"Showtime Coast to Coast" (airing Sunday) is attempting to position itself as a variety show for the '80s.
But it is closer to an entertainment anthology than an old fashioned variety show.
The pay-cable show has more integrity and less glitz.
Instead of several performers on one stage, "Coast to Coast" offers performances taped at various locations. Each segment is stitched together with commentary by the host, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.
The 90-minute show is produced by Ken Ehrlick, who created PBS' "Soundstage" in the '70's, and it shares some of that series' penchant for spotlighting performers who are slightly out of the mainstream.
The first edition offers a smorgasboard of musical styles, plus some stand-up comedy.
First up is K.D. Lang, a Canadian woman who sings country music with a punky kick.
She does a version of the cloying early '60s hit "Johnny Get Angry" that sounds like she's singing about Johnny Rotten, not Johnny Angel.
It's a good showcase for her; she's the type of act who could easily end up being the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live" next season.
The stand-up comics, Greg Travis and Robert Schimmel, do routines laced with the kind of languages one would never have heard on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
They seem to detract from, rather than enhance the program.
The show features a couple of documentary-like segments that would seem more at home on "West 57th," CBS' snazzy news magazine show.
We see the Manhattan Transfer recording its next album and two members of the group going off to Brazil to add the rhythm track.
The other extended segment takes a look at the New Orleans Jazz and heritage Festival.
It's a laudable segment, especially as a way of introducing the Neville Brothers to a wider audience. But the festival was held last spring, so we lose a sense of immediacy.
The final segment features a jam session with host Hancock, Joni Mitchell, Bobby McFerrin, David Sanborn and Wayne Shorter.
"Showtime Coast to Coast" can offer exposure to new acts in a non-show bizzy setting. But it needs shorter, more focused segments and a more coherent link between the acts.
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Added to Library on March 6, 2010. (5642)
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