader Tom Scott’s saxophone.
Conversations with guests Goldie Hawn and Whoopi Goldberg were neither better nor worse than typical Letterman or Leno interviews, though if flirtation between Chase and Hawn had continued much longer, it looked as if they’d be going at it on the desk.
Hawn sang “Look at That Face” in a setup more than a little reminiscent of Bette Midler and Johnny Carson — only not, evidently, intended as a parody.
Set design by art director Tom McPhillips is excellent, reminiscent of the handsomely woody environment of Dennis Miller’s former show, with a saltwater aquarium behind Chase’s desk.
Opening graphics, by Two-Headed Monster, are also strong. Band, under the direction of saxophonist and former “Pat Sajak Show” bandleader Scott, and featuring former “Dennis Miller Show” musical director David Goldblatt on keyboards, might be called “The Failed Talkshow All-Stars.” So far, however, they haven’t had much of an opportunity to show off.