- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

‘Ellen’: Round 2

Ellen DeGeneres sure is funny in her clean, low-key manner, and few performers put us at ease like she can.

But could she really succeed in the brutal daytime talk show world?

Isn’t that the land of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich?

The answer is “yes” on both counts.

The comic’s strong first-season ratings left little doubt she could carve her own niche. Today, Miss DeGeneres kicks off season two (her show airs locally at 11 a.m. on WRC-TV-Channel 4) — and she isn’t changing her stripes.

“I didn’t plan anything,” Miss DeGeneres says during a conference call when asked about her initial foray into the talk show jungle. “I know that sounds terrible, but it worked out for me.”

The blond comic, who is slated to step into George Burns’ shoes next year in an “Oh, God” remake, says her talker drew more than 24,000 e-mails over the summer from curious viewers. Each had his or her own thought or recommendation, but Miss DeGeneres promises not to bring a “test audience” quality to season two.

“When we first started, [show executives] gave me all the demos. I never did pay attention to that,” she says. “If I pay too much attention to what people are responding to, I’d worry if I’m straying from that.”

Miss DeGeneres may be a cause celebre in the homosexual community for coming out several years ago as a lesbian on her sitcom “Ellen,” but the performer never mixes politics with her program.

She also strains to avoid asking celebrity guests the same questions everyone else asks.

“When I was growing up, it was Johnny Carson at night and that’s it. During the day you had Merv Griffin. You didn’t see celebrities everywhere. Now, we see them so much there’s no reason to tune in unless you’re gonna see them in a different way.”

One secret Miss DeGeneres adhered to during her first season, which she said proved exhausting, was to actually listen to what her guests say.

She learned that the hard way.

“I was a guest on so many shows before I got my own show,” she says. “I know what it feels like to have someone looking past me.”

As grueling as season one proved, she’s itching to get back to work.

“I’ve had the summer off and [sometimes] I’ll just start asking [random] people questions,” she says.

Trio’s first series

The fledgling Trio network, known for edgy documentaries and repackaged pop culture, trots out its first original program tonight.

The mockumentary “Pilot Season,” starring Sarah Silverman, David Cross and Andy Dick, debuts at 9 p.m. and will air two 30-minute episodes each night thereafter. The improv comedy show, spread out over six episodes, follows the neurotic fireworks exploding during your typical pilot process.

The show debuts alongside “Brilliant, But Cancelled,” Trio’s resuscitation of intriguing shows which never made it past their own pilot season. That hourlong show airs at 8 each night before “PIlot Season.”

‘Bye, ‘bye Bitty

Bitty Schram won’t be caring for Tony Shalhoub’s eccentric “Monk” character any longer.

“‘Monk’ has decided to go in a different creative direction with some of its characters. Miss Schram will not continue with the cast,” USA Network told Associated Press last week. “We thank her for her notable contributions and wish her the very best.”

Miss Schram’s management told AP the actress, who played the lead character’s nurse on the program, had no comment. A spokesman for USA says the network has yet to develop what the new direction for the show will be.

It’s a notable change of circumstance given that earlier this year, Miss Schram was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress in a television series for her work on the show.

She’s been with the quirky, critically acclaimed program since its first show in 2002. The actress is best known in some circles as the bawling ball player in “A League of Their Own” who inspires manager Tom Hanks to shout, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

“Monk” is now midway through its third season, with new episodes expected in January. The USA show is up for four 2004 Emmy Awards, including one for Mr. Shalhoub for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.


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