We gave it a B+
Two questions loomed over Ron Reagan’s new hour-long talk show: Is Reagan just an accidental celebrity, or could he bring something fresh to an overcrowded TV genre? And, more suspensefully, how would he deal with the topic of his major Dad when it inevitably arose? The answers suggest that Reagan ought to enjoy a long run. It’s no surprise that The Ron Reagan Show is a pop-culture event of often electrifying strangeness,but it’s also — who would have guessed? — bracingly sharp, witty, and intelligent.
First, the weirdness. Viewers didn’t have to wait long for the host’s famous family to play into the proceedings. In his first week, Reagan was goaded by a panel of political humorists, accused of trading on his name by a heckler, and interrogated about his sexuality by former Outweek columnist Michelangelo Signorile. This wasn’t just putting his head into the lion’s mouth; Reagan booked the lions on his show, pried their jaws open, and dove in. As a result, Reagan’s show on homosexual activism made for viscerally exciting TV. The host was by turns likably sharp-tongued (”I’m not gonna stand here and argue with you about whether I’m gay or not,” he told Signorile, ”because frankly, I don’t care what you think”) and disarmingly calm. When one speaker told Reagan of the gay community’s fury at one particular Republican, he replied sympathetically, ”I’m not here to defend my father’s administration.”
With responses that free of bluster, Reagan may not have to answer many questions about his parentage. Earnest, dryly funny, and seemingly liberal, he seems more like the superachieving son of Dick Cavett and Oprah Winfrey. With its argumentative guests and topics that range from steroid abuse to rap lyrics, The Ron Reagan Show clearly has its roots in daytime, but there are gratifying differences between Reagan and many of his afternoon counterparts. Reagan assumes that his audience is smart, and he tries to elicit serious talk rather than applause-begging slogans from his guests. Most important, he does his homework. In his show on religious fundamentalism, his questions had the platitudinous guests gulping. Walking across the stage, loose-limbed, fast- mouthed, and attentive, Reagan is a rarity among talk show hosts; he thinks on his feet.
His series, though, still needs refinements. Reagan gives too long a leash to the blowhards and windbags on his panels, and he seems to be fighting with only limited success against the tyranny of his raucous studio audience, whose incessant cheering and booing encourage exactly the kind of posturing one-liners Reagan is trying to avoid. But already, he’s had one defining moment: When an angry audience member asked if he was the best person to host a talk show, the usually affable host leaned into him with Morton Downey-esque ferocity and barked, ”Maybe I am!” And maybe he is. B+