The same afternoon NBC announced it had picked up a Neil Patrick Harris-hosted adaptation of British variety series Saturday Night Takeaway, Harris described his idea of the perfect variety-show scenario with Charlie Rose.
“In a perfect world, in five years I’m Ed Sullivan,” he said in an interview taped yesterday for Rose’s PBS interview show. “Once a week I’d get to, like, show everyone amazing performances on Broadway, amazing magicians, this great restaurant that we went to — to be a bit of a tastemaker. I’d get to be P.T. Barnum.”
The two men share ties to CBS: Harris starred on the network’s long-running Monday comedy How I Met Your Mother and was its go-to guy to host trophy shows, and Rose co-anchors CBS This Morning and is a correspondent for 60 Minutes. Rose is not the first guy to whom Harris has given his Ed Sullivan speech; back in May, Harris told Howard Stern that CBS CEO Leslie Moonves asked him if he’d be interested in doing a late-night show for the network and that he turned him down — “I told him what concerned me about the longevity of that kind of gig. I think I would get bored of the repetition fast. The structure is so set; I don’t have any interest in doing Monologue, Commercial, Sketch, Guest, Guest, Musical Act, Good Night” — and said what he really wanted to do next was host a weekly variety series for CBS. In so saying, he was re-iterating what he told CBS soon-to-be-ex late-night host Craig Ferguson: “I want to do an Ed Sullivan-y kind of show, with all the variety acts.”
At that time, Harris reported that Moonves was interested. But CBS did not land the ITV project. That might be because it came with a reported asking price north of $2.5 million per episode and offered a network no ownership, no backend, no distribution, according to one source with knowledge of the situation. And then there are those who maintain the format has little, or no, repeat value — all adding up to an “unproven” format at for a substantial price tag.
Harris, taping his Rose interview yesterday, acknowledged that a variety show is not a slam dunk these days, noting the one Sullivan hosted for CBS from 1948-1971 would not be possible now.
“The attention span of people is very small,” Harris said. “And so when you used to watch Ed Sullivan or any of those morning variety shows, the magician could do eight minutes. He would come in his tails. He’s make his cane vanish. He’d do some card [tricks]. He’d produce a dove. … You have to do a show now where it’s their best 2 1/2 minutes. Next! Instead of six acts, you have 26 acts. … It’s like America’s Got Talent. That’s why it’s so successful now. You want to meet the person, see their best thing, talk about it, move on. I think that’s the difference now.”
Later in the interview, which does not yet have an airdate on PBS, Harris adds: “Unfortunately we live in a world of YouTube where, if you want to see the main thing, you click and get to see the guy kicked in the nuts. … You can’t juggle three anymore — you have to juggle seven.”