A long-comatose genre returns to TV on Tuesday night when “Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris” debuts on NBC.
It’s a one-hour variety show, done live, in the tradition of “The Ed Sullivan Show.” (Ask your grandparents.)
NBC’s Web page promoting the show promises “A-list stars, stunts, comedy skits, incredible performances, mini game shows, audience giveaways and hidden camera pranks.”
Oldsters will make comparisons, but it’s apples and oranges. Don’t expect to see plate spinners, roller-skating chimps, trained bears or Senor Wences (“S’awright? S’awright”). I’m 100% confident about the Senor Wences part; he passed away in 1999 at 103.
If this mashup doesn’t work, it won’t be because of Harris. He’s already taken on the biggest pinata job in television, hosting the Academy Awards, and survived.
Ed Sullivan wasn’t a performer, didn’t claim to be. He was an old-time newspaper guy, first as a sportswriter and later covering Broadway, where his columns competed with Walter Winchell’s. The original name of Ed’s Sunday night CBS show was “Toast of the Town.” It debuted in 1948; the name was changed in 1955.
“The Ed Sullivan Show” was canceled in 1971, a victim of “The F.B.I.” (Efrem Zimbalist Jr. on ABC, not J. Edgar and his G-Men).
Oddly, Ed lives on nightly in the cable/satellite universe as Time Life infomercials peddle DVDs filled with 12 hours of eclectic clips. The only constant is Old Stoneface, eternally wooden, mangling every introduction and America loving him for it.