Late Night Talk's Latest Entry Is Pretty Poor Showtime
Magic Johnson has always been the master of the debut. As a freshman at Michigan State, he led the Spartans to a Big Ten title; as a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers he earned the first of five NBA rings; and as a novice coach with the Lakers, he won his first game.
Well, the run is over. The Magic Hour, Johnson's new syndicated talk show, which debuted on June 8, isn't just bad; it's historically bad. In the annals of late-night television, only Chevy Chase's 1993 five-week train wreck comes close to matching Magic's reach-for-the-channel-changer horribleness. Johnson's Lakers coaching career lasted 16 games before he quit. It will be a minor miracle if his show airs that many times.
The Magic Hour's format is similar to the Carson-Conan model (schmoozing sidekick, studio audience, applause signs) with one big difference—Johnson isn't funny. As relaxed as he was handling the ball, he's that uncomfortable in the role of late-show ringleader. He asks questions that aren't really questions, along he lines of, "You've done a lot for charity, and I admire that." He shakes each guest's hand six or seven times. He talks endlessly about basketball and says the same things over and over. Magic, we know you'd like a sixth ring. Now give us a break.
Johnson's ratings dwindled as the first week went on (he opened with a 3.0 but wound up averaging 2.2), as did the celebrity wattage of his guests. They included both the has-been (erstwhile talk-show host and Magic good-buddy Arsenio Hall, and Thighmistress Suzanne Somers) and the predictable ( Pat Riley and Kobe Bryant). Even when Magic got off to an A-list start on his inaugural show, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Whitney Houston, we should have known all was not right. His third guest was a man who set himself on fire while running around the stage, yelling, "Arrrrgggh!" Magic and Whitney stood to the side in expressionless, embarrassed shock. Magic's eyes were wide. His famed smile was gone.
Perhaps, as a result, he can appreciate what his audience is going through.