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TV Preview: Miller monkeys around on new talk show

Saturday, January 24, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HOLLYWOOD -- Show me the monkey. For his new prime-time news/talk/entertainment show, premiering Monday at 9 p.m. on CNBC, Castle Shannon native Dennis Miller will have newsmakers and politicians as guests along with the occasional chimp.


"To me the devil's advocate is often boring and I just don't want to present both sides of everything," says Dennis Miller of his approach to his CNBC show.
Click photo for larger image.

"He's going to wear color-coded T-shirts to sync up with the terror-level alert," Miller said earlier this month at a CNBC press conference. Although Miller jokes a lot, he's not kidding about having a monkey on his show. He was inspired by J. Fred Muggs, who appeared on the "Today" show in the Dave Garroway era.

"That always fascinated me," Miller said. "I thought, 'If I ever have a news show, I'm going to have a monkey.' So I've hired a monkey."

The monkey will be the wild card on the show, the "deus ex machina," Miller said.

"You can't use him during a serious interview, obviously, because it denigrates the guests," Miller said. "But I like a political interview where you hear that really choppy click, click, click of the nails on the studio floor. ... If I'm at home and I'm watching a news show and I see a chimp ... in the middle of a Dennis Kucinich interview, I'm going to think, 'Did I just see a monkey? I'm watching this every day to see the monkey again.'"

The original Muggs is still alive, Miller said, so they can't use the same name. Instead, Miller has dubbed his simian sidekick Muggsy.

 
 

"Dennis Miller"

When: 9 p.m. Monday through Friday on CNBC.
Starring: Dennis Miller

   
 
 

"He's young, he's a comer. Still not too jaded to throw his fecal matter at you like the original," Miller joked.

His hourlong show will begin with legitimate news headlines and then segue into an interview with a guest.

"We're going to try to run that first segment out as long as we can because I'm enamored of the way that [Jay] Leno keeps everybody in the tent with the long monologue," Miller said.

Following that is "The Daily Rorschach," which Miller compared to his "Weekend Update" segments on "Saturday Night Live." At the bottom of the hour, Miller moves to "The Varsity," a panel discussion featuring three guests who will be "somewhat well-read, one from the left, one from the right and float the one in the middle."

Final segments will include a guest essayist, mail of the day and a surprise segment Miller declined to reveal.

"Just when you think it's funny news, it kind of gets, hopefully, vaguely intelligent. Just when you think we're trying to be squares about it, it gets funny. I'm going to try to stutter-step."

But he's not going to keep his political opinions to himself. Where once he used Republicans as comedic punching bags, Miller now finds himself closer to them in thought than to his predominantly liberal Hollywood brethren.

"As far as homeland protection, I am to the right. I'll be honest with you, 9/11 changed me. I'm shocked it didn't change everybody as much as it changed me," Miller said. "I'm of both persuasions. If two gay guys want to get married, I could care less. If some psycho from another country wants to blow up their wedding, I expect my government to kill him preemptively. I guess that makes me a right-wing fanatic, and I'm more than happy to bask in that assignation."

Miller said Americans are living in dangerous times and the country needs to cover its, uh, derriere.

"The simple fact is that we are simultaneously now the world's most loved, hated, feared and admired nation. In short, we're Frank Sinatra. And you know something? The Chairman didn't make his bones lying down for punks outside the fountain."

Miller declared that he plans to vote for President Bush in November and that he has no interest in playing impartial newsman on his show.

"To me the devil's advocate is often boring and I just don't want to present both sides of everything. ... I'm a comedian for God's sakes. I hope to do some news stories. I hope to get [upset] at the right moment. But essentially I'm an entertainer. ... I'm just doing standup comedy."

He realizes his time in this particular spotlight could be short-lived given the brief tenures of his cable talk predecessors, most recently Connie Chung and Phil Donahue.

"Listen, there's a possibility that I get canned and the chimp ends up hosting the show," Miller said. "It's television. There's no second act promised."


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.

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