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HOWARD ROSENBERG

TELEVISION : It's a Good Time to Hang Up on This 'Late Call'

October 31, 1994|HOWARD ROSENBERG

A jerky show is getting jerkier.

Described by co-executive producer Brandon Tartikoff as furthering late-night's "noble trend of topicality," the syndicated half hour "Late Call" and its cast of post- wunderkinds slid into the fall season on a floe of smug hipness. Their weeknight assignment? To occupy a half-circle of easy chairs on a set in New York and pop off. And to be not just topical--anyone can do that--but to be topical and cute .

The call went out. From magazines came former Esquire editor-in-chief, now Sports Afield editor-in-chief and publisher Terry McDonell, the Adult . From National Public Radio and Spin magazine came Elvis Mitchell, the Critic . From the Sunday Times of London came Sue Ellicott, the Chick . From God knows where came Tad Low, the Infant . And all the way from a life of experiencing events "which were to become remarkable memories" came Brianne Leary, the Irritant , fated to become little more than a memory herself after banishment to the field, from where she now checks in occasionally like a distant relative.

The topicality lags, but never the cuteness. Low: "Smart super-model is an oxymoron." Ellicott: "Todd, that's terrible."

Yes, but "terrible" is exactly what "Last Call" is about.

That trait blazed on the show's marquee last Wednesday night when the Rev. Al visited. African American activist Sharpton needed no prompting to loosely equate the O.J. Simpson case with the "high-tech lynching" that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas protested when questioned about Anita Faye Hill's sexual-harassment allegations during his 1991 confirmation hearing. Sharpton resonated the skepticism that many African Americans have about the U.S. legal system, including most of those interviewed on the street by Mitchell for this segment.

Not that examining African American attitudes vis a vis Simpson isn't useful, only that what followed exposed "Last Call" for the frivolous fop and gratingly snide prankster that it is.

It was time for the other side of the argument. Hence, served to Sharpton and the panel like salami on rye, heavy on the mustard, was Bob Grant, a veteran New York radio talk-show host known for his short fuse and demagogic statements about race relations. It turns out that Grant is also a masochist. The human sacrifice was interviewed by satellite in his own radio studio, downplaying racism as a problem in general and fielding questions from the panel that lit him up like Times Square. After being sufficiently provoked by this verbal gangbanging, Grant did what "Last Call" wanted him to do. He had a snit, angrily breaking off the interview and storming out of his own studio.

Nyeh nyeh nyeh-nyeh nyeh . Time for Tad.

"Last Call" now proceeded to its next item, with the grinning Low, who could suck the intelligence from any gathering, skipping upstairs to his loft to introduce a nauseating parody of a wedding video of O.J. and Nicole Brown Simpson that mocked her and ended with a deranged O.J. savagely slashing the wedding cake.

You'd have expected Sharpton--who had wondered earlier whether an impartial Simpson jury could be impaneled, given media-whipped pretrial publicity--to have angrily fled the show himself at that point. Yet when asked if he'd like to return to "Last Call," this newer and calmer version of the old showboating Sharpton said sure--a pragmatist about TV exposure to the end.

That Nicole Simpson was brutally slain in Los Angeles along with Ronald Lyle Goldman, leaving her small children motherless, earns her a prominent spot on the "Last Call" hit list. Thursday night found Leary in West Los Angeles quipping--it was dark humor minus the humor--about that sleazy new book about Nicole Simpson. "Last Call" also dispatched Ellicott to the streets to question opinionated Camille Paglia about famous people. Somehow still standing after colliding with Paglia's withering verbiage, Ellicott asked her the show's obligatory question about Nicole Simpson. Paglia didn't miss a beat. "A star after her death," she began in a whoosh.

Inexplicably, Nicole Simpson's name didn't surface in Mitchell's taped chat with Joni Mitchell, an oversight for which he could be docked. The show concluded with the hyper Low--if ever a face begged for a cream pie, it's his--doing some nonsense about a McDonald's menu being able to blunt Presidential assassinations. Food throwing--a fitting remembrance of him and the show.

There's a fine line separating smart-ass and dumb-ass. "Last Call" crosses it.

*

So do Tom and Roseanne. NBC's Halloween night movie about the mud-wrestling Arnolds verifies that intermarriage between a ghoul and a goblin should not occur. It also gives new meaning to Enough already ! As if one Roseanne were not sufficiently scary, "Roseanne and Tom: Behind the Scenes" spews a deuce.

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