Talk is irrelevant on two new talk shows. All Vibe and The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show care about is the audience’s enthusiasm level, which is cranked up to show that everybody’s having a fabulous time. Arsenio Hall did it first, whipping his crowds into woofing frenzies. Jay Leno proceeded to turn The Tonight Show into a Vegas-style free-for-all. Now Wayans and Vibe host Chris Spencer encourage nonstop hooting even during their opening monologues. So far, Spencer beats Wayans in interview technique, because he actually listens to his guests rather than, as Wayans tends to, interrupt with his own stories. But both their questions are depressingly similar to all other chat hosts’. Same thing with the guests’ answers; whether it’s Pamela Lee (with Wayans) or Sinbad (with Spencer), talk is limited to product plugs and mildly racy anecdotes.

The blessing is that these two shows have increased visibility of African-American performers on the talk circuit and forced Leno and Letterman to book more acts of color (recently, Dave looked like he was going to choke on the words ”Puff Daddy”). But, lacking anything original to say or do, neither Wayans nor Spencer has made a ratings impact. One night Spencer challenged guest Samuel L. Jackson to make the phone book interesting. Sadly, Jackson’s recitation of business listings was more entertaining than any interview conducted by either host to date. C

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