Remembering the Quick Demise of “The Chevy Chase Show”

Remembering the Quick Demise of “The Chevy Chase Show”

When Chevy Chase became the star of Saturday Night Livethe first season of in the fall of 1975, much ink was spilled speculating on what he might do next. The movies were a virtual certainty, but to some Chase’s ease during his fake “Weekend Update” newscast segments seemed to hint that he could be late night TV’s next big thing. .

“Industry sources report that network execs see Chase” as Johnny Carson’s first real potential successor when he quits The show tonight,'” writing new York magazine. “The network is preparing a major development deal with Chase and, over the next six months or so, plans to use Chase as a guest host on This evening.”

Hunting left SNL during its second season, moving to theaters. And he would end up being the guest host The show tonight In the 1980s. But his ease in succeeding Carson was exaggerated.

When The Chevy Chase Show created in 1993, it only lasted a total of 29 episodes.

For decades, Johnny Carson was the only brand name in late night gaming. Joan Rivers attempted to mount a challenge on behalf of Fox with The late show in 1986, but the ratings were austere. (Carson, who had used Rivers as a guest host on his show, was reportedly upset that she hadn’t mentioned the Fox adventure to him and stopped talking to him.) Other than Arsenio Hall who was doing well in syndication, hardly anyone could not challenge Carson’s rule.

When Carson retired in 1992, networks raced to fill the void. Although David Letterman was a candidate to replace him on The show tonight, that spot went to Jay Leno. Letterman moved on to CBS; Conan O’Brien replaced Letterman at 12:35 p.m. This left Fox pondering an entry into free-for-all once again.

Ron Nessen and Chevy Chase are pictured

Ron Nessen (L) and Chase as Gerald Ford on ‘SNL’ / Owen Franken – Corbis/GettyImages

The network’s first choice was Dolly Parton. Although the country music singer has no experience hosting talk shows, she had done television work in the past – including a short-lived variety series for ABC, which aired from 1987 to 1988. – and was almost universally adored. Parton ultimately wasn’t interested, but her manager, Sandy Gallin, told Fox executive Lucie Salhany that Fox should consider Chevy Chase.

The actor (whose real name is Cornelius Crane Chase) had come as part of the National Lampoon comedy troupe, performing on both their radio programs and on stage. This led to his big break on SNLwhere its depiction of then-President Gerald Ford as a clumsy, accident-prone fool helped make the series an up-to-date hit.

Chase left the show in 1976 for what he later said was a West Coast relationship; the far more lucrative world of movies also beckoned. After a string of hits in the 1980s, including Caddyshack, Fletchand the National Lampoon’s Holiday movies, he fell into a slump in the early 90s with box office duds like nothing but problems And Memoirs of an Invisible Man. But TV executives didn’t care about falling box office receipts. Echoing the sentiment surrounding Chase nearly 20 years earlier, Salhany thought the 50-year-old could be a candidate. Fox wrote him a check for $3 million, and The Chevy Chase Show was scheduled for a fall 1993 debut.

Fox spared little expense by mounting a challenge to Letterman and Leno. In addition to what they paid Chase, they spent $1 million renovating a Los Angeles theater and renaming it after their star attraction. The network assured its affiliates that Chase could deliver nearly 5 million viewers each night. Even better: Chase would arrive at 11 p.m., more than 30 minutes earlier than the competition. When these programs started, Chase was planning to switch to a segment somewhat similar to its “Weekend Update” segment of SNL.

When asked to describe his approach at a press conference in July 1993, Chase was cautious. “The fact that I’m not a comedian and I don’t have material I’m willing to go out with is a real challenge for me, and you just have to see what happens,” he said. . “I just have this desire in my stomach to go back and subversively screw up TV a little bit again.”

Although headlines later chastised Fox for enlisting an actor with limited hosting experience, that wasn’t quite true: Chase had hosted two Oscar ceremonies, co-hosted in 1987 and solo. in 1988. Additionally, he had done television specials and performed live on SNL. An innocuous chat program seemed well within its capabilities.

The Chevy Chase Show premiered on September 7, 1993, with the advertiser stating that Chase “still wasn’t ready for prime time”. New York Times critic John J. O’Connor agreed, recoiling from everything from the set (“an awkward wooden arrangement…suggesting the toilets of Radio City Music Hall”) to the monologue, which Chase kept interrupting with bits recorded.

The arrival on stage of guests Whoopi Goldberg and Goldie Hawn didn’t really help, although Hawn (her co-star in 1978 Cheating) had his 17-year-old son, Oliver, in the audience so Chase could wish him a happy birthday and “accidentally” drop a cake in front of him.

While speaking with stars like Hawn, and later Robert De Niro and Dennis Hopper, Chase seemed uneasy. He talked about nose hair and farting with Goldberg. He asked Beverly Hills 90210 star Jason Priestley if fame had changed him. In the opinion of Los Angeles Times critic Howard Rosenberg, only Martin Short had managed to escape unscathed.

Salhany would later describe Chase as “very nervous” and claim that it was “uncomfortable and embarrassing to watch him”. Hopper claimed he felt “sorry for him” and noticed Chase shaking as he took a drink. “He needs to relax,” said the Easy Rider the star of the new talk show host later said.

It takes time for a program to install, and Chase seemed to get more comfortable over the weeks. But by then, the narrative around the show was already negative. Weekly entertainment reported that the show’s aquarium fish were dying and that staff members were trying to recruit viewers from retirement communities and halfway houses. Fox’s promises of delivering a 5 rating were also largely hopeless: Although the first episode scored a 5.7, Chase then edged closer to a 2, vastly surpassed by the show. information from Letterman and ABC. night line.

Affiliates phoned Fox to express concern. Salhany pulled every lever possible, hiring a new generation of writers and talent scouts in a bid to save the show, but the bleeding couldn’t be stemmed. Salhany later admitted that the show’s critical reputation led to problems attracting guests. The public, she said, “wouldn’t accept” Chase even if he improved.

“We can’t let this go on forever,” she said, as if the show was a suffering hospice patient.

Finally, after 29 nights on the air, Fox broke the news to Chase after a Friday taping: the show was over. Fox soon began airing repeats of In living color in the vacated time slot.

“Despite Chevy’s commitment and our best creative and production minds, we started slowly and fell short of expectations,” Salhany said. “We didn’t see anything to indicate the show was going to change.” Chase released a statement describing the discussion format as “binding.” He resumed his film career and later co-starred in the NBC sitcom Community.

Despite reports that Fox was determined to launch another late-night show — possibly starring controversial radio personality Howard Stern — nothing came of it until 2006, when comedian and screenwriter Spike Feresten started to animate one. In 2009, Feresten’s show was also toast, but with three seasons under its belt, it had officially become the longest-running late-night talk show in Fox history.

As Chase himself told Carson in 1986, “You have to know how hard it is to do. No one will be the next Johnny Carson.


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