Chris Nashawaty
January 26, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

Something smells awfully familiar in Cologne these days. It’s The Harald Schmidt Show, starring the German city’s most famous celebrity since Thomas Aquinas, Harald Schmidt. Then again, you could just call him ”David Letterman on the Rhine.”

On the air just over a month, Schmidt’s 11 p.m. talk show mixes seat-of-the-pants stunts with interviews of German celebs (though Burt Reynolds found the time to stop by and say ”Guten Tag” last month). The Teutonic version of America’s gap-toothed King of Late Night has even replicated the Late Show set (a cutout cityscape of Cologne), its Top Ten lists, and its sidekick bandleader — this one named Helmut (the world’s second-most-dangerous band, perhaps?). ”I haven’t seen the show yet,” says Late Show’s executive producer Robert Morton, ”but I [want to] because I’ve heard a lot about it.”

The only thing Schmidt can’t seem to duplicate is Letterman’s success. Despite his efforts, viewers seem to prefer the real thing, which airs on Germany’s Premiere cable channel. ”People think he’s a cheap copy,” says Andreas Born, editor of the Berlin-based magazine SuperIllu. ”It’s the same type of fun and gags but there’s no bite. It’s boring.” Schmidt himself couldn’t be reached for comment, but even the folks at Sat 1, his show’s TV station, don’t stand by their man: ”It’s a copy, but it’s not half as good as Letterman,” says one station employee. Hmm, maybe Schmidt oughta buy Mujibur and Sirajul a couple of one-way tickets to Cologne.

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