Ken Tucker
September 19, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Ellen DeGeneres radiates such genuine openheartedness — an eagerness to please that never becomes cloying or manipulative — that the idea of her hosting a daily talk show makes a certain amount of sense. DeGeneres has the sort of easygoing personality that wears well over the long haul, a necessity for anyone entering this area, so if I say that The Ellen DeGeneres Show (syndicated; check local listings) may remind older viewers of The Mike Douglas Show or The Merv Griffin Show, I don’t intend the comparison as ridicule — just the opposite, in fact.

She may have characterized her enthusiasm for her second day’s guest, Justin Timberlake, as ”gushing,” but it was good, honest gushing; the admiration of a fan who knows all the words to Justified.

For a performer whose best trait is her witty warmth, it’s a little surprising that the stage set of Ellen is so pastel-chilly, and the quicker she gets away from prewritten ”bits” like fake greeting cards (”Glad to Hear Your Sloth Is Feeling Better”), the faster she’ll relax into her instinctive rapport with a studio audience as a deft ad-libber. After introducing opening-day guest Jennifer Aniston as Forbes magazine’s most powerful celebrity, I liked that DeGeneres asked her, ”Do you use your power for good or evil?” The startled Aniston didn’t have much of a comeback, but who cares? Silly-smart questions like that are what make daytime TV fun, and this particular genre could use more Ellen humor and less Dr. Phil-osophizing.

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