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Late Night FOX: Are You Ready for Magic?

Are you ready for Magic?

Back in the late nineties, FOX was kind of a counter culture channel, or at least that’s what it always promoted itself as. While other networks had SNL, they had “In Living Color” comprised of a lot of very controversial comedy skits. FOX is notorious for its gallery of cancelled programming as is noted in the famous opening scene of the first episode of the “Family Guy” revival. Around the late nineties, Arsenio Hall had been cancelled and taken off of television, losing the late night wars to Leno and Letterman. Naturally, FOX tried as hard as possible, and multiple times, to create a new talk show that was similar in tone to Arsenio Hall and could compete with Leno and or Letterman.

The results were absolutely disastrous and ridiculous and yes, I saw them both! Of course, the summer time was when Leno and Letterman typically took some time off of their shows, so FOX launched both “The Keenan Ivory Wayans Show” and “The Magic Hour” in the summers of 1997 and 1998. Long time FOX collaborator Keenan Ivory Wayans used his star power and pull with the company to produce his own late night talk show which, for lack of a better word, was absolutely abysmal. Not only did Wayans’ comedy never really strike a chord with audiences, but Wayans was quite awful in interviewing his guests. It’s one of the main reasons why Arsenio Hall was kind of a flash in the pain.

He had almost no interview skills and FOX didn’t learn their lesson. Keenan had charisma, he was funny, but he had presence, and often times only interviewed people he felt very comfortable with. So most times when it was clear he couldn’t book anyone, he’d bring on family and friends, including his brothers Shawn and Marlon, both of whom had a sitcom on a rival network at the time. And who can forget Keenan’s house band, the gorgeous group of female musicians “Ladies of the Night”? For a half hour show, Keenan didn’t have much filler, and still never really could hit his momentum with his very short lived late night show. “The Magic Hour” was the more heinous of the pairing, where FOX didn’t just stumble, but fell right in to becoming a pop culture laughing stock for a short while.

Magic Johnson was one of the most popular basketball stars of all time who was known for being famously a gifted sports star, and infamously for… well you know. While Johnson always had something of a good personality and charm to him, the idea to turn him in to a late night talk show host was absurd beyond all comprehension. In the summer of 1998, FOX television premiered “The Magic Hour” which relied on Magic Johnson carrying an entire hour of interviews, monologues, and comedy all by himself, and it was painful. Johnson has always had a reputation for being hard to express himself, and even a bit slow. If you ever saw the “Family Guy” gag where he instructs us how to destroy the Death Star, that was Magic Johnson all over. He was awkward, painful, and didn’t know how to read a script and make it sound natural. Imagine that guy hosting a TV show.

What “The Magic Hour” did do that no one else was at the time, was employing a female band leader for the show’s band. The great Sheila E was given the task of band leader. And, as always, like many talk show hosts after Arsenio, including George Lopez, Johnson would come on stage to dance with the band leader for a bit because this was a party! Not a talk show. Johnson was about as awkward and painful to watch as you can imagine and, despite having some pretty big stars like Mel Gibson, had a very hard time garnering any kind of chemistry with anyone. In only its first season, the show was retooled after Johnson failed to have any kind of interplay with sidekick and comedian Craig Shoemaker. After many other failed sidekicks, Johnson was given ex-“In Living Color” star Tommy Davidson, who picked up the comedic slack.

Davidson, of course, was hired to up the laughs as Magic really did nothing but gape in awe at everything, and laugh non-stop while his guests spoke. The show also tried hard to turn Magic and Sheila E in to the new Leno and Eubanks, but the pairing felt so forced and manufactured. By the time “The Magic Hour” was over, the show fell victim to a rivalry with Howard Stern, and became the butt of a ton of jokes, as well as a hilarious recurring sketch on “Mad TV.” If you want a good laugh, watch one of Johnson’s interviews on his show, and then visit Aries Spears’ impression of Johnson hosting the show. It’s uncanny and laugh out loud funny, suffice to say.

It’s interesting how FOX tried very hard to re-invent the late night talk show throughout the nineties and eventually gave up when they decided it was just easier to air infomercials. Sadly, infomercials are also much more entertaining than watching Magic Johnson having a difficult time getting through an interview with Howard Stern. The idea of competing late night talk shows was never a bad idea, but FOX never actually caught on to what makes a good late night talk show at all. They were at least two really unusual summer season experiments that allowed Aries Spears to break out his brilliant Magic Johnson impersonation.

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Vaporman87 Posted on May 31, 2017 at 03:43 PM

Am I wrong or was Keenan the least successful in terms of career following In Living Color?

Hoju Koolander Posted on May 28, 2017 at 01:41 PM

I definitely tuned into The Magic Hour based solely on his pop culture status, but Sheila E was the only point of real entertainment. I saw the promos for Keenan's show, but preferred to watch The Wayans Bros or Jamie Foxx show on the WB.

pikachulover Posted on May 28, 2017 at 01:16 AM

I remember both of these shows. Like you I remember how awkward they were. I agree that Magic had a hard time hosting the show. Sometimes sports figures make bad talk show hosts.

Do you happen to remember the show VIBE? I think I watched it a few times there for musical guests. I did see the episode Save Ferris was on.

Vaporman87 Posted on May 26, 2017 at 07:28 AM

I don't recall Mr. Wayans' show, but I definitely remember Magic's awful show, and I felt really bad for him. He was a hero of mine for so long, and to have him get involved in such a poorly conceived and executed endeavor was disheartening. He has such a great personality, but that just didn't translate into being a good host.

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