God bless Barbara Walters. Just when she could have rested on her laurels and enjoyed her status as a bone fide LEGEND, she came out and surprised us all over again. Certainly ABC, her home network, is thanking God and Nielsen (though this may be redundant in the TV industry) for her. After the network tried just about everything else, from upscale soaps (The City) to various talk show duos (Mike & Maty, Caryl & Marilyn), ABC let Walters create The View and, with it, she single-handedly resurrected ABC morning’s television by bringing together a variety of female voices, elevating the importance and entertainment value of good old-fashioned “girl talk.” Somewhere, Virginia Graham is smiling.
Following The View‘s success, other networks have often tried to copy it. NBC tried first with Later Today, featuring three female hosts, among them, Mrs. Brady (a.k.a. Florence Henderson). That lasted less than a year. Then the network put on Men Are From Mars/Women Are From Venus, originally hosted by Cybill Shepard. It was a Politically Incorrect-inspired hour of cross talk with disparate guests (of various races, genders, and ages), all discussing assorted “relationship issues.” But for whatever reason what works in late night with Bill Maher just didn’t seem to click on daytime.
So, back to the drawing board. NBC has since revised Mars/Venus, this time with a group of disparate hosts (of various races, genders, etc.),including TV perennial Cristina Ferrare, comedian Rondell Sheridan, Loveline refugee Dr. Drew, and, from the hosting of psychic phoneline infomercials (!), Bo Griffith. This “new” Mars/Venus is still lumbering along.
The latest offering now is the rather unmemorably named The Other Half, an all-boys version of The View! Well, why not? Billed as a unique peek into the minds, mentalities, and secrets of men for the benefit of women, four guys’s guys—perpetual teenager Dick Clark, Saved By the Bell survivor Mario Lopez, former child star and DJ Danny Bonaduce, and physician/model Jan Adams—get together and gab with each other and guests about “relationship issues.”
Like the women on The View, The Other Half‘s quartet of hosts try to demographically cover all the bases. We’ve got the old guy/father figure (Clark), the young hunk (Lopez), the mature hunk-cum-intellectual (Adams), and the class clown (Bonaduce). And the wardrobe department dresses each to type: Adams in sharply cut suits, Bonaduce in looser, hipper togs, Lopez in form-fitting t-shirts.
But, still, despite their best of intentions, the four hosts seem far afield from the real experiences or the views of the “average” American male: Clark is a multi-millionaire, Bonaduce married his wife on the day he met her, and when was the last time your physician posed for Chanel? As an “average” American man myself, exactly which one of these four is supposedly speaking on my behalf?
Of course, though, this is a TV show, not the US congress; entertainment is the goal, not cross-sectional representation. And in that way, Half is still finding its footing, trying to find the right mix of entertainment and information. At the moment, it’s suffering from what many talk shows suffer from in the beginning, that is, trying to be everything to everyone, just throwing everything at the fourth wall to see what eventually sticks.
There’s a lot going on in each of these hours, too much, in fact, as the hosts find themselves marooned in too short, yet over-produced segments that attempt to educate but really are just an excuse for the hosts to crack weak jokes and engage in self-deprecating antics. These shenanigans take place against the background yelps of its all-female studio audience, so loud and rowdy, you wonder if they’ve been drugged. Anxious to impress and amuse, the program zings from segment to segment hardly giving anyone—the hosts, the guests, or the audience members—a chance to focus or even catch his or her breath. (The program’s maturation has been further hampered by the fact that it premiered just one day before the World Trade Center/Pentagon tragedies; the show is now trying to walk a fine line between being respectful and giving its group of irreverent hosts something interesting to do.)
Still, despite the show’s currently schizophrenic state, there are a couple of things worth watching. So far, the breakout star is the surprisingly congenial Lopez. Happy-go-lucky, at ease, and good at interviews, he’s leaving his Slater persona behind. While Lopez might have been hired for his pecs and dimples, he has proved he has more to offer. Similarly, Bonaduce (who briefly helmed his own daytime talk show, Danny!) has retrieved his reputation from has-been infamy, and he’s quite engaging if, at times, a little too eager to go for the laugh. Sometimes less is more.
Not so worth watching are Adams and Clark. Adams was probably hired for his looks as much as his Ivy League education, but he’s far too awkward on the set: he seems afraid to talk. Perhaps he’ll get his water legs soon. Still, Adams doesn’t seem as out of place as Dick Clark. He’s the supposed Barbara Walters of this wild bunch, being a legend and all. But his fame is based on his hosting duties on American Bandstand and on various game shows like The $25,000 Pyramid. Clark has never actually been a talk show host—the closest he’s ever gotten, I suppose, were his “happy talk” teamings with the equally inexplicably famous Ed McMahon. Sorry, but those don’t count.
Though Clark knows his way around a Teleprompter (he should give Adams some tips), he just doesn’t project the openness or strength of personality needed to make this team work well, or to allow the players to bounce off each other effectively. A lot of the fun on The View stems from its hosts’ willingness to share deeply personal stories. Even Barbara Walters. Again and again, she fearlessly leaves behind her grande dame persona in order to be “one of the girls.” By comparison, Clark still projects a Hugh Downs-like tv-coolness, and he seems not only out of place with this younger group, but also ill at ease in the supposedly free-for-all dialogues about men and women in which this group is trying to engage.
Further, fighting against the cohesiveness needed to make a show like this work is the repeated formal splintering of the four hosts. One segment will be hosted only by Bonaduce and Lopez, with the other gentlemen missing in action. After the commercial, Bonaduce’s back sitting next to Adams and now it’s Lopez who is missing. Clark, by far the most famous name among the show’s hosts, surprisingly, garners the least airtime. But, then again, maybe Clark by taking himself out of the mix is showing good judgment here as, when it comes to the actual topics discussed on the show, the talk ultimately comes across as pandering, not only to women but to men as well. Years ago, Lifetime tried a weekly show called Esquire: About Men, For Women, starring a pre-Today Matt Lauer. (You think this job is still listed on his resume?!)
Like that effort, The Other Half never quite delivers on its promise. The so-called inside scoop about men that Clark and company divulge for the benefit of female viewers is old news to any woman over the age of twelve. Especially cringe-inducing was a recent segment where Bonaduce and Lopez, with a female guest “expert,” gave tips on how women (and their husbands or boyfriends) could better deal with monthly menstrual pain. Despite their giddy enthusiasm, neither of the guys had much to add to the discussion and I doubt that too many women watching picked up any useful tips.
This then raises the question: just who is this show’s intended audience? Is it designed for women, to grant them, as Bonaduce has said in the press, a glimpse into the “other team’s playbook”? If so, then what are Mario and Danny doing talking about bloating and cramps? Or is it a program for men? If so, then why is it on daytime TV which, despite economic and social changes, is still a primarily female audience? Until it makes up its mind, The Other Half will continue to languish in a bland limbo.
So, if the show doesn’t work as a vehicle for practical information, then what about as an entertaining peak into that “playbook”? Well, right now, The Other Half is far too warm and fuzzy to be insightful or, for that matter, very accurate as to the “inner lives” of most American men. If The Other Half reflects how men really are, then how does one explain the other end of the spectrum, the frat house mentality of Comedy Central’s The Man Show or of HBO’s new Mind of a Married Man?
And, unfortunately, if The Other Half and The Man Show are tv viewers’ only options for clues to the male psyche, well then, I’m switching back to Barbara and the ladies of The View. I suggest that you do the same.