American TV networks are refusing to let the variety show die, despite copious recent evidence. NBC has just announced a new variety series starring Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, and produced by Lorne Michaels, for this May (currently called Maya and Marty in Manhattan).
If this is giving you déjà vu, you’re not alone — NBC aired a different variety show with Rudolph in 2014, The Maya Rudolph Show. NBC didn’t pick it for series, but apparently the network desperately wants the format to work. It recently failed at it with Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris, as well, although that one at least made it to series for a season instead of flopping at the pilot stage.
The push for more variety shows is framed as an attempt for the network to do live event programming, which would help it stand out in a world filled with cable and streaming options. That idea isn’t wrong in general — check out the ratings for The Wiz Live or Sunday Night Football — but variety just isn’t working. Pretty much every variety show from the past decade or so has crashed and burned.
Does anyone remember The Nick & Jessica Variety Hour? (Does anyone remember Nick and Jessica?) Rosie Live? (Sample critical quote: “If Rosie O’Donnell and company were consciously determined to strangle the rebirth of variety shows in the crib, they couldn’t have done a better job of it than this pre-holiday turkey.”) Osbournes Reloaded? Carrie Underwood’s 2009 holiday special?
The recent history of the variety show says that it’s a graveyard for celebrity ambitions. Yet NBC and Maya Rudolph are utterly determined to make it work through sheer force of will. That’s probably not enough. But bless ’em for trying to keep a traditional American art form alive, I guess.