Chevy Chase show proves some things irredeemable

ROGER SIMON

September 13, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

I am not unsympathetic to people who are utter failures.

I realize not everyone can be a success, just as not everyone can be handsome, just as not everyone can be me.

Which is what I tried to keep in mind as I watched the first week of Chevy Chase's new talk show.

As I am not a TV critic, I am under no obligation to review new shows.

But when certain debuts go beyond mere failure and enter the range of debacle -- Joe McGinniss' new biography of Ted Kennedy, for instance -- they take on wider societal implications that the rest of us may learn from.

Such as: How do McGinniss and Chase now live out the rest of their lives?

Do they face themselves in the mirror each morning and say: "Hey, I don't care what anyone says, you're damn good, mister!"

Or do they say: "I think I'll call the Federal Witness Protection Program and ask them if they'll give me a new identity."

Large corporations staked millions of dollars on both men.

And while McGinniss' book has made it to the New York Times best-seller list -- I believe it was Mencken who said you could never go broke underestimating the taste of the American people -- it is unlikely the publisher will ever make its money back.

For Chase, the stakes are even higher. Not only is the financial investment in a new TV show huge, but failure on national TV is the kind of failure that sticks with you for a long, long time.

It is the modern equivalent of being branded on the forehead with a red-hot poker.

Just how bad is Chase's new show?

"Irredeemably, horribly bad," Ed Bark of the Dallas Morning News wrote.

"An embarrassment," John Carman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote.

"This Chevy is a Corvair," Jim McFarin of the Detroit News wrote.

"On a disaster scale of 1 to 10, this one rated a 12," wrote John J. O'Connor of the New York Times. "In the course of his first hour, Mr. Chase had perhaps two or three minutes that didn't induce cringing."

I have watched Chase's show every night to see if he would improve, but I find I must agree with Tom Shales of the Washington Post who wrote of Chase's debut: "The Chevy Chase Show shows no potential and no possibilities and has no redeeming virtues."

(With similar finality, Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post called McGinniss' book on Kennedy "a genuinely, unrelievedly rotten book, one without a single redeeming virtue, an embarrassment that should bring nothing except shame to everyone associated with it. . . . By a wide margin, the worst book I have reviewed in nearly three decades.")

But how do we explain failure of such magnitude? Chase is, after all, a professional comic.

So how do we explain the fact that he cannot deliver a monologue? That he cannot ad lib? That he cannot interview? That he cannot be witty or engaging or even mildly interesting?

Could those skills be so difficult to master? After all, Pat Sajak had them. Yes, Sajak's talk show failed opposite tough competition. But Sajak left with his dignity intact.

Chevy Chase will be lucky to leave with his skull intact.

A friend of mine called me with what he believes is an explanation for how rotten Chase is on the air.

"It's a set-up," my friend said. "A fix. A fake."

Excuse me? I said.

"Chase is being paid off by Leno to be horrible. Or maybe by jTC Leno and Arsenio both," my friend said. "Chevy is being paid off to fail, to make Leno and Arsenio look better against Letterman."

Yeah, right, I said. And JFK was shot by three guys hiding on the grassy knoll.

"Two guys on the grassy knoll," my friend said. "The third guy was across the street."

Yet there is comfort to be drawn from such failure. It is unlikely that no matter how badly the rest of us do in life we will ever suffer such public humiliation.

But why did Chase risk it? Why didn't he just sit home and savor his past successes?

The clue comes at the end of the credits for Chase's show. It is the one that reads: "Mr. Chase's wardrobe provide by Bernini of Beverly Hills."

That's right!

He did it for the free suits!

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