Having been a dedicated reader of James Wolcott from his Village Voice days to his current position atop Parnassus — i.e., Vanity Fair — I’ve wondered why a man so smart and funny, and so reliably amusing in his talk-show appearances, hasn’t turned up as the host of his own show.
Wolcott himself has now disclosed the fate of “Word Up with James Wolcott,” a pilot show given a tryout by TCM before a live audience.
My first guest was legendary director Mike Nichols, who owed somebody at TCM a favor. Rather than fawn over him every which way as Charlie Rose would have done, I decided to open with a wicked slider to throw Mr. Diane Sawyer off balance and provoke him to “open up.” Instead of blah-blah’ing about his endless string of directorial triumphs, I asked him about his acting role in the screen adaptation of Wally Shawn’s The Designated Mourner. I said:
“Pauline Kael hailed your performance in the film, claiming that the role allow your cold, clammy inner weaselly qualities to rise to the runny surface. Any response?”
Nichols fixed me with a gaze that was an odd mingling of contempt, bewilderment, and fury, and something whooshed past my ear that may have been a carefully concealed dagger. I then asked him which actress he thought possessed the best rack in Charlie Wilson’s War, and this too proved a fruitless route of inquiry.
That’s quite an arsenal of conversation-starters there, James. Can’t iagine why they didn’t go over.
As Dennis Miller can attest, this business of hosting your own TV show can be a lot tougher than it looks. Miller suffered the double burden of not having been all that amusing to start with, then allowing his meager reserve of funny to leak away in endless fawning over George W. Bush and his band of merry men. But Wolcott can make you laugh out loud while reading his columns, so the thought of him playing to dead air and an ossifying audience should be a caution to us all.
On the other hand, if TCM is looking for an eager talk show host, I am available.