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E!'s Busy Tonight eschews scripted monologues and sketches and lets Busy Philipps frolic down whatever tangential detours she chooses. With hilarious results, of course. Philipps and Busy Tonight's executive producers Tina Fey and Cassie St. Onge spoke with press for the TCA winter press tour, where it was consistently highlighted how refreshing the show is. I asked if there were any famed hosts that she might have even looked to for inspiration, and Philipps soon explained why she didn't exactly need other influences.
What happened to me and, like, my grand epiphany career-wise in the last several years – which is so intrinsically tied to my social media presence – was that, after 20 years of playing some incredibly beloved characters, the thing that people freaked the fuck out about was me. And when I started putting that into the world, that was the response that I was getting back was, like, 'I want more of that. Who is that girl? Can we see that girl on television?' That girl hasn’t been written. So why don’t I just be me, and let’s do it this way. So in terms of looking at other hosts, I didn’t really consider that because all I knew was that the success of this show sort of lives and dies on me not losing sight of myself.
Those words were obviously spoken with the self-aware aplomb and grace that Busy Philipps has built up in her fan-amassing career. In the last two decades or so, Philipps' life has changed in all kinds of ways, with projects like Freaks and Geeks and Cougar Town making her a beloved TV presence on the scripted front. Also in that time, the actress was also consistently proving just how fun and interesting and unpredictable she was outside of guided performances, all while building a giant social media following.
Anyone who'd seen Busy Philipps in a more relaxed interview setting knew that she was perfectly suited to take charge of her own talk show, be it in a late night setting or an early morning setting or a "somewhere beyond the boundaries of time" setting. But to bring her infectious energy to E!'s Busy Tonight, Philipps didn't exactly need to gaze upon late night's history for relevant inspiration.
Tina Fey also noted that the vibe that Busy Philipps brings to Busy Tonight is wholly her own and isn't easily comparable to other hosts on the small screen.
Fey: I do think it’s...I don’t know...I think it’s a unique experience. I think what’s really smart and great is that you are not out there trying to be any of the Jimmys.
Philipps: I've got to be me.
Fey: You are not trying to be Ellen. You bring an authenticity to it.
It's something of an understatement to say that Busy Philipps is nothing like Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Jam or any other Jimmy in the entertainment field. Perhaps her closest counterpart would be Ellen DeGeneres, in the sense that Ellen is a physical host who likes to move around and inject energy into her segments and interviews. But that's where the similarities end, since Ellen isn't going to get the kind of ribald stories that Philipps gets from her guests.
If there HAD to be someone that could be called an unofficial inspiration for Busy Tonight, that someone would almost definitely be Oprah Winfrey. Fans will likely recall the moment when Oprah called Philipps during an episode, giving the sniffle-bound host reason to start cry. (Another reason why Busy Tonight stands out is all the tears of happiness and joy that come out.
Tina Fey addressed a very specific way that Oprah's hosting panache influenced Busy Philipps' own mannerisms as a host and interviewer.
I will say you do one thing you’ve adopted and you quoted as 'the Oprah moment' is when someone says something really poignant or smart, or stumbles on a life lesson of the guest that’s visiting, you will say, 'OK. That’s the Oprah moment. Say that again.” Because, remember, Oprah used to always do that?
As the mother of two children, Busy Philipps has no doubt gotten used to hearing lots of gibberish and nonsense ideas over the years. And so, whenever one of her guests makes a particularly noteworthy or meaningful comment that needs to be showcased, Philipps will take a second to make sure everyone picked up on it. We could all use a little more of that, I'd think.
Across the gamut of talk show tics, so to speak, getting someone to repeat a thoughtful comment is probably the best one to pick up on. Although, if we're being honest, I'd be into Busy Tonight also using some of the broken-glass sound effects that were utilized on David Letterman's Late Show for so many years. It's funnier if there aren't any windows around, right? No?
While speaking to how faithful and vocal her social media presence is, Busy Philipps told the TCA crowd about the responses she's gotten from fans about her signature episode-ending line.
I made a choice to say 'I love you' into the camera at the end of every episode. It was something that I did in our first run through, and the response from fans has been really sweet and overwhelming. Because we’ve had a few people reach out, and I’ve had people come to my book signings and things and say with tears, like, 'Thank you for saying ‘I love you.’ I realized I hadn’t had anyone say that to me in a long time, and I feel like you’re saying it right to me,' which I am.
Maybe years from now, another talk show host will be rising in the ranks, and that person will have been most inspired in their career by Busy Philipps saying "I love you," each night. And the cycle of late-night talk show hosts can continue unimpeded.
Busy Tonight brings its optimistic joy and silliness to E! on Monday-Thursday nights at 11 p.m. ET, just before all of the traditional late night hosts take over. While waiting to see who Busy Philipps interviews next, be sure to keep current with everything that's premiering in the 2019 midseason schedule.