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Wayne Brady attempts variety show revival

Wednesday, August 08, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Wayne Brady wants it known: He's not just an improv guy. Though he's best known for concocting on-the-spot comedy with Drew Carey on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", Brady considers himself an actor. With his new series, "The Wayne Brady Show" (8 tonight on ABC), he gets to prove it.

If that's all he set out to do, Brady would have an easy time of it. With guest shots on "I'll Fly Away" and "In the Heat of the Night" in his bio, there's plenty of evidence the guy can act. But with "The Wayne Brady Show" he's attempting something more challenging: Brady wants to revive the moribund variety show.

A mix of comedic sketches, a little improv and a fair amount of singing and dancing, "The Wayne Brady Show" asks viewers to embrace the

same mix that made variety shows television staples in the 1970s.

"The Wayne Brady Show"

WHEN: 8 tonight on ABC.

STARRING: Wayne Brady.



"I was searching for the right project, and I didn't want to do a sitcom," he said in an interview last month. "Doing a show like 'Whose Line,' I get the chance to use various skills, but if I was playing [a sitcom character like] John the guy that runs the antique shop next door, that would miss the point."

Brady got a development deal with ABC and Touchstone Television not long after "Whose Line" launched, but he struggled to come up with a concept for his own series, discussing it with his wife, Mandie.

"We were talking in the kitchen and I was racking my brain thinking, what can I do? And I said, 'Do you know 'The Flip Wilson Show?' " And she said, 'Yes, you should do that.' "

Brady said he's been influenced by Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson and Ernie Kovacs, so this felt like the most appropriate type of show for him to pursue.

"The hard part was selling it because that kind of show hasn't worked in a while, so we kept at it and as 'Whose Line's' popularity grew and my own popularity grew, at some point the network said go for it."

Tonight's premiere features two back-to-back episodes, but future installments will be just a half-hour to appease today's shorter attention spans.

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Energetic 'Wayne Brady Show' premiere is hit-or-miss



"We tried to cram all the energy and entertainment of that hour into 21 minutes and 30 seconds," Brady said.

Eight episodes of "The Wayne Brady Show" are in production with the hope that if it's a hit, he'll do more (Brady will continue to appear on "Whose Line" as well).

"The biggest challenge personally is that I'm not just a hired gun," Brady said. "My gig on 'Whose Line' is pretty easy. I show up, do funny-funny, and OK, I'm done. [For this], I'm there at 7 a.m., approving scripts, looking at wardrobe, rehearsing the dancers, talking to the lighting designers, running back to rehearsal and then the whole thing starts over.

"And it is a challenge that I love because I've done it for so long in a theatrical setting and I've been a writer for so long that I'm glad to be able to do the things people don't know I can do. The gig on 'Whose Line' is 'Hey, I make stuff up,' and that's great for what it is, but this is really challenging and really rewarding."

One sketch in tonight's premiere combines acting and improv as Brady impersonates his grandmother and is asked questions that he has to improv the answers to.

"You've really got to be on your game," Brady said. "It isn't just, 'Let's do an Irish drinking song,' where I as Wayne am going to rhyme the words. It's that I'm coming out in character."

Brady said after the initial success of "Whose Line," producers didn't realize he was also an actor and writer.

"It's weird, because when I watch an episode of 'Whose Line,' we are writing a script right there on the spot," Brady said. "It's the greatest compliment to have someone go, 'Gosh, I could never do that.' That's great, but this is one thing I do ... If I weren't an actor, I couldn't do the sketches I do, couldn't do the characters I do, couldn't do the impressions I do."

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