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Lopez Tonight | usspost.com

November 10, 2009 by USA Post 

TV critics love to write pieces that discuss trends in television. They’re easy to crank out, they can run any day they’re needed and it’s not likely that anything in the piece will be substantial enough to be eventually proven wrong. Which is one of the reasons you’ve seen a number of articles in recent days that talk about the “changing face of late night television.” The premise of all these pieces is that the debut of new talk shows from Wanda Sykes and George Lopez have some over-arching social meaning.

While it’s true that neither Sykes nor Lopez are white, lumping them together is not unlike comparing David Letterman’s talk show to the one hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. Yes, Letterman and Kimmel both the same skin color, but that’s about as far as the similarities extend. If that wasn’t evident before their respective shows premiered, it’s certainly obvious after the debuts.

“The Wanda Sykes Show” premiere on Saturday was a bit of a mess. Sykes seemed nervous and off-center and the prepared bits generally fell flat. You can’t make an ultimate judgment on a talk show after one episode, but it wasn’t a promising start.

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By contrast, George Lopez hit the stage running on all cylinders during his premiere on Monday. While he’s still got some edges to work off in the show’s execution, there was much more right with the show than wrong. It was funny, a bit politically incorrect and the perfect answer to those viewers who long for the golden days of the Arsenio Hall talk show.

While “Lopez Tonight” has a lot of familiar talk show elements, the look and feel of the program seem almost cinematic. The set for the show is a massive stage and Lopez uses every square foot of it in his monologue. The camera shoots him almost straight on and in a slight close-up. So as he moves back and forth talking about why he’s thrilled to have his own talk show, it comes off as more of a concert film than a cable talk show.

Now I won’t argue that Lopez’s long opening monologue was funny. He spent a lot of time talking about how excited he was to see all parts of America reflected in his show. He interspersed those comments with more traditional jokes, which seemed a bit jarring at times. While he wasn’t anywhere near as funny as he has been in other situations, Lopez was so calm and solidly comfortable that you might think he had been doing his own talk show for years.

Next up was a “surprise” visit from Ellen DeGeneres, who showed up in her pajamas. The resulting bit wasn’t really all that funny, but you could tell she thought it was important to be there. Hopefully, she’ll return again soon and be a normal guest, which should help the entertainment value of her appearance immensely.

The huge laughs didn’t kick in until the following segment, when Lopez picked two people out of the audience and had them compete against each other in a little game. He showed them a few seconds of someone being interviewed outside his studio, and ask them to answer a question that typically was a play on some racial stereotype. Had the well-dressed black man ever been in jail? Had the girl from the Philippines ever given someone a “happy ending?” Lopez was really in his element here and showed a real knack for getting the best out of audience members.

His first official celebrity guest was Eva Longoria Parker, and like his second guest Kobe Bryant, Lopez had known her for years. That explains their comfort level on camera, but the conversation was still fun and out of the ordinary for late night TV. And hey, any interview segment that ends with Eva Longoria swinging around a stripper pole (and complaining that everyone could see her “hoo-ha) is my definition of quality entertainment.

Next up was Kobe Bryant, who doesn’t do a lot of television talk shows. The interview wasn’t all that revealing, but it wasn’t boring and in a first show, that’s a positive thing.

The show wrapped with Carlos Santana playing a couple of numbers, and while he was really wailing away, I think he also might have caused the show to run over a couple of minutes. Which might explain a couple of those odd edits earlier in the episode.

As I mentioned in my take on the Sykes premiere, you can’t judge the success of a talk show by its first episode. But the debut of “Lopez Tonight” was smoking hot, and maybe it’s just the white guy in me, but I’m less concerned with Lopez’s ethnic background than whether or not he’s funny. He was hilarious on his ABC sitcom and if this premiere is any indication, fans should start setting aside some time to attend the show’s fifth anniversary party.

Because “Lopez Tonight” is going to be here for a long time.

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