Spikeferesten_spikeferesten_240_1 Spike Feresten, host and mastermind of an eponymous new FOX talk show, seems surprisingly proud of his network’s failures in the late night arena.

Feresten’s second show begins with a gag in which a network executive is seen offering Dave Chappelle (or the back of his head) $51 million to host a late night show. When Chappelle declines, Feresten, giving the more famous comic a pedicure, volunteers to host for a mere pittance.

"By the way, who are you?" the exec finally thinks to ask.

"It’s FOX," Feresten responds. "Does it really matter?"

It’s hard to shake the suspicion that the skit is funny mostly because it’s true.

Spike Feresten is a former writer for David Letterman and, at his most significant, the credited scribe on the "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld. Since FOX failed to make Joan Rivers and Chevy Chase and Keenan Ivory Wayans into talk show stars — the subject of Spike’s first episode opening skit — Spike’s entire gimmick appears to be that he isn’t a recognizable face, he’s just a supposedly witty guy who likes playing with the talk show format. He’s Conan O’Brien if all of those mean things critics wrote about Conan in his earliest days had actually been true. Feresten may eventually find his footing, but the two episodes sent to critics offer only hints.

What’s Spike’s Format?

Well, given that reporters got two episodes, Talkshow with Spike Feresten obviously isn’t live. Spike sits nervously behind a desk in a studio somewhere (he only announces that he isn’t on the Fox Lot) and introduces taped bits which are, at the very least, more successful than the stuff at his desk. He does man-on-the-street bits, shtick with audience members, something called Idiot Paparazzi and all sorts of other skits that look like things you’ve seen before on other shows, though Spike comes back afterwards to smirk, just in case you didn’t know he was being post-modern. Guests pop up, but not for traditional interviews. And then, in 20 filler-laden minutes, it’s over.

Why doesn’t it work?

Even Feresten seems embarrassed by the cheap set and by the canned audience laughter (they’re more amused by everything than I was… lucky happy people), which is self-referential the first time he kids about it, but rapidly ceases to be. Dude, we know they’re only laughing because the sign tells them to. We get it. Distressingly, Feresten seems to think he’s the only person who’s ever watched enough talk shows to know their conventions and he keeps explaining which parts of the formula he’s messing with. From why I can tell, irony ceased to be ironic the minute you explain these reasons it’s ironic. It becomes condescending unless you happen to be Tom Green, in which case it’s funny for five minutes and then annoying.

Does anything offer hope?

The "Can Dunkleman Touch Your Seabass" mini-segment isn’t any good, but it resurrects Brian Dunkleman. Catering to the so-called stoner demographic, Feresten introduces "Electric Lincoln" ("John Wilkes Booth bogarted my lifespan"), which is good for a chuckle exactly until Feresten repeats and praises the punchline until it becomes lame (a skill he mis-learned from Letterman). Spike’s second episode search for a co-host is a lo-fi chuckle. Feresten has found good guests for the first two episodes, even if he doesn’t know what to do with them. Both first week guest Andy Richter (conjuring up unflattering Conan memories) and second episode visitor Mary Lynn Rajskub would have been far better hosts for a late night franchise. If it’s not too late, I’d love to recommend that you skip Feresten’s first episode and tune in next week to watch Rajskub operate heavy machinery on cold medicine, a moment that should have been much, much funnier.

Did you watch Spike’s show? What’d you think? How many episodes before FOX decides to just air Jessica Simpson ProActive commercials at midnight instead of Spike?

Posted by:Daniel Fienberg