Saturday, May 22, 2021

Vital Viewing (Riotous Repartee Edition)



Truth be told, I never enjoyed watching Charles Grodin in any film he appeared in as much as I did when he was the guest on some TV talk show. Movies seemed to diminish, almost mediocritize his talent whereas jawing with Johnny, Merv, Dave, Jay, Conan, and whoever else enhanced it. So I'm not going to bother with clips from Beethoven or Midnight Run and instead show you examples of Grodin being himself--or is he? You decide:

The general consensus is that Grodin is just kidding around in the above clips, and Johnny, Dave, and Conan are all in on the joke.

In 1995, Charles Grodin went from guest to host when he got his own talk show on the CNBC cable network. In the beginning, as you might expect from him, the whole thing had a tongue-in-cheek feel to it, with Grodin almost parodying the traditional TV interview program. One amusing recurring segment had him leaving his own studio and going elsewhere in the CNBC building, where he chatted with the hosts of the network's daytime business shows, expressing utter (and probably mock) confusion at such subjects as the Dow Jones Average and Standards and Poor's Index. The show might have continued in that humorous vein if not for a certain courtroom miniseries that began airing around the same time. The summer before Grodin's talk show debut, Nicole Brown Simpson, the ex-wife of former NFL star O.J. Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death outside her home in Los Angeles' tony Brentwood neighborhood. As I'm sure most of you are aware, O.J. was accused of the crime. The trial began in November 1994, with the bulk of it taking place throughout 1995. At first Grodin took a somewhat lighthearted approach to the whole thing by making fun of the media circus that surrounded the trial, once interrupting guest Marvin Hamlisch in the middle of a show biz anecdote to ask, "What does any of this have to do with the O.J. trial?" However, as the trial wound on, and as Simpson's high-priced legal team exploited tensions between the African-American community and the LAPD, claiming O.J. had been framed despite massive DNA evidence that suggested otherwise, it seemed to many people (including yours truly) that a rich man just might get away with murder. This outraged Grodin, and he shared his outrage with his CNBC audience, opening many a show with an angry tirade--quite real this time as opposed to the act he put on for Johnny Carson--about the latest developments in the trial. Charles Grodin's newly-serious side didn't end once the trial did in O.J.'s favor. Now every show opened with a Grodin editorial. His views were mostly liberal, but he occasionally took the side of conservatives, such as when he called for the end of the estate tax. I don't know if you'd call it liberal or conservative, but instead of seeing him as a fellow provocateur, Grodin basically picked a fight with Howard Stern (a rare role-reversal for the radio shock jock), calling for the FCC to take him off the air. That went back-and-forth for a while. As for Grodin's fan base, I'm sure he lost some admirers who admired him mainly for being funny, but he must have gained as many as he lost, for while the talk show ended in 1999, the editorials didn't. In a surprising career move, Charles Grodin became a pundit. 

From 2000 to 2004, Grodin was a political commentator for 60 Minutes II. While most of these commentaries were of a serious nature, humor began creeping in as time went on. Grodin had finally figured out a healthy balance between the two. His commentaries moved to the radio, and one obituary states he had a newspaper column as well. All this punditry, much of which ended up in a book (he was a very prolific author), made him a guest on the talk show circuit again. However, unlike the Carsons and Lettermans of yore, this time the talk shows were more issues-oriented. Here he is as a guest on one of the mainstays of the Fox News network: 

Sean Hannity may have thought he was in on the joke, but I'm not entirely sure Grodin was kidding this time.

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