THE MONKEY SHOW HAS BEEN PULLED FOR RETOOLING
So the Dennis Miller show is already on hiatus
. For two weeks, is all. And CNBC’s ratings for that time slot are up. But there's something else going on, because the only major change should be the addition of a live studio audience (a good idea, methinks). Yet he's going off the air for two weeks? I can't imagine it takes that long to put in some fold-out chairs.
Assuming there’s trouble, it's too bad, because after three weeks or so, the program has improved a lot. As one could expect, his first week on the job was a bit rough. For a guy who used to rule topical late night humor with Weekend Update, his "Daily Rorschach" segment was atrocious, simply unfunny, and still needs some rejiggering. I think his writers trying to craft Miller-style jokes... at least, that’s my guess.
Then there’s the chimpanzee, Ellie, who didn't really go along with the show. Now they have a new monkey, Mowgli, who isn’t going through puberty. Though I love the idea of a monkey wandering around the set, they still haven't figured out what to do with him. Hence, they’ve had him swing back and forth in front of Miller on a few occasions. The amateurism is a little fun, like watching the early, early days of Conan and Andy, but something’s gotta give.
But then there’s his panel -- the "Varsity" panel -- is one of the better such panels on news television, up there with the Fox News "All Stars" on Brit Hume's "Special Report." Almost all such panels are D.C.- (or sometimes New York-) based, but "Dennis Miller" is shot at the Burbank Studios. There are a great many lively California pundits (left and right) who rarely show up on the East Coast panel discussions. Among them: David Horowitz, Mickey Kaus, John McWhorter, Dinesh D’Souza, Lawrence O’Donnell ... presumably Tammy Bruce, Hugh Hewitt, Daniel Weintraub, Dennis Prager and Bernie Ward will be on shortly. He’s also a reasonably good interviewer, skills no doubt honed on a near-decade of the late great “Dennis Miller Live.”
And while his opening news bit still doesn't quite work, the monologue he spits out around the bottom of the hour is usually great. It’s the classic Dennis Miller who rants, albeit with a bit more focus than he used to. Also good is the ongoing bit, "What would Dennis Kucinich do?" Also still, his "one last thing" segment -- in the show’s final moments,the studio dims, camera zooms out, but then screeches back to full attention for a brief, politically incorrect observation -- is great, too. And there’s the "Cathartic Screed" began as an opportunity for a conservative pundit to put together such a Miller-esque rant, but recently he's featured amusing bits by left-wingers Kristina Vanden Heuvel and Robert Reich.
What’s more, these segments seem to come on at random times -- interview, Varsity, skit, interview, or maybe interview, interview, skit, Varsity, skit -- which to my mind keeps things lively. You could never get away with this in a magazine or newspaper where the reader needs to know where everything is up front. But on TV you try to keep the viewer watching and discourage them from flipping away -- the show’s irregular pacing should do that. ("Hannity & Colmes" is the only cable news show opposite "Miller" that I'd consider watching in that time slot, but really only when Dick Morris shows up.)
So now the show is in reruns, and they just might rerun every single episode before Miller returns in a week or so. Anyway, if you haven’t seen the show, it’s worth a shot. We’ll see if CNBC gives it one, too.