At the Hollywood & Highland complex the other day, I saw a fellow who appeared to be in his 50s, wearing shorts and holding a sign, trying to get on camera during “On Air With Ryan Seacrest,” the weekday syndicated strip that Fox introduced this week. If you’re reading this, sir, please go home, because you’re clearly not in the target demo for this slick yet mind-numbing exultation in all things entertainment, where being allowed to meet Ben Stiller is cause for tears and high-pitched wails.
Hoping to cash in on Seacrest’s heightened recognition factor thanks to “American Idol,” Twentieth Television showcases the host in a live format combining the exuberance of MTV’s “TRL” with the entertainment buzz of “ET” (which, put together, sounds like the way Archie Bunker pronounced the name of his commode).
Glib and fast on his feet thanks to his background in radio, Seacrest is a genial-enough presence at the center of a format so heavily staged in massaging celebs and pandering to fans that it makes “The Tonight Show” look like a “60 Minutes” grilling. He has cited “American Bandstand” as a source of inspiration, but even today’s more discriminating teens might have a hard time succumbing to the show’s blow-dried vacuity.
Perhaps appropriately, “On Air” is a haven for “correspondents” whose careers were launched by sparsely seen reality TV shows. So there’s entertainment correspondent Rosanna Tavarez, discovered via the WB’s “Popstars,” and corpulent funny man Ralphie May — from NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” — who awkwardly insists on calling Seacrest “boss.”
The show’s real co-stars, however, are the fans and audience members themselves, who whoop, holler and scream so frequently that they sound like a pack of hounds. As live performances and softball interviews are mixed with snippets of news, the “Applause” light stays perpetually lit, an eternal flame of celebrity worship.
The first few days saw a fan visit the “Along Came Polly” premiere (Wooo!); a surprised Minnesotan presented a trip to L.A. to see singer John Mayer perform (Woo-ooo!); and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson interviewed as he sat in the audience, a chat undercut by a woman’s distracting cleavage in the row behind him (Woo — oops, that was me).
Certainly, there’s a lot crammed into each hour, and just in case attention spans lag for even a moment, the camera moves constantly, almost to the point of seasickness. During interviews the lens at times pans to and fro, occasionally switching to overhead shots as if we desperately need a blimp’s eye view of Reba McEntire — just one of several Fox-affiliated performers on hand for the initial batch of episodes, along with “Angel’s” David Boreanaz and “The Simple Life’s” Nicole Richie (Wooo!).
Of course, for all the talk about being live, no one really wants to risk any spontaneity, which is why Seacrest seemed a bit nonplussed when a guy rushed the stage to meet Enrique Iglesias (Woo — uh oh) and a goat unceremoniously christened the stage.
For the most part, “On Air” is harmless fluff and obviously a work-in-progress. In a sense, the show serves as one long product placement for Hollywood by Hollywood, promoting the concept that stars bring nothing but joy into our humdrum lives, while promising to deliver “Everything you need to know about entertainment every day” and an “all-access pass” to your favorite luminaries.
OK, so what about enlisting Beyonce to meet a fan for a long weekend in Aruba? Pull that one off, and even an over-30 geezer like me might be tempted to try pitching a little Woo!