Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi "The Magic Hour"

By Devin D. O'Leary

JULY 20, 1998:  I guess it's our own fault. We (and when I say "we," I mean spongeheads other than myself) pay them exorbitant amounts of money, worship them like demi-gods and erect public shrines in their honor. I'm talking, of course, about the American sports hero. And with our hoarse-voiced, fist-pumping idolization of them, is it any wonder that they think so highly of themselves? Is it any wonder Shaquille O'Neil thinks he's a movie star? Is it any wonder Dennis Rodman thinks he can wrestle? Is it any wonder Michael Jordan thinks he's Our Lord and Savior? Of course not. It's no wonder, then, that Earvin "Magic" Johnson thinks he's a TV talk-show host.

Johnson's much-hyped "The Magic Hour" appeared in syndication four weeks ago to bad reviews and mediocre ratings. After its so-so premiere week, the show plunged 17 percent to settle in on a basement-scraping 1.5 national Nielsen household rating. One ratings point equals 1 million households. On July 2, Johnson scored his first three-pointer by booking shock jock Howard Stern, one of the former b-baller's most outspoken critics. Since "The Magic Hour" premiered, Stern's radio show has ragged almost daily on Johnson's stiff personality and weak interviewing skills (one of "Magic Hour's" more embarrassing segments actually allows audience members to take over the interviewing task). The Thursday night show featuring an expectedly crude Stern drew "The Magic Hour" its highest ratings. Thursday's 4.2 rating represented a 110 percent jump from the show's average weekly performance. Producers were hoping that Stern would become Johnson's "Hugh Grant." A 1995 post-prostitution arrest Hugh Grant became Jay Leno's first ratings win against former late-night king David Letterman. That interview turned the tide, and Leno frequently out-aces Letterman in the ratings game these days.

Unfortunately, ratings for "The Magic Show" have not performed up to the Stern level. As a result, producers have dropped the show's stand-up comedy intro (not a role Johnson was born to play) and fired Johnson's wisecracking sidekick, comedian Craig Shoemaker (who never seemed to do much anyway). I don't think that's gonna help.

Let's face it, not everybody was born to host a talk show. A great point guard does not a competent interviewer make. Despite what Studio City seems to think, "TV talk show host" is not the world's easiest job. Just ask Danny Bonaduce, Tempest Bledsoe, Carnie Wilson and a host of other talk show wannabes. Granted, Johnson may one day grow into his new role, but don't expect the ratings-obsessed TV industry to give him time. The late-night talk-show battlefield is littered with the corpses of hosts who couldn't cut the mustard in the first eight weeks--just ask Keenan Ivory Wayans (or Sinbad or Chevy Chase or Alan Thicke, or ... ). Despite all those who have fallen by the wayside, people still flock to the airwaves to declare themselves the next Oprah or the Johnny Carson for the '90s. Not all of them should be allowed to have a show. Just ask Howie Mandel.


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