The 10 Best Fake Talk Shows

By Chris Cummins in Daily Lists, TV
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 7:55 am
When The Oprah Winfrey Show left the airwaves a few months ago, it left a void in the lives of viewers desperate for the program's trademark mix of celebrity interviews, human interest stories, examination of contemporary issues and lavish giveaways. There's no denying the incredible impact that the series had on pop culture, but the fact remains that the talk show genre will clearly survive Winfrey's departure... if not thrive. The reason for this is simple, talk shows are popular because they serve as a window into better lives (i.e. chats with the rich and famous) or work as shots of self-esteem for the ordinary man (i.e. the relief that comes from knowing that as crappy as your life may be it's still better than those of the sad fuckers on Maury and The Jerry Springer Show). As these words are being typed, an array of new shows from Anderson Cooper, Ricki Lake and others are prepping for their debuts later this year. How good, bad or meh these will be remain to be seen. What is certain however is that regardless of quality there's no way they can be as entertaining as the comedy staple known as the fake talk show. Enter this list that offers up the ten greatest phony talk shows from TV shows and movies. Whether offering up insight into celebrity narcissism or just showcasing the humor inherent in bear attacks, each of these skewers familiar aspects of talk show culture. The only problem? Most of these are better than their real-life counterparts. Sigh. Read on to see if your favorite made the cut. And no flipping!

10) The Barry Gibb Talk Show
Truth be told, I really wanted this slot to feature Phil Hartman's legendary turn as the Chairman of the Board in Saturday Night Live's "The Sinatra Group" sketch. Unfortunately, that would mean expanding this list to include panel show spoofs, which I chose to take a pass on due largely to laziness/lack of suitable entries. The good news is that Jimmy Fallon's recurring Barry Gibb Talk Show bit is a more than worthy substitute. Portraying the laid-back Bee Gees crooner as a short-tempered psychopath with a penchant for kung fu kicks, Fallon walks a fine line between charm and sleaze. Contrasting his gonzo insanity is Justin Timberlake as a level-headed Barry Gibb. Timberlake often seems on the verge of pulling a Horatio Sanz and breaking character with a laughing fit, yet he always manages to pull it together in time for the sketch-ending rendition of "Nights on Broadway." Had this debuted in an early period of SNL's history, it would be easy to envision a Barry and Robin Gibb cinematic spin-off. Whether or not such a concept is a good thing is debatable, so for now it's best to focus on the esoteric laughs these sketches offer up each time they appear.

9) Man to Man with Dean Learner
After successfully spoofing low budget 1980s horror TV in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Richard Ayoade (best known to nerds as Moss in The It Crowd) and Matthew Holness reunited to create and star in this equally bizarre spin-off that was a satire of celebrity chat shows. The "celebrity" interviews featured here -- including an appearance by the always self-involved Marenghi and the most depressing folk singer this side of Nick Drake - mainly serve as a loose framework for Ayoade and Holness to hang their surreal brand of Mighty Boosh-esque humor upon. Although the series remains officially unavailable in the United States, a quick visit to YouTube or your favorite DVD importer will allow you to get acquainted with Dean Leaner and his revolving lineup of not so special guests.

8) The Rex Reilly Show
Twitch City was a cult comedy series from Canada that starred Don McKellar as an agoraphobic slacker whose life revolved around watching television--primarily the sensationalistic The Rex Reilly Show. Initially portrayed by Bruce McCulloch (who was replaced in the second season by fellow Kid in the Hall Mark McKinney), Rex Reilly is a scenery-chewing fame whore who channels the worst qualities of everyone from Sally Jessy Raphael to Jerry Springer. So he's awesome, really. The topic of each Rex Reilly Show was usually echoed by the main plot, resulting in many of the post-modern and meta flourishes that were Twitch City's hallmark. These days, viewing the show is an experience that is akin to listening to a mix-tape from the 1990s. It seems very much a product of the Nevermind era, packed with the same kind of era-specific attitude and style that made MTV's Austin Stories equally beloved and short-lived. Yet the Reilly character still feels timeless. Part of this can be attributed to the smarminess that McCulloch and McKinney both tapped into in their portrayals of Rex. But the main reason that Rex Reilly endures is that the daytime airwaves are still filled with the joyful trash his show celebrated. Even in a time where there are more viewing options than ever, audiences still have a basic need to see well-dressed talk show hosts exploit the pain of others. Thankfully, some things are eternal.

7) Ben
Of all the TV spoofs The Simpsons' has featured during its 22 seasons, none are greater than Ben. Argue this all you want in the comments, but the fact remains that cartoon bear attacks equal funny. Thus much like Tempestt Bledsoe, Gentle Ben decided to branch out and become a talk show host after his TV series ended. However, to my knowledge the erstwhile Vanessa Huxtable never mauled her guests. Advantage: Ben.

6) The Jerry Langford Show
Martin Scorsese's underrated The King of Comedy is that rare film in which none of the characters are entirely likable yet they are all relatable. Jerry Lewis is especially good as Jerry Langford, a man who entertains millions nightly on his eponymous late night show yet is reduced to eating alone in his spacious apartment. The closest things he has to friends are his sycophantic co-workers and a pair of stalkers - portrayed by Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard. Playing wannabe comic Rupert Pupkin as a TV-obsessed variation of Travis Bickle, De Niro is genuinely unnerving in the film. As the above clip illustrates, his obsession with getting his big break on Langford's show is all-consuming. The concept of a home-based talk show was later utilized for laughs in a Seinfeld episode, but here it plays only as a desperate pantomime of human interaction. It is a fake talk show to be sure, but Pupkin views it as the only real thing in his life. Also worth mentioning is how the film's insights on celebrity culture seem even more relevant today than when it debuted in 1983.
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