April 17th, 2001 by Clark Humphrey

JOHN KEISTER’S COMEBACK SHOW, The John Report With Bob, has apparently been canceled by KIRO-TV. No announcement has been made; the show simply went into a month of reruns, after which Sheena appeared suddenly in its time slot and the show’s website went offline.

A little history: KING-TV started a weekly comedy-talk hour called Almost Live! back in ’84. It had interviews, a live band, stand-up comics, an opening monologue, and pre-taped sketches by a tight ensemble of actor-writers. The affable Ross Shafer hosted it for four years, then quit to try his luck in Hollywood. The host’s slot was assigned to my ol’ UW Daily pal Keister (who’d appeared in sketches on the show and its one-season precursor R.E.V., after having been on the original Rocket writing staff).

Keister hosted the show in Shafer’s format for a year. Then KING (once a rather intelligent organization) had the great idea to revamp the show around its strengths (Keister’s deadpan-goof persona and the ensemble’s sketch characterizations), dumping the music and talk. It was turned into a tightly formatted half-hour and slotted right before Saturday Night Live (the station got special permission from NBC to delay SNL by 30 minures).

It was a smash, and became a local institution. One cast member, Bill Nye, even got his own national educational show, on which he used many AL cast and crew members.

By mid-1999, however, the TV landscape had changed. New cable and broadcast channels had whittled away at the ratings of network affiliates such as KING, which got sold twice. The station’s new media-conglomerate owners found no use for a relatively expensive local entertainment show (KING’s last production to use non-robotic studio cameras).

Once the non-compete clause of Keister’s KING contract expired, he signed on with KIRO. At first he promised something as close to Almost Live! as was possible, considering only Bob Nelson from the old show’s cast came over with him.

But Keister’s KIRO show was too much like Almost Live! with a new cast to succeed. It felt like the Oxygen cable channel’s dreary remake of the classic game show I’ve Got A Secret, or like a community theater production of a classic play.

That last statement is not intended to disparge the new show’s cast members. All are fine comic actors. But there were too many of them for a real ensemble chemistry to develop, and their improvisational strengths were often lost in a scripted format.

Besides, the premise of a parody newscast has been done to death. And real newscasts have become so ridiculous lately, there might be nothing left for the genre’s would-be satirists to deconstruct.

Still, I like Keister and Nelson (and many of the new cast members, especially Mike Daisey). I want them on a new show. I want there to be locally-produced entertainment on Seattle commercial TV.

My suggestion has two words: Sabado Gigante.

Like Univision’s Miami-based, Spanish-language signature series, Keister’s next show should be a high-profile, high-energy affair. It should be an hour long and repeated at least once a week, maximizing ad-sales opportunities. Instead of filling its non-sketch minutes with static interview spots a la the Shafer version of AL, it should develop a mix of audience-participation games, guest variety and performance-art acts, live bands, and funny human-interest taped pieces. And like SG, it should have in-studio commercials (my recommended spokesmodels: Miss Intermission (from Theater Schmeater’s old Twilight Zone stage shows) and DJ Leslie $ (local retro-culture queen)).

I’m firmly convinced this format would work, if executed by Keister and the core John Report With Bob team, and if a station gave these folks enough on-air time to adjust these elements into their proper proportions.

And if a station in today’s ambition-fearing TV biz was willing to put it on in the first place.

NEXT: What Joey Ramone meant to me.


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