The Fourth Wall: ‘Everybody’s talkin’ at me / I don’t hear a word they’re saying’

    Robert Galvin

    Intrigued by the announcement of a new “Star Trek” series in development that would focus on Jean-Luc Picard, I was surfing the internet this week when I stumbled across an appearance by actor Patrick Stewart on “The Graham Norton Show.”

    Stewart — who has engaged in everything from Shakespeare to voicing the poop emoji since sipping Picard’s last tea Earl Grey hot — was on Norton’s ‘60s-mod couch next to Hugh Jackman as they promoted their film “Logan.”

    It was a normal movie-pitch interview, as such things go, until Stewart startled Jackson by telling the story of how he came to find out that (despite a lifelong certainty) he was not circumcised.

    As Jackman couldn’t stop laughing, I was hit by two thoughts:

    For one, Johnny Carson must be somewhere — bummed that he didn’t live long enough to have a natural segue to his Slauson Cutoff joke fall into his lap.

    But also, that Johnny Carson must be somewhere — relieved that he didn’t live long enough to see what has happened to the talk-show kingdom he once ruled.

    Somewhere along the way — and I pinpoint this at the moment where teens who would become comics saw David Letterman don a Velcro suit and launch himself at a wall — the style of humor-and-music-mixed-with-conversation show favored by Carson (or Dick Cavett or Tom Snyder) turned into an almost anti-talk hour of hit-or-miss skits, non-stop political jokes, and forced schmoozing.

    Part of the problem is that there’s just so much of it out there. Carson never had a serious challenger and Letterman was a TV anarchist who developed an approach that stands even taller now as so many try to mimic his approach without matching his skill to navigate through an hour.

    They each have their fans, and their strengths, but is anyone among the late-night crowd of Stephen, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jim, James, Samantha, John, Trevor, Seth, Michelle, Andy and Carson really Must See TV, or even worth referencing on a first-name basis?

    (I purposely left out Conan for it seems to me that he’s still the closest to carrying the torch of the Johnny-Dave sensibility — despite the fact that you’d have to think hard to remember which network he’s on, and that his show will be trimmed to a half-hour starting next year.)

    The glut of babble, of course, starts in the daytime with unintentionally funny gabfests such as “Fox & Friends,” “Live With Kelly & Whoever’s Currently in the Spinal Tap Drummer’s Chair,” “The View” and “The Talk.” I couldn’t find shows based on the other senses — although ABC’s “The Chew,” hosted by celebrity chefs, was recently canceled.

    (”The Chew,” by the way, probably ranks third among the worst titles ever for talk shows — topped only by “The Magic Hour,” with an out-of-place Magic Johnson, and “The Chevy Chase Show, which ...well ... if you saw it, you know why.”)

    If Conan is the late-night exception, the daytime, syndicated host above the muck and the mire is Ellen — who not only does deserve first-name status, but has somehow managed to create a show that comes off as the love-child of Johnny and Oprah.

    You’d think, with all these people already out there enthralled with the sound of their own voice, that we’d reached yes the fork in the road and there’d be no room going forward for anyone else.

    And, of course, you’d be wrong.

    Kelly Clarkson, RuPaul, and Busy Philipps are going to have talk shows. Alec Baldwin is going to move from his Trump-mocking impersonation on “Saturday Night Live” to his own weekly gig where he will (most likely) mock Trump while impersonating Alec Baldwin.

    (Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out who Busy Philipps is, too.)

    NBA star Lebron James (did he learn nothing from “The Magic Hour”?) will have a talk show set in a barber shop. James tried to sue Alabama football coach Nick Saban over the format — even though Saban’s show premiered first, and both copy the format from the Eddie Murphy movie “Coming to America.”

    I mean, c’mon, the barbershop theme is so old, Eddie Murphy was in a hit movie.

    Reese Witherspoon is going to host the syndicated “Shine On With Reese” — which won’t be about housecleaning, but will focus of the achievements of extraordinary women.

    Actor Jerry O’Connell, meanwhile, will host a series on Bravo currently titled “Real Men Watch Bravo.” The show will apparently be centered around O’Connell’s love for Bravo’s programming and will be renamed for any one of the half-dozen or so punch lines I came up with (but will spare you from) for this joke.

    Least, but certainly not last, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer has shot a pilot for a talk show that would take place in “bar-like” settings and come across as people “sitting around having coffee and beer and recognizing that there’s a better way to have a better conversation.”

    If that sounds a bit like the ill-fated “Kocktails with Khloe” what is wrong with you for having heard of “Kocktails with Khloe”?

    Talking to people is hard, listening is harder — and watching other people do either is the most difficult at all.

    Years ago, there was a small, independent film that consisted of two sharp, funny men sitting down to a meal. It became a cult hit and a cultural icon. I speak, of course, of “My Breakfast With Blassie” — featuring wrestling legend Fabulous Fred Blassie and comedian Andy Kaufman.

    Now, I could listen to those guys talk all day.

    Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin, who has seen nearly all of William Shatner’s “Raw Nerve” talk show, can be reached at

    News In Photos

      Loading ...