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On 'Talkshow,' the TV personality needs more personality

Very few people are going to watch ``Talkshow With Spike Feresten, " which will air on Saturdays at midnight on Fox. And that's a good thing for Spike Feresten. Having made a name for himself as a writer for ``Seinfeld" and David Letterman, Feresten is now moving in front of the camera. He's pulling a Conan O'Brien, coming out of relative obscurity to host his own talk show.

Feresten's not awful, and the show he has built around himself with video segments has a few laugh-out-loud moments. But he clearly needs to find his identity behind the desk, and midnights on Fox (starting tonight on Channel 25) are a good place to do that. Feresten needs time to cultivate where he's coming from persona-wise, and at what level of irony he is operating from.

With a TV figure such as Mo Rocca , the satire is written all over his face, and with Letterman, of course, the irony is clear. But Feresten is kind of this, kind of that: a little smug and highbrow, a little self-deprecating, with a smile that could be nervous or could be warm. He has trademark rectangular fashion glasses, but no trademark humor.

Even his guests seem a little baffled about who they're sitting next to. Andy Richter , tonight, is asked to take pot shots at himself, which he does gamely but poorly. The former O'Brien sidekick has been cast as the opening guest to remind viewers that Feresten could turn out to be the next O'Brien, and Richter seems to understand that is his only purpose here. And next week, Mary Lynn Rajskub , who plays Chloe on ``24," appears uncomfortable when Feresten reveals a picture of her being kissed by Rush Limbaugh, and awkward as she is invited to swig cold medicine and operate heavy machinery.

Wisely, Feresten doesn't attempt a monologue. Also wisely, he has surrounded himself with video skits that make the weekly half-hour more than just his hosting rehearsal time.

Appearing more relaxed talking directly to the camera instead of to a live audience or a guest, he gives us an instruction video on ``How to Do Man in the Street Comedy." And he has come up with a crudely funny B.B. King ad that finds the blues great singing about illnesses, as well as a segment about a search for a sidekick among the denizens of the studio's unsafe neighborhood.

My favorite bit is called ``Idiot Paparazzi," and it shows pack photographers chasing ordinary people on the street whom they mistake for famous people. At the same time, I could easily have seen the same bit on any number of late-night series. So far, like the rest of the show, there's nothing peculiarly Feresten about it.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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