''Nashville Now'' -- Why you should watch the highest rated show on TNN

Bored with Johnny Carson? No good guests on Letterman tonight? Need some relief from Arsenio Hall’s unctuousness? Try the low-key, no-nonsense approach of Ralph Emery, host of The Nashville Network’s talk show Nashville Now. Unlike so many of his colleagues, Emery, a veteran Nashville disc jockey, has nothing to prove. As the host of TNN’s highest-rated show and country music’s most visible showcase, he has everybody in Nashville wanting to sit on his couch. Emery pulls in the superstars — Clint Black, Reba McEntire, and Garth Brooks are all eager to lope on and set a spell. But he’s also fond of unexpected guests: When was the last time you saw Jeannie C. Riley (”Harper Valley P.T.A.”) on a talk show? Drawn out by Emery, she proved to be a smart, entertaining guest. So was Shoji Tabuchi, a Japanese singer and fiddler, who did a mean version of ”San Antonio Rose.”

The host is obliged to trade feeble jokes at the start of some shows with a nattering puppet named Shotgun Red, but Emery never gets cute about it — in fact, to his credit, he usually looks as if he’d like to wring the neck of the little cowboy-hatted piece of cloth. An aging cool dude with an affable attitude, Emery makes Nashville Now a down-home hoot.