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What Is With NBC's Obsession With Making a Variety Show Happen?

By Vivian Kane | Industry | May 26, 2016 |

By Vivian Kane | Industry | May 26, 2016 |

NBC is not ready to give up its dream of housing a bona fide variety show any time soon. Maya Rudolph and Martin Short have the premiere of Maya & Marty airing next Tuesday, and just added a whole slew of top-tier guests: Tom Hanks, Jimmy Fallon, Miley Cyrus and Larry David, as well as Kenan Thompson, who’s listed as a series regular. That’s an impressive group of people for a first episode. And personally speaking, I feel like I should be a major target demographic for this show. I’m an unabashed theatre person. (I even spell it pretentiously!) I (like the rest of humanity) am a long-time fan of both of those hosts. I used to do Carol Burnett Show sketches at my high school talent shows. (Yes, I had plenty of friends, thank you.) So why am I not excited about this?

Over the last few years, NBC has been trying hard to make variety shows happen. Neil Patrick Harris had one that no one watched. Back in 2014, The Maya Rudolph Show’s pilot got decent ratings and less than favorable mixed reviews, though it did have at least one stellar highlight.

I can’t help but feel that, sadly, this is simply a medium that is incapable of drawing an audience anymore. My first instinct is to blame the direction late night television has taken. What are Lip Sync Battles, Carpool Karaoke, and whatever over-the-top Double Dare-esque game Jimmy Fallon chooses, but variety show segments themselves? Mix into our weekly viewing the SNL sketches whose ups and downs have probably taken a toll on our appreciation of the genre, and it’s no wonder why these talent-stacked shows just aren’t landing.

Maybe I’ll be wrong come Tuesday. Maybe Maya & Marty will be spectacular— a spectacular spectacular, even!— and people will actually watch. I hope that’s what happens! Let this be the variety show Renaissance! It’s possible, right?