12 December 2006 | Apprenti
Fine line of mediocrity
"The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show" is a case-in-point of what a talk show should have done to be successful. One, don't rely solely on monologues keep the show afloat. Two, be creative; do skits, mock interviews and engage audiences' interests especially when a guest is not familiar to them. Three, don't flirt unabashedly with only the African-American female guests. Four, don't give screen time to anyone or anything that does not need it. "Keenan" failed on all counts, and it's not hard to see why.
Keenan may be a terrific stand-up comedian, but that does not necessarily make him a similarly terrific talk-show host. He lacks screen charisma (as evident in movies where he's the leading man), is a mediocre interviewer (as evident in his handling of little-known guests), and uninspiring in the creative department. Much of the latter goes into developing stand-up material for the monologues, which suffice for only the first 10 minutes of the show. But the remaining screen time is sore with little to no creative segments. The segments that do have airtime are mostly rehashed from other talk shows. Then there are the occasional pans to provocatively-dressed band members that are always seen but never heard, and mediocre guest interviews except where the guest is an attractive female.
Keenan's lethargy as an interviewer rears itself when the little-known guests appear. He tries to engage his guests but does not succeed in engaging his audience. You don't care for the guest to begin with (because we know little to nothing about him/her), and you don't care any more (or less) after the show's over. Only when the guest is an attractive female does he become a ball of enthusiasm. More so if she's African-American. This seems to be the trend of African-American male hosts to hit on every ebony queen that appears as a guest. (FYI, D.L. Hughley does it too during his brief stint as host of CBS' "The Late Show".) As for the band, they never made a peep. Not that the music they make counts, i.e. if that is really them playing and not a track dubbed in. They are always provocatively dressed, fair-skinned and drop-dead gorgeous. Even their facial grunts seem out of place, as if they are pumping iron in the gym than playing their musical instruments. Wouldn't it kill Keenan to at least acknowledge them once in a while so that they are not there as eye candy. But he never did. That's part of the problem. Jay Leno interacts with Kevin Eubanks and the Tonight Show Band. So does David Letterman with Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra, Conan O'Brien with Max Weinberg and his 7, Sinbad with Mouse and his band in "Vibe" (the show that ultimately drove Keenan's show to cancellation). Keenan does not have to do that. Nor does the camera have to pan to the band every now and then. Except only for eye candies. This is reinforced in the opening credits, the only time Keenan and the band are in the same frame. The girls play their instruments vigorously, he steps out of a limo (foot shot only), cuts to him pointing to the camera in foreground blocking the girls in background. Yeah, he's the man of the show. It also affirms the real reason why the girls are there. Not for their music. I have a hard time believing those girls are actual musicians.
That "Keenan" lasted two seasons is a miracle. It was living on borrowed time. Its cancellation was a relief. What makes it all the more unfortunate is Keenen Ivory himself blaming his network (and its audience) for being racially-biased. Seriously, Keenan. Your show sucks because you don't get a clue. When a show's single reputation rests on getting the entire female cast of "Baywatch" (and its spin-offs) to make guest appearances, it's not going to go far. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy some of the segments. Unfortunately, they all feature attractive female guests.