He’s giving it the proverbial college-try, but ouch, it’s brutal. Don’t know if you’ve caught the late night talk show wars, but Jimmy Fallon from SNL fame has the old Conan O’Brien spot and Conan’s soon to take over Leno’s Tonight Show, Leno is moving to 10pm, Jimmy Kimmel’s still smirking, Bonnie Hunt has jumped in while Craig Ferguson delivers the best monologue rant in brogue out there. Here’s the line of the week from a CBS marketing exec: “We're calling it ‘America's Entertainment Stimulus Package.’”
Puh-leeze. We’re in worse shape than I thought.
Jimmy seems like a nice guy, but he ought to fire his writers. Even though he’s finding his rhythm, the monologue punch lines couldn’t be flatter. But here’s what’s puzzling to me as someone who’s fascinated by communicators, artists, performance and production: why are talk shows still following the same tired format? It’s been the drill for decades. The host walks out to a band playing. The applause lights flash. He delivers a monologue with a few news items and jokes. He introduces the band with some hand gesture, the camera pans to a band that plays some lame fifteen second bumper, then cuts back to the host now sitting at his desk. That’s followed by some sight gags: headlines, fake book covers, top tens, etcetera. The band plays an outro, the host says “We’ll be right back with Sarah Jessica Parker right after this…” Following the commercial are the two consecutive guests and the obligatory music group at the close.
What’s with that? Isn’t it time for a talk show format change? Is that the most creativity they can muster? With millions of advertising dollars at stake, bloated talk show salaries, and teams of creatives, that’s it?—and no one has a different programming idea? Really?
I know what you’re thinking: Dave, did you take your medication today?
Here’s where I’m going with this. It got me thinking about how we “do” church services and celebrations. Every church has a format (we call it a liturgy in church-world), even the ones who say they’re “led by the Spirit”. In my charismatic roots, even the “free” church service not bound by any pesky carnal programming had an understood liturgy: music, free-style singing somewhere in there, Sister So-and-So will probably have a message in tongues, the same people will come up at the end to shake or fall down, and the message will still end up taking seventy minutes no matter how long everything else takes. Golden Corral has a booming Sunday lunch business at 3pm for Pentecostals.
It doesn’t matter what denomination, non-denomination or inter-denomination your tribe is: we all have our liturgy, our format. House church, weekend-centered, traditionalists, or whatever, we all have our program. And the program is how you deliver the message. Talk about a Reset.
Number One reality check: There are a couple of minor programming differences between church-world and network talk shows, namely beaucoup bucks (Letterman alone gets an estimated paycheck of 40 million per year) and huge production staffs. But maybe it’s time for us to think about how we tell the Story each week. To be sure, there’s a certain amount of comfort in routine…and for maximum participation, there’s a need for repetition. Still, it seems to me there’s a need to reinvent periodically, to hear the Story a bit differently. I love what my teaching buddy Joe said last week about reading the Christmas story in July; it’s good for the soul to separate the emotion and sentimentality from the December kitsch of Consumermas.
Number Two reality check: even if we had unlimited funds and huge creative teams, is that really what we would want? Is that what we’d want to spend our money on? Are we really able to justify that before God? It gets tricky, doesn’t it? Peter tells the handicapped panhandler in front of the temple who asked him for money, “I don’t have any. But I do have something else: in the name of Jesus, get up and walk.” Cue to miracle. No resources, but creative power.
There’s an apocryphal story from a dark time in Church history. The Church was at the height of political power and wealth in the Middle Ages. The Pope was reported to have said confidently, “Now we can no longer say `Silver and gold have we none.’ A priest responded with, “And neither can we say `Rise up and walk’.”
Maybe we have the whole assumptive format screwy.
And in the end, sometimes MacGyver is the most creative guy in the room with only a paper clip, some dental floss and a mullet.