Friday, May 11, 2007

Nothing About Paris Hilton Going To Jail

Comedy today, friends. Old shows, obscure bits, and whatever else landed in my YouTube net. What -- do you think I spend all my time reading about war, torture, and corruption? I'm nuts, but not insane.

Here's something I'm sure many of you have never seen, or did a long time ago -- "The New Show", from early 1984. On paper, it looked great. Lorne Michaels producing, Buck Henry, "SCTV's" Dave Thomas, and Toronto Second City vet Valri Bromfield in the cast, with revolving appearances by John Candy, Catherine O'Hara, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, among other familiar faces, Jack Handey, George Meyer, Jim Downey, Franken & Davis, Valri Bromfield, Dave Thomas, Sarah Paley, Max Pross & Tom Gammill on the writing staff. A Friday night, 10 PM time slot on NBC. The show taped two nights earlier on the west side of Manhattan. There was plenty of hype leading up to the premiere, as this was Lorne's return to TV after leaving "SNL" in 1980.

And then -- SPLAT.

"The New Show" didn't last long. It was at the bottom of the ratings pile, the reviews were awful, which made sense given that the material was, for the most part, pretty bad when not simply boring. Yes, there were some bright spots -- inevitable when you have that kind of talent on board -- but it seemed that the writers really didn't care about pushing boundaries or taking creative chances. They were chained to the flat, semi-conceptual tone established by Jim Downey, and thus most of the sketches had the same flavor.

Here's the cold opening to the first "New Show" (followed by the credits). Steve Martin parodies the then-very popular "Billie Jean" video by Michael Jackson. But there's really nothing to it. It's just Martin imitating Jacko, with a few Martinesque moves tossed in. What is the point of this piece? If you have any ideas, all these years later, please let me know.

Then there were the gimmick bits -- one joke played over and over and over again. "The New Show" had plenty of these, and again, with its writing staff, you wonder why. I can't remember how many times "The Frightened Family" appeared, but when you saw it once, you saw it.

As I said, there were some inspired pieces, like George Meyer's "Food Repairman" played by John Candy; but the above clips give you the overall picture. An absolute waste of talent and electricity.

If you want a funny family sketch, check out this bit from "Fridays". Direct, alive, and to the point. The last 20 or so seconds are missing, but it's just the women trying to lure the father back into the kitchen so that they can -- well, you'll see.

And speaking of Steve Martin, here's a rare clip of him from the Smothers Brothers show, circa 1968, performing an early version of his comic-magic act. Martin was a writer for the Smothers', and when Tom says that Martin wasn't getting paid by the show, he wasn't kidding. Apparently, there was no extra money in the budget for a new writer, so the head writer, Mason Williams, paid Martin out of his pocket, so enamored was he of the young comic's work. This was, I believe, Martin's national TV debut. The wild and crazy guy has yet to emerge, but you can see him starting to form.