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Internet talk shows are the way of the future

Jaid Barrymore and Tim Conway, Jr., host late-night cybershows

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”We have no idea what we’re doing,” Tim Conway Jr. announces as he begins another nightly netcast of Late Net, his new Internet talk show. ”Just wait 30 seconds, and you’ll see what I mean.”

He’s wrong. Wait 30 seconds, and you’ll discover an odd but promising new entry in the late-night talk wars — one of two live online talkfests starring relatives of the rich and famous. The other stars Jaid Barrymore, Drew’s mom. Late Net may be the first nightly interactive talk show on the World Wide Web to feature Hollywood types (okay, usually B-list celebs and really hard-to-get names like Tim Conway and his former Carol Burnett Show costar Harvey Korman) as well as Howard Stern-like banter. It can be heard in a real-time audio feed and seen in video stills that are updated every 30 seconds. (It’s not available in text form.)

Launched in July, Late Net is on weeknights from 8 to 10, and the shows are archived for 24 hours so that if you miss one, you can click on to it the next day. RealAudio (the special software required to hear netcasts) delivers a show that’s all crackle and static, sort of what I imagine a transatlantic phone call sounded like in the 1940s. As a result, when Conway has musical guests, like Alanis Morissette wannabe Becca Viczarra, the tunes bring to mind alien mating calls.

Granted, the format is still pretty rough, so you won’t necessarily want to give up Leno or Letterman just yet. Late Net is netcast from a storefront building on Main Street in Santa Monica, Calif., by Conway, 33, and his team of what he calls ”talented, intelligent, well-bred slackers” — Pat Devine, Kevin O’Donnell, and Jed Wallace (who goes by the name Slactor and joins Conway in satirical skits).

What’s fascinating — and ultimately watchable and listenable — about Late Net is the sense that you’re seeing something in embryonic form. It’s like looking at a piece of history just before it becomes history. ”The Internet is on par with radio now,” says Conway. ”And TV is just around the corner.”

It helps that Conway and company can be genuinely amusing both with each other and with such recent guests as Florence Henderson, Martin Mull, and Michael Madsen. Conway borrows liberally from the Conan O’Brien School of Self-Deprecation, criticizing himself before you have the chance to. And that’s often a smart choice, especially in such an overhyped — and sometimes genuinely dull — medium as cyberspace. (”It’s another episode of Late Net you and I will have to suffer through,” said Conway at the start of a recent show.)

Late Net will hold your interest; the same is not necessarily true of Jaid Barrymore — Uncensored, Thursday nights at 11 on America Online (Keyword: AOL Live). We learn from a breathless press release that, since turning 50 in May, Drew’s mom (currently appearing in the Off Broadway hit Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral, and the author of last year’s romance guide Secrets of World Class Lovers) has been flooded with offers to host TV and radio shows and to ”spokesmodel for lingerie companies.” Instead, she has chosen to go online with a 45-minute Q&A session about that most overdone of topics: relationships. Barrymore hosts the show live from Flowers Restaurant in Manhattan, but unlike Live Net, Uncensored is text-based and not available on audio or video. A provocative photo of Barrymore is all that you’ll get.