In 1993, some very dumb Fox executives had a very very dumb idea: Let’s give an over-the-hill hack comedian his own late-night talk show! And let’s do it right at the peak of the talk show wars, when the competition will be even fiercer than usual!
The stink bomb that was The Chevy Chase Show first wafted over the airwaves on September 7, 1993, a week after David Letterman’s CBS debut and a week before Conan O’Brien took over as the host of Late Night. If you blinked—or if you were rubbing your eyes because you couldn’t quite believe the awfulness of what you were seeing—then you missed it: The show was cancelled after only five weeks. The end came when the show was ambushed by a Murdoch-funded black-ops team whose members hung Chase upside down from a par can before riddling his sad, humor-free body with automatic weapons. As the stagehands were mopping the blood off the floor and picking up all the tiny bits of Chase’s flesh and brain matter, I turned to my companion and said, “This is the only funny thing that has ever happened on this show.” I was almost sorry to see him go.
I watched The Chevy Chase Show that first night, and the scar on my chin is still healing. Everything about the show screamed “Unprepared! Unwise! Uncomfortable!” Chase was unprepared, the producers were unprepared, the writers were unprepared. Chase twitched so much that he almost transformed himself from a solid into a gas. The four-minute clip below contains part of Chase’s interview with the show’s first-ever guest, Goldie Hawn, as well as their truly unfortunate attempts to get the audience dancing—to “La Bamba”—as the show went to commercial break. Sandwiched in between is a humiliating episode involving a birthday cake and Hawn’s then-adolescent son, Oliver Hudson, who was sitting in the front row of the audience. Notice that Chase can’t even be bothered to put his heart into the obviously planned pratfall with the cake.
(This clip is from one of my Media Shower tapes.)
[UPDATE: In July 2007, I posted another clip from the debut episode.]
See this page for a related 1998 story from The Onion.