Going down

Jan 27, 2010 at 12:00 am

Think being the centerpiece of a TV reality series sounds like a ton of fun? Having a gaggle of cameras recording your every move as if you were some kind of Kardashian appeal to your fantasies of fame?

Consider the other side of the picture, as presented by vinegar-tongued comedian Eddie Griffin.

"You know what that show was like?" asks Griffin, referring to his season on the recently completed VH-1 series Eddie Griffin: Going for Broke. "Imagine 15 kids following you around with camera phones … all damn day! If I was the Lindsay Lohan type, just living in front of the paparazzi, it would be different. But for somebody who keeps his private life private, it was atrocious."

Griffin, who headlines Sound Board at Motor City Casino Hotel at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, with special guest Dominique, admits in retrospect that the "docu-series" may have given away too much about his personal life. "I just wanted to let people know everything that glitters ain't gold," he says.

The show chronicled his efforts to keep from going broke even while working nonstop, trying to support two ex-wives, eight children, four "baby mamas" and an entourage of family members and freeloaders on the payroll. He gets his Bentley repossessed, suffers a facial scar in a nightclub dust-up and endures the indignity of having his mother, Doris, move in to help straighten out his life. "Welcome to another installment of 'Eddie Griffin's Life Is Jacked Up,'" he said in introducing one episode.

Would Griffin, who still may be best known nationally for the '90s UPN sitcom Malcolm & Eddie, do a second season of Going for Broke? "If they show up at my mama's house with a Brinks truck, I might think about it," he quips. "I mean, VH-1 is owned by Viacom. That is a multibillion-dollar, international juggernaut. I'm sure they can afford one Brinks truck full of money for my mother." 

One of the standout riffs from his standup act used to be his impression of Michael Jackson on crack. That bit has washed out in light of the King of Pop's drug-related death last year, but that doesn't mean Griffin is contrite. "I believe Michael is in Dubai," he deadpans. "There's no way the Gloved One has died. Michael and Elvis are both still alive. Black people have finally gone as crazy as white folks."

Is it finally over?:
Forty-five million dollars. That's almost a million dollars for every week Conan O'Brian won't be working for NBC this year. The last time a company needed to get rid of me, they gave me two weeks' severance and a tote bag. 

With last week's staggering hush-money payoff, so ends — at least for the moment — the most embarrassing saga and monumental screw-up in television history as NBC returns The Tonight Show to Jay Leno, who never should have been ousted as its guardian in the first place.

Make no mistake, neither Leno nor O'Brian is to blame for this debacle. Write your letters of outrage to Jeff Gaspin, chairman of NBC Universal Television Entertainment. People tend to blunder when they act out of panic, and the NBC "braintrust" (using the word loosely here) might as well have been sealed in a room with Jodie Foster. 

Nothing was broken, but they tried to fix it nonetheless. Leno had beaten David Letterman and everyone else in latenight ratings like a homemade piñata as long as anyone can remember, but the network was so afraid of losing O'Brian and his younger-audience potential that they handed him the Tonight Show franchise anyway. Then they were so afraid of losing Leno to a competitor that they tried to keep both. No 20-20 hindsight here: Nobody, and I mean no one outside NBC's executive suite ever thought The Jay Leno Show at 10 p.m. was a good idea. The normally reserved Mariska Hargitay, star of Law and Order: SVU, claimed last week the decision "ruined" her series by forcing it to a 9 p.m. timeslot. 

The situation became the laughingstock of the entertainment business. And the pitiful thing is, Gaspin still doesn't get it. During the recent Television Critics Association meetings in California, he was asked whether he could have kept living with Leno's woeful 1.5 rating at 10 while network affiliates (like Detroit's WDIV) fumed. "Yes," he replied. "As opposed to crashing a schedule? I have shows to launch out of the Olympics. I would have much preferred to have waited to September."

Oy. So where do we stand? O'Brian has left the building anyway, with more cash than Chrysler, probably will turn up on a competitor's network eventually, and Leno's back where he was before. Great strategy, NBC! I'm not an O'Brian fan, and he and his fans heaped mounds of abuse at the network in his final days, but in the end he conducted himself with class despite the tumult, appreciating both the history of the network and the legacy of The Tonight Show. Damn shame his now-former bosses couldn't do the same.

Now we can turn our concerns to Steve Harvey taking over as the new syndicated host of Family Feud and Sarah Palin signing a multi-year deal to be a contributor on Fox News Channel. Will the Feud contestants be able to get a word in to answer the survey questions? Will conservatives let Palin smile sweetly and be thought a fool or actually express her opinions live and remove all doubt?

Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]