Alec Baldwin is wonderful at a lot of things. With his commanding voice and icy presence, he can steal a scene like few men in Hollywood. Beyond that, he’s also arguably the single greatest host in the history of Saturday Night Live and sometimes maintains the most entertaining account on all of Twitter. The man has a lot of clear and definable skills, but unlike someone like George Clooney, he has some clear limitations too.
For years, movie executives tried to make Baldwin a leading man in big budget films. That plan never worked. For years, the actor has been vowing to stop fighting with the paparazzi. That has also failed. And now, his MSNBC show that seemed like such a promising idea is likely headed for a retool or eventual cancellation after the newest chunk of numbers saw the program hit some record lows.
In theory, finding a good talk show host should be far simpler than finding a star in just about any other field. You just need someone with charisma who has enough juice to bring in eyeballs and has enough to say to carry guests who aren’t always great conversationalists. Unfortunately, the truth in practice is far different. It really doesn’t matter how famous the host might be. What viewers are looking for is the right balance between humor and discussion and most importantly, a product that has a nice flow to it.
Up Late With Alec Baldwin hasn’t yet been able to find its groove and because of his personal problems, it's shutting down for the next two weeks. If it doesn’t get it together quickly, it could find itself on the cutting room floor, and Baldwin could find common ground with the talented men and women on this list who have a lot of skills but could never truly find comfortable ground as a talk show host.
John McEnroeWhat He’s Good At: playing tennis, being a tennis analyst, giving interviews, making pop culture appearances as himself and yelling at line judges.
Why His Talk Show Didn’t Work: Thanks to some appearances guest hosting The Late Show With David Letterman, his work as a commentator on tennis matches and his explosive personality, CNBC decided to give the tennis legend his own show back in 2004. It actually produced some interesting moments during its six months or so on the air, but McEnroe never seemed completely comfortable during interviews. Following a few attempts to retool and a disastrous 0.0 rating on two separate occasions, the network pulled the plug.
New Format Recommendation: McEnroe should stick to being the analyst during tennis matches. He’s an A+ at that, but if he were to get his own show again, I would recommend it take an Anthony Bourdaine No Reservations type format. The former professional athlete is great at interacting with the public, and he’s always good for a few blow-ups. Setting him loose on the streets to go have fun would make for a very entertaining program.
Pat SajakWhat He’s Good At: hosting Wheel Of Fortune, doing the local news, being a weatherman.
Why His Talk Show Didn’t Work: Sajak is extremely comfortable on the air. He has a nice ease about him and a smooth chemistry with most guests. Unfortunately, he doesn’t necessarily have a comedic or intellectual tone when he speaks. Most good talk show hosts either come off like the smartest person in the room or the funniest person in the room. Sajak just came off like a professional guy who was pretty good at his job. That was enough for people to have a somewhat enjoyable time, but it wasn’t necessarily good enough for people to intentionally tune in.
New Format Recommendation: Sajak is a game show host through and through. He’s pretty good at other things, but he’s great at that. So, rather than getting his own program, I would strongly suggest networks start taking a look at him when they have large primetime event programs such as Million Second Quiz.
Chevy ChaseWhat He’s Good At: Pretending to be the coolest guy in the world, acting oblivious, working off the cuff and writing.
Why His Talk Show Didn’t Work: Even when Chase was at the height of his fame during the mid-to-late 1970s and very early 1980s, his banter mostly hyped himself and acted above everything going on in the world. That perspective worked remarkably well in short bursts and on something like Weekend Update, but you can’t pull off consistent brilliance when you’re carrying an entire show. So, to compensate for that, he tried quite a bit, too much in fact. He was always getting up to zany shenanigans and imploring the audience to get loud, none of which was particularly fun to watch at home.
New Format Recommendation: Chase needs to have a segment on a larger program that he can carefully control and play to his strengths. He needs to be the Andy Rooney of his generation, an interesting and curmudgeonly mind that can get in, make his point and get out in order to leave on a high note, George Costanza style.
Joan RiversWhat She’s Good At: stand up comedy, speaking bluntly, self-deprecating humor, criticizing others and drawing a crowd.
Why Her Talk Show Didn’t Work: Rivers has had a number of talk shows and roundtable projects over the years. Some of them, most notably an afternoon talk show, have done decently well, but her attempt at doing her own late night program was a spectacular failure. At the time, she was Johnny Carson’s permanent guest host, and there were rumors she might take over for the legendary comedian whenever he decided to retire. Sensing that wouldn’t happen, she decided to accept an offer from Fox to do her own show. Carson was normally all for others taking new jobs, but because she never told him, he felt betrayed and never spoke to her again. Even worse, the network fired her and her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, for a wide variety of reasons within a year, and a few months after that, he took his own life.
New Format Recommendation: Rivers works better in a team format. Her personality is so aggressive and over the top that she needs someone to counterbalance that. That’s why she’s so perfect for Fashion Police.
Magic JohnsonWhat He’s Good At: playing basketball, owning the dodgers, analyzing basketball games in a studio format, business, being an ambassador for those with HIV/ AIDS and likeability.
Why His Talk Show Didn’t Work: Anyone who has ever seen Johnson interviewed knows the man has a lot to say. He’s a good businessman and has a unique take on life. He’s also just a good dude who relates well to others, but The Magic Hour didn’t really let him play to any of those strengths. His interview segments were uncomfortable. His partnership with comedian Craig Shoemaker was awkward, and he was remarkably bad at reading lines other people had written. The show was mercifully cancelled after about three months or so.
New Format Recommendation: Just as there is a difference in skillsets between a play-by-play guy and an analyst, there is a difference in skillsets between being the guy who needs to welcome the audience to a program and keep everything moving and the guy who just needs to show up and say informative things when asked. Johnson is very good at being the second guy. Therefore, any future projects he does have to involve at least one other person to handle the more basic mechanics of putting on a TV program.
Keenen Ivory WayansWhat He’s Good At: commenting on popular culture, producing, doing impressions, writing and having famous family members.
Why His Talk Show Didn’t Work: Most of the other people on this list offered up really boisterous and cocky taglines for their programs. Keenen, however, decided to go with “Late night talk the Wayans way”, which is a factually correct statement that still holds up today. Unfortunately, the Wayans way didn’t bring in nearly enough eyeballs to stay on the air. The show attempted to hit the “urban” demographic really hard, but thanks to heavy competition from fellow talk show Vibe, which also premiered in the summer of 1997, it was never able to corner the market on that demographic enough. In the end, it was a case of the double cockblock, and neither program was able to make it more than a year.
New Format Recommendation: The show featured a lot of random sketches, which made sense since Wayans’ greatest success came with In Living Color, but by the time you do sketches and have an opening monologue, it’s hard to actually get into a groove, especially with the limited runtime of thirty minutes. Personally, I would rather see him go to a more conventional format because he’s actually a sharp guy who can interview well.
Adam CarollaWhat He’s Good At: podcasting, working with his hands, stand-up comedy, writing bestselling books, having a sensible point of view.
Why His Talk Show Didn’t Work: Thanks to his long history of success on the radio and the greatness of The Man Show, a whole lot was expected of Adam Carolla’s show Too Late when it premiered in 2005, but sadly, it didn’t even last six months. The format offered a strange mix between goofy segments like Germany Or Florida? and Can Ray Break This? and interviews with various celebrities like Steve-O who got drunk and tackled the host in what turned out to be easily the program’s most memorable moment.
New Format Recommendation: Sketches are a bad idea for Carolla. They’re funny in theory, but his true strength is talking off the cuff and having genuine conversations. That’s what he’s able to do on the radio. That’s what he’s able to do on his podcast, and that’s what he’s able to do during his weekly segment on The O’Reilly Factor.