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High-Tech, Lowbrow Talk Show Makes Itself at Home on the Web

Comic Tom Green, in a rebuilding phase, does a happily inane yakfest from his living room. Still missing: advertisers.

September 24, 2006|Chris Gaither | Times Staff Writer

Brooke Shields has been a talk show guest dozens of times during her three decades in Hollywood, including on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and "The Late Show With David Letterman."

But not until this summer, when the actress appeared on "Tom Green Live," had she cursed like a sailor on the air, gone without full makeup and sung with Siberian huskies while waiting for the host's Internet connection to come back up.

"It's kind of cool being on the cutting edge," Shields said.

Remember Green, the Canadian comedian who simulated sex with a dead moose on his groundbreaking MTV show, lost a testicle to cancer and was married -- briefly -- to movie star Drew Barrymore?

If he'd slipped your mind, you're not alone. High-profile work has been hard for Green to come by recently. So he decided to shine the spotlight on himself by creating his own call-in talk show -- broadcasting on the Web, from his Hollywood Hills living room.

Monday through Thursday, just before 8 p.m., the 35-year-old goofball slips into Letterman mode. He puts on a jacket and tie, fires up high-powered Web cameras and coaxes entertainers of varying levels of celebrity to make conversation, perform and field viewers' calls for about an hour.

With "Tom Green Live," the comedian is breaking just about every rule in television. In the process, he may end up rewriting a few, becoming a sort of online Mike Douglas for the YouTube generation.

"At first I thought it would be really good practice for a talk show," Green said. "Then I realized, it is a talk show."

Roughly 25,000 people a night tune in to ManiaTV or TomGreen.com to watch, according to executives at ManiaTV Network, the Internet broadcaster that backs Green and built the half-million-dollar studio in his home.

The live broadcast is beset with technical problems. Green's tantrums directed at the show's 26-year-old producer, Robert Kurtz, have become a running gag. Viewers e-mail Green photos of themselves wearing T-shirts that say "ROBERT!!!!"

And he's not making money from the site. There are no commercial breaks because the show has no advertisers.

Even so, Green is trying to fashion himself the president and star of his own next-generation broadcast network. Although most of his viewers tune in through ManiaTV, Green is enlisting friends such as red-carpet interviewer Melissa Rivers and comedian Neil Hamburger to host their own live shows, which he plans to broadcast on TomGreen.com.

For now, he's content to live off the proceeds of past TV and film projects. But Green, manager Howard Lapides and his William Morris Agency representatives are looking for sponsors for "Tom Green Live," putting him in a strange situation. The wacky guy who used to squabble with MTV Networks executives over how far he could push his comedy is now taking pains not to alienate potential advertisers.

"I'm also the executive now who's worried that if the host goes too far over the edge or says something too crazy, we may never be able to get Budweiser to sign on," he said deadpan.

Although Green became famous for pranks and gross-out humor that paved the way for MTV's "Jackass" and "Punk'd," his comedic roots lie in the late-night talk-show format.

Growing up in Ottawa in the 1980s, Green organized talent shows during school assemblies and hosted them in the mode of his idol, Letterman.

In 1994, while studying TV broadcasting in community college, he landed a one-hour weekly show on his local public-access cable channel, Rogers Community 22. Green sat at a desk and interviewed people he and his friends found in the phone book or plucked off the street. He mixed in recorded stunts: jumping off a high dive into a swimming pool in full hockey gear, interviewing pedestrians with pork chops taped to his face and waking his parents in the middle of the night with bagpipes blaring.

Comedy Network, a national cable channel in Canada, picked up "The Tom Green Show" after four years.

He parlayed the show's success into the big time. MTV bought it in 1999, repackaged many of his famous bits from Canada and turned Green into a pop-culture phenomenon. He went on to appear in movies such as "Road Trip" and "Charlie's Angels." The latter featured and was produced by his future wife, Barrymore.

But his fortunes turned shortly after he moved from New York to Los Angeles in 2000. Just as he met Barrymore, he learned he had testicular cancer. He stopped production of his show, except for a special episode chronicling his surgery and fight against the disease. In 2001, the house he shared with Barrymore burned down, and their marriage fell apart after only five months. The movie he wrote and directed, "Freddy Got Fingered," was widely panned as the worst film of the year.

MTV gave him another chance in 2003 with "The New Tom Green Show," a late-night talk fest. The show was generally praised but failed to find much of an audience. MTV canceled it after a few months.

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