Ken Tucker
November 30, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

A fine new chat show premieres this week

You know Ben Stein from Comedy Central’s game show ”Win Ben Stein’s Money” (a.k.a. ”Who Wants to Be a Hundredaire”) and as poker-faced teacher in ”Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and ”The Wonder Years.” On Thursday, obey the title command of ”Turn Ben Stein On” (Comedy Central, 10:30-11 p.m.) and you’ll watch the Great Sonorous Stone-face become a chatty, affable talk-show host.

Stein gives each episode a theme. In the premiere, Carl Reiner and Katie Wagner (daughter of Robert) discuss showbiz nepotism (only the host has the guts to say it exists, and that in his opinion, it’s a good thing). In the second show, reporter Carl Bernstein and ”Election” director Alexander Payne ponder high school life: character builder or horror show?

The striking thing about Stein as a host is that he has a point of view. Unlike Jay, Dave, Conan, Craig, Maher, and Jon Stewart, Stein actually articulates his worldview as he converses. The fact that this worldview emanates from a former Nixon speechwriter who has found nirvana in decadent Hollywood only makes his beliefs more quirky and unpredictable. In any case, just the fact that he possesses a set of political beliefs and argues them with smiling conviction makes him an instant standout in the talk-show crowd. Agree or disagree with him, Stein is immediately a more engaging host for speaking his mind.

The chat is swift, and roaming the set freely is Stein’s dog Lucy (whom he calls with sickening sweetness ”Puppy-Wuppy” — oh well, better that he vent his mushiness on his pet than on his guests). The two-man band is hipper than any other talk show’s. Plus, Ben sings his own grunge theme song. Dennis Miller and Chris Rock, watch your backs.

You May Like

Comments

EDIT POST