Rosie O’Donnell famously flopped with her attempt to revive variety series on NBC, but Ellen DeGeneres has exhibited the right stuff — twice — with her last and now latest special for TBS, tied to the “Just for Laughs” comedy festival.
The new hour, with the made-for-pay-TV-sounding title “Ellen’s Bigger, Longer & Wider Show,” premieres June 27 and opens with a brilliant sequence of DeGeneres (actually, an extremely talented stunt double) racing through Chicago, followed by a brief stand-up opener and then a variety of acts.
Taped in Chicago (the previous installments were shot in Vegas), the special actually features some celebrity appearances — including Kanye West and David Blaine –but the best bits involve a Cirque du Soleil-style contortionist, a moderately revolting stupid human trick (I won’t spoil it) and some nut that balances himself on precariously stacked pipes. It could just as easily be the old “Ed Sullivan Show,” yet feels strangely fresh given how unabashed and un-cynical the whole exercise is. Besides, how often do you get to see somebody fire a crossbow with their feet?
Thus far, the networks have made a mess of variety (see “The Osbournes Reloaded” as well as O’Donnell’s crime against television), but this Telepictures production (exec produced by Mary Connelly, Ed Glavin and Andy Lassner of DeGeneres’ daytime show) captures just the right tone — and I say this, by the way, as at best a marginal fan of her stand-up routine.
DeGeneres closes the hour with questions from the audience. The one question I left with is how long it will be before somebody tries to replicate the simple charms of “Bigger, Wider & Longer” on a weekly basis — assuming, of course, that they can find a worthy host who, unlike DeGeneres, isn’t presently encumbered by a day(time) job.