You know the boss is plugged-in when he gets the President to pop in for a little pep talk on opening night.
Super-producer Quincy Jones (Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles) invaded a new medium Monday night with the premiere of "VIBE TV," the cathode-ray companion to his hip-hop culture monthly magazine, and President Clinton was on hand to launch Quincy's latest venture with style.
After a short speech from Clinton on the importance of peaceful race relations, Jones introduced the host of his program, popular stand-up comedian Chris Spencer, who couldn't do enough to thank his benefactor for handing him the reigns of the latest entry into the late-night ratings game.
Spencer, an amiable, if a bit bland, host, despite sweating nearly as profusely as Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, made a playful jibe at his equally new competitor, Keenen Ivory Wayans (In Living Colour), who launched his urban-themed syndicated talker on the same night with actress Jada Pinkett, George of the Jungle star Brendan Fraser and Babyface. Pretending a fruit basket from the Wayans family was poisoned, Spencer hit the ground in mock pain.
Considering the difficulty of launching a new late-night gabfest ("Has anyone seen Chevy around?"), not to mention having the syndicated show on smaller network stations, Spencer's mock TV death might not have been too far off.
Taking place on a somewhat bland soundstage that, perhaps not coincidentally, brought to mind long-gone late-night talker Arsenio Hall's deskless set, Spencer took a seat on his animal print chair and kept a cavalcade of surprise guests coming, but was surprisingly slow on the chat with visitors and displayed little of the quick wit of his stand-up routine.
In addition to an odd first choice of guests, dorky white guy Anthony Edwards of ER and Revenge of the Nerds fame, the show featured BLACKstreet and Ex-Guns 'N Roses guitarist Slash reprising their collaboration on the song "Fix," (RealAudio excerpt) and Moesha star/recording artist Brandy, who was surprised by her Cinderella co-star Whoopi Goldberg and model Tyson. Salt 'n Pepa stopped by with DJ Spinderella to help Spencer read off the list of upcoming guests, which included Mel Gibson, LL Cool J, Salt 'n Pepa, Wu-Tang Clan and Demi Moore.
Spike Lee and Denzel Washington popped-in via satellite from the set of Lee's latest movie and Kirk Franklin and Nu Nation brought a little religion to the show with their hip-hop gospel, in between a not-so-funny Spencer spoof on a Michael Jordan commercial and a historic film clip from Richard Pryor's first televised appearance.
Monday's premier had the feel of an oddly-paced variety show of old, with multiple musical guests spread throughout the hour, which might actually be a welcome relief from the usual plug-fests presented by the likes of dueling late-night kings David Letterman and Jay Leno. Based on the Conan O'Brien factor (whose later-night show runs prior to Leno's on NBC) however, it's way too early to tell if Spencer is the right man for the job.
Hell, one skit had Jones joking about rejecting an unnamed potential celebrity, saying "my pool boy would be better." The pool boy? Spencer, of course. But with a boss like Jones available to pick up the phone and call in the odd booking favor, "VIBE TV" has the potential to be star-studded for a while, at the very least.
But what's up with the band being called the Mouse Trap? As Quincy himself said, "That's wack."