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High-Concept Chelsea a Sign of Deficit In Late-Night Stars

2 minute read

Jimmy Fallon’s first guest on The Tonight Show was Will Smith; Stephen Colbert began his run on The Late Show with George Clooney. On Chelsea, Netflix’s new late-night show, guest No. 1 was John B. King Jr., the U.S. Secretary of Education. Host Chelsea Handler, who left her popular E! series in 2014, is strenuously attempting to prove that one can be both bawdily fun and deeply thoughtful. So she made King quiz her in the world’s easiest game of Trivial Pursuit. (He asked her to name the continents; she forgot Africa, despite having traveled there extensively.) Handler’s conceit is that she’s not just hosting a talk show; she’s learning about America. But the same episode also featured pop-culture fixtures Pitbull and Drew Barrymore.

It’s understandable that Handler, who mastered trash talk with and about D-listers, might want to try something new. Chelsea issues episodes three nights a week at 12:01 a.m. P.T. They are designed to be evergreen and watched anytime. The guests, who have also included TED impresario Chris Anderson and Gwyneth Paltrow, are meant to enlighten, not just push product.

Trailers for the show emphasized Handler heading out of the studio: She goes on a mud obstacle course and attends a summit with Montana polygamists. Yet in the first three episodes, she’s studio-bound, but for a brief skit set in Mexico and a staged dinner party with the cast of Captain America: Civil War.

If Chelsea does anything new, it’s the same new thing every show has been forced into, now that stars can skip talk shows and use social media to talk directly to fans. Colbert has featured civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, while Seth Meyers’ Late Night has made a tradition of hosting writers of literary fiction. Every host is looking for his (or, less commonly, her) niche.

For Handler, that means trumpeting her worthy quest for intellectual edification. But if Julia Roberts had offered to be the one asking trivia questions, would she have said no?


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