What to say about "The Chris Gethard Show," migrating from public access to Fusion (Optimum, 697; Dish, 244; FiOS, 108; DirecTV, 342) Thursday at 10 p.m.?
"Odd" is a reasonable word to start with but an insufficient one as well. Here's a better way to think of this: Imagine whatever the polar opposite of (say) "The View" must be, and if "The Eric Andre Show" pops into your head , then imagine what must be the polar opposite of THAT....
It's a free form talk show, where talk is optional, or nominally bound by the strictures of what one would typically consider talk show etiquette and procedures. Its host is progeny of Upright Citizens Brigade, the renowned Manhattan improv comedy theater troupe (and "SNL" farm team). "TCGS" does indeed embrace most standard elements of a standard talk show - schicht, guests, sketches, band, audience -- except they've been stuffed in a blender, pureed, and transformed into something unrecognizable.
A key element -- "TCGS" deploys audience members as guests, sidekicks, sketch material, and the host fields calls from viewers. There are eight million stories in the naked city, and quite a few of them seem to end up here -- some funny, some sad, while the host listens carefully, often sympathetically and offers emotional or psychological counsel, if necessary. (One caller, dubbed "Random," ended up a show regular).
There's also a guy with a starring role as a fish. I think his name is "Fish."
Perfect for public access -- where this drew a devoted following -- but inscrutable for a commercial cable network, and one (no less) owned by the Walt Disney Company (Fusion's other corporate parent is Univision). For this reason, "TCGS" represents an intriguing departure -- or rather experiment -- for both Fusion and cable, as quite literally a fusion of commercial cable sensibilities with the somewhat more anarchic ones of the Internet. Gethard's following has largely been composed (one assumes) of either cord cutters or the No TV crowd -- young millennials straight out of college, or still in college, who will need a TV to watch tonight.
I spoke Wednesday with Gethard, 35, a Jersey native whom some rapturous fans have compared to Early Letterman (He actually looks like a combo Early Letterman-Early Drew Carey).
An edited version of our chat...
What should viewers expect?
"I think it will actually be quite similar [to the public access show]. My instinct was to polish it up [but] Fusion went out of their way to say, 'no, we want the public access show...'"
So there will be an audience [show's taped in Manhattan]?
"We packed them in [for the first taping]-- a hundred in there. The crowd really carries the show..."
And band [the llc]?
"We have our house band -- it'd be very hard to get rid of them, because my wife [Hallie Bulleit] sings, and plays keyboard and a variety of other instruments..."
New surprises for fans?
"One of the most exciting things for me is that I've always had phone calls on the show, now we will switch over to Skype. We're finding more ways to interact with the audience too."
The change from public access to cable must pose challenges -- related certainly to content and length. How will you handle those?
"It is a process to turn from an hour to a half hour, that has commercials. And that obviously requires some adjustments [but] the network is guiding us and I've found a lot of pieces in the show that I never would have found before, so I am excited. And yeah, I think it is fair to say there will be a little less cursing and nudity. Part of that is standards and practices, but also part of it is me -- those can be easy crutches and sometimes we leaned on them too hard."
Plus, you are working for the Walt Disney Company now.
"I never dreamed I'd work under the same corporate umbrella as 'Star Wars.' It's exciting. I'm way into it."
This was originally supposed to go to Comedy Central -- what happened there?
"They were very supportive of me during my career and last year ordered a pilot,. We shot it, were proud of it, but ultimately they decided it wasn't for them. Yeah, it was a bummer, but you move on. I got back into public access and at the end of the day, a blessing because Fusion ended up having a whole different set of goals -- the idea of being experimental and free form is something not many other networks are prioritizing, and a lot of the content Fusion is doing is trippy, and they are trying to incorporate the viewing habits of young people....
Who's your model -- comparisons to Letterman have been drawn, as you know...?
"When we were getting this ready, I made a DVD of stuff I grew up loving and showed it to people working on the show, and it was a ton of old Letterman shows. I always thought we were original, but no matter how weird we wanted to get, Letterman had gotten that much weirder -- and Andy Kaufman, the way he played with people's expectations; and pro wrestling was a huge influence on the show and me...Most of my influences as a kid growing up would have been found in the upper channels of the cable dial....oh, and Uncle Floyd!
First guests tonight are your pals Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson [stars of "Broad City," [in which Gethard also occasionally stars]. Any surprises for them?
"We shot it [Tuesday] and it will be pretty wild."
Who would be your dream guest?
"If Andy Kaufman is in fact alive, and he announces that on our show -- that would be the ultimate fantasy guest. I would say 10 months of the year, I'm convinced he is dead, and then two months out of the year, I hold out hope -- that he's laughing somewhere."