Bruce Fretts
July 22, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Tom Green is a hit with MTV viewers

I admit it: When I first saw MTV’s ”The Tom Green Show,” I hated it. The host, a wall-eyed Canadian, struck me as obnoxious and infantile. Maybe it was because he was using a microphone smeared with excrement to interview people about New Jersey. Hey, buddy, I live in the Garden State and it doesn’t smell any worse than Toronto!

But I’ve gotta say, the guy’s growing on me. Maybe it’s because I don’t expect such a seemingly polite Canadian to stage such crass gags. His splayed facial features emanate a Marty Feldmanesque sweetness, and he has a disarming way of overenunciating his words.

He also has a hugely likable sidekick, the exquisitely named Glen Humplik, who’s constantly telling Tom what an a–hole he really is. At its best, Green’s show attains a synthesis of Howard Stern’s taboo obliteration (grilling his parents about their sexual habits) and Andy Kaufman’s interactive stunts (giving audience members rides home, then refusing to leave until they threaten to call the cops).

”The Tom Green Show” is only one of several comedy oases in the rerun desert of summer TV. Hal Sparks has taken over as host of E!’s ”Talk Soup,” and he’s even more boyishly goofy than John ”Skunk Boy” Henson was. The daily stew of chat-show clips has kept up its savory writing style: ”Isn’t that how Jeffrey Dahmer started?” Sparks asked about a juvenile ”Tonight Show” guest who collected toenails. ”First toenails, then hair, then ears! Somebody get this kid an erector set before he kills us all for parts!” While the TV novice still needs to get more comfortable reading from a TelePrompTer, Sparks seems much more at ease in front of a camera than the neophyte Conan O’Brien was, and look how brilliant he’s become.

Sparks had oversize shoes to fill (Henson signed a deal to develop a series with ABC), as did Jon Stewart, who has followed Craig Kilborn as the anchorman of Comedy Central’s ”The Daily Show.” The newscast send-up is spikier than ever, thanks to Stewart’s quick, cutting wit and a sterling roster of correspondents, including the extra-dry Vance DeGeneres (yup, he’s Ellen’s brother), beautifully cruel Beth Littleford (who spoofs celeb suck-up Baba Wawa), and outrageous Mo Rocca (who drove Jerry Van Dyke into a rage by berating him about his vintage sitcom lemon, ”My Mother, the Car”).

Meanwhile, stripped of these supporting players (and the crack ”Daily Show” writers), Kilborn is spinning his creative wheels as host of CBS’ ”Late, Late Show.” Who says network TV is the place to be?

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