Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Pat Sajak! (or How Furble Got His Own Talk Show)

I'm departing a bit from my established format to talk about what I consider one of the best runs of Furble that I came up with during its lifespan. As I've stated in previous weeks, I've got Pat Sajak to thank for that. Let me explain..

For those that have ignored television for the past 50 years, Pat Sajak has been the host of the very popular gameshow Wheel of Fortune. He joins the company of such hosts as Bob Barker and Alex Trebek in being almost inextricably linked to a single, long-running show. Sajak is associated with the show almost as much as his cohost, letter-turner extraordinaire Vanna White. Which is why some may not believe that, from 1989 to 1990, Sajak actually hosted his own late-night talk show, sans Vanna White.

As the turn of the decade approached, it was becoming clear that the current "King of Late Night" Johnny Carson was likely to announce his retirement from The Tonight Show within the next couple of years (he retired in 1992). Then-vice president of late-night programming for CBS Michael Brockman wanted the network to have an established late-night talk show to fill in the void that would be left when Carson eventually exited from NBC's popular time slot. Brockman knew Sajak from before his time on Wheel, when he was a weatherman at KNBC in LA. He had talked to Pat about hosting a gameshow back then, but he turned the offer down at the time.

Michael approached Pat in 1986, and asked him about the possibility of hosting a late-night talk show. Pat confirmed his interest, and once Brockman had all of the executive approvals and network affiliates on-board, they went into production.

They spent over $4 million on a new soundstage, and hired over 30 new people to work on the show. Sajak was quoted at the time as saying that he wasn't looking to "raise the level of TV", and that he planned to "steal liberally" from previous late-night shows for the format of the new show.

The Pat Sajak Show premiered on January 9, 1989, and lasted until April 13, 1990. Upon its premiere, it became the butt of many jokes, many falling into the group of "if Sajak can do it, anyone can".

And this is where we come to Furble. Now in its third year in print, I was really struggling to find a new direction for the strip. Something that would be a little more far-reaching, that could encompass more than a couple of weeks, and didn't have to involve recurring characters or gags. When I started to hear the jokes around The Pat Sajak Show, I struck upon the idea "if anyone can get a talk show, why not Furble?"

Strip 122/166 - Sure, why not?

And, Night Talk with Furble was born.

Strip 123/166 - Current topic is current

One of the advantages (disadvantages?) of doing a talk show format is the opportunity to do topical comedy. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (spelled wrong in the strip, oh well) were televangelists. Jim was convicted of accounting fraud related to their televangelist platform, The PTL Club. Tammy Faye was known for wearing obscene amounts of make-up, and would often burst out in tears when discussing her then-husband's misdeeds, causing her mascara to run. While I don't think it ever got to the point of projectile running, it could happen, right?

Strip 124/166 - Life is better behind the desk, anyway

One of the tropes of the late-night talk show is the host sitting behind a large desk, interviewing guests. I thought it would be funny if the production staff didn't take Furble's actual status into account when building the set. So, for the entire run of the "show", we only see Furbles antennae sticking above the desk. While I thought it was clever, it had the added advantage of making each strip setup extremely easy and quick.

Strip 125/166 - Never work with kids or animals

Animals on late-night talk shows are a common trope. While we seldom see the aftermath of their visits, I have to imagine that clean-up and a quick spray of air freshener wasn't ever called for.

Night Talk with Furble continues next week...

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