Wayne Brady Revives the Classic Variety Show: Can He Pull It Off?
Byline: Ted Cox
Zigging while others zag, ABC - the network that started the reality-TV craze two years ago with "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" - strikes back against rampant reality with a return to the old- time variety show.
"The Wayne Brady Show," starring the musically inclined improvisational comic best know for his work on "Whose Line Is it Anyway?" debuts at 7 p.m. Wednesday on WLS Channel 7.
It strives, in no uncertain terms, to bring back the mixture of freeform comedy and musical production numbers that provided the lifeblood for "The Carol Burnett Show" and "The Flip Wilson Show," even though variety programs have been in decline for decades and are now all but extinct from the TV environment.
Indeed, I can hear younger readers out there right now saying, "Who's Flip Wilson?"
Good thing they're probably already familiar with Brady, an immensely talented entertainer who eschews the conventional. If there is anyone who can revive the form it's him. Yet his show arrives with mixed signals.
It's good news that ABC is giving a variety show a shot at all; it's bad news that it's being dumped out in the dog days at the end of the summer. (Even if it's an instant hit, it will be off the air in six weeks when the fall season begins.) It's bad news that the pilot episode was not just hit-and-miss - that's the nature of the form - but that it was also edited in a slapdash manner.
While it's good news that ABC and Brady's production staff were tinkering with it right up to the premiere, it's doubtful that they can work magic on such a deadline. It doesn't help that the supporting cast was juggled along the way, with Missi Pyle and J.P. Manoux replacing Shulie Cowen and Joel McCrary.
It's good news that ABC has enough confidence in the show to promote it fairly heavily with on-air advertising. It's bad news that it may only serve to raise audience expectations beyond what the program can deliver.
So, while I've seen the pilot, I'm as curious as viewers who have been captivated by those same ads as to what "The Wayne Brady Show" is finally going to be like when it comes out of the box tomorrow night. For now, let me just pass on what I do know.
First is that Brady is a hilarious and inventive comic. His running James Brown 911 gags are a hoot, as when he bursts through a door to offer help to a woman giving CPR to her husband.
"Can 'e get uppa?" Brady's Brown chants.
If it's not quite as a funny when he helps an air-traffic controller with an emergency landing, that's just quibbling.
Brady has made his reputation improvising unlikely songs on "Whose Line," and he delivers the same here. He does a hilarious hip-hop number about a guy infatuated by his best friend's mother.
"Dude, your mom is hot," he sings, "like a tater tot. …