Everyone thinks he (or she) would make a great talk-show host. But as Chevy Chase and Magic Johnson might warn you, it doesn't just require a desire to schmooze and make shtick -- that latter activity portrayed so painfully in the satire ''The King of Comedy." Successful interviewing on camera is an art, and a nebulous art at that. Why some -- such as Jay Leno and James Lipton of ''Inside the Actor's Studio" -- thrive despite their awkwardness while others disappear into the electronic void is one of TV's big mysteries.
Tonight at 10, David Steinberg tries his luck at staged chitchat on TV Land's six-episode series ''Sit Down Comedy With David Steinberg." With a wide smile glued across his face, the comedian, writer, producer, and director spends an hour each week talking with a different comedy star in front of a live and lively audience of UCLA students. The list of guests includes Larry David, Martin Short, Bob Newhart, Jon Lovitz, George Lopez, and, tonight, Mike Myers, and the talk is generally light and loose. ''I'm not like James Lipton," Steinberg says to Myers, as if declaring his mission statement. ''He overprepares."
And Steinberg does a perfectly good job at the wheel despite his lack of preparation, wisely playing straight man to the quirky performers onstage beside him. His goal is to keep his guests on track -- no easy task with a showoff like Myers -- so they can feel free to play and improvise. You can see Steinberg's experience as a director at play as the guests wander off subject, trusting Steinberg won't let them flail. He also encourages his guests to rib him for their and our amusement, which Myers frequently does after Steinberg admits ignorance about Myers's history.
Do we learn anything about Myers and his creative methods? Oh, a tad, as he talks about developing characters such as Austin Powers and reaching the point where he knows they've become more than just clever accents. Next week, Larry David shares some interesting thoughts about his love of improvisation, ''funny yelling," and how he is different from his TV persona: ''That's the guy I really want to be," he says.
But ''Sit Down Comedy" is really about the amiable chatter, with only a passing nod at insight. After asking David a ridiculous question about his breakfast schedule, Steinberg admits, ''I'm obviously not Charlie Rose." His show is a buoyant, distracting hour of Hollywood play, and proud of it.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.