Nobody in syndication has filled Oprah Winfrey’s shoes, and “The Queen Latifah Show” doesn’t seem interested in trying. Rather, the multifaceted star looks content to walk several miles in Ellen DeGeneres’ loafers, positioning this as light (bordering on empty) chat and a safe haven for celebrities. Still, the premiere highlighted a challenge most generalists face in the talk space, which is unless they discover some mild journalistic chops, the shows can feel awfully flat. Latifah is clearly a winning personality, but it’s going to take more than that to make this series run years on end, as she forecast at the close of her debut.
“Everything I’ve done has led me to this moment,” Latifah enthused near the beginning, later — in the midst of a John Travolta interview — gushing, “I get to do this every day!”
But in truth, very little about rap, acting or any of her other sundry activities approximate the requirements of carrying a talkshow five days a week, and without a specific shtick — a la those daytime doctors, Phil and Oz — it takes a lot to fill all those hours. Comedians tend to fare best — they’re at least well schooled at riffing with an audience — but even they have to possess skills associated with broadcasting.
The producers sought to front-load the premiere (no surprise there), from an opening musical number to a pretaped segment in which Latifah surprised a deserving inner-city school teacher and his class. To that extent, the show did establish a pleasant, feel-good vibe, but without delivering any real incentive to return other than one’s level of admiration for the host.
Granted, there’s a lot to like (the Queen probably has great Q scores), and in crass demographic terms, her ability to cross over to various audiences — and potentially do a cooking or diet segment without making average-sized women roll their eyes — explains why Sony and the producers would bet on her appeal. (Said producers include Will Smith, whose daughter, Willow, sang “Summer Fling” on the premiere.)
Even so, there was such a winging-it sense to the Travolta segment — so you have kids, it’s so great you’re here, etc. — it doesn’t bode especially well for those days when the bookers can’t line up an A-list star.
Having secured plum timeslots on CBS stations in key cities, “Queen Latifah” has as good a shot as anybody to survive the fall’s syndication derby, which has already seen Arsenio Hall get off to a solid start.
Unless the show finds more direction, though, Latifah’s syndicated sojourn could wind up being just another one of those fall flings — and her “moment” shorter than she imagined.