By Ken Tucker
October 09, 1992 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Whoopi Goldberg Show

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Enter Whoopi World: The lights are turned down low; soothing New Age piano music tinkles in the background. The host of The Whoopi Goldberg Show is curled up on a couch decorated with a comfy afghan; the guest for the evening rests on a sofa across from her. Blissful on a soundstage bereft of the usual yelling, screaming studio audience, Goldberg smiles her beautiful wide smile, looks into the camera, and says to us quietly, ”Hi, there.”

The Whoopi Goldberg Show features one celebrity per night, grilled for a full half hour. No, grilled is too harsh a word for what happens to the rich and famous who sprawl across Goldberg’s sofa — lightly toasted is perhaps more apt, for this is the warmest, most buttery new talk show on television. No guest, at the end of 30 minutes, rises from his or her Whoopi cushion without the assurance that Goldberg feels she has been in the presence of a very, very special person. Questions on The Whoopi Goldberg Show have the consistency of Nerf balls, golden Nerf balls lobbed ever so gently, respectfully, at the stars.

Thus Goldberg to Elizabeth Taylor: ”Has your sense of self come a very long way from that little girl in National Velvet to the woman you are now?” Taylor said yes, her self had come a long way and also that ”if you don’t have pain, you don’t know what joy is,” which really wasn’t the point, but who cares? It’s Liz.

Then there was Goldberg to wild man Robin Williams: ”What were you like as a child?” Williams, murmuring, looking down at the floor: ”Shy.” Goldberg: ”Really!” What did she expect him to say, ”Well, Whoopster, I was just the same jabbering, unable-to-stop-clowning guy you see now, except shorter and with less body hair”?

How about Goldberg to Ted Danson: ”I’ve read that Ted Danson and Sam Malone are very different.” Yep, the actor agreed that he is indeed dissimilar to his character on Cheers; for example, Danson, unlike Sam, wears scholarly-looking horn-rims and says things like, ”I think we’re ready for a different creative rhythm in our lives,” when what he really means is, ”Oh, Lord, yes, I hope this is Cheers‘ last season!”

And most ear-openingly, there is Goldberg to Tom Metzger, former Ku Klux Klan leader and head of White Aryan Resistance, or WAR: ”So, let me get this straight,” said Goldberg softly, ”you think nonwhites should be strongly encouraged to have abortions, and whites should not.” When Metzger nodded that, yes, this was indeed the way he, the good ol’ USA’s el supremo pointy-headed white racist, felt, Goldberg smiled warmly, said in a low voice, ”Somethin’ to think about” and cut to a commercial.

Somethin’ to think about, indeed. There’s a lot to be said for refusing to play to the hyped-up emotions of a studio audience. By doing without the T-shirted rabble that turns the Arsenio Hall and David Letterman shows into nightly explosions at the frat house, Goldberg is doing her share to bring civility to the talk-show wars. But the atmosphere on her set is so humid with respect and reassurance that this normally hardheaded performer seems to have gone all soft and squishy. How could any host not question Metzger’s crackpot theory of race cleansing by controlling the birth rate?

At one point, Goldberg said to Metzger, ”Now, see, I think dialogue’s important.” But there was no ”dialogue” here — just Goldberg asking easy, leading questions.

Most of the time on this series, Goldberg lulls stars into loquaciousness by making them secure in the knowledge that they’re safe from Letterman’s sarcasm or Jay Leno’s puppy-dog nipping. Some moments have been good: While discussing the AIDS epidemic, Taylor made bold-for-TV statements like, ”Without homosexuals, there wouldn’t be (Hollywood)”; Goldberg’s chat with rapper Ice-T allowed for the bold-for-TV possibility that the author of ”Cop Killer” is an artist, not a thug.

But in the shows featuring Danson, Williams, and Elton John, there was a lot of bellyaching about nameless critics who have the gall to criticize and who occasionally say something less than fawning about anyone or anything. Goldberg seems to hate that; on her show, no movie, song, or acting performance is considered less than great.

Like a lot of performers, Goldberg doesn’t seem to have the foggiest idea that sometimes critics speak for audiences, for entertainment consumers who aren’t the barking, bellowing rubes that she has banished from her studio. What one person thinks is nice and warm another might find self-serving and goofy. That’s America, my friends. As a talk-show host, Goldberg is different and inviting, but so far, it has also led to an awful lot of silly blather. C+

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