September 02, 1991 12:00 PM

time, Ron the Younger was employed by ABC as a frivolous, often annoying correspondent on Good Morning America. But young Ron has landed on his feet with his own late-night talk show. (In some markets he’s on in the morning opposite the likes of Joan Rivers, Sally Jessy Raphael and The Price Is Right. That’s no break. Then-unassailable grip on their audiences makes Johnny, Ted and Arsenio look like easy pickings.)

In each hour-long show, a single topic—steroids, rap music, the marketing of pro athletes—is debated by a panel of guests and the studio audience while Ron acts as mediator or, when all else fails, devil’s advocate. It’s a familiar format, and although Ron has thus far avoided the pitched emotional battles staged by Oprah and Phil, he also lacks their ability to control the mood and pace of a program.

Reagan, 33, still has a smirking, sarcastic air, and when he’s not holding a microphone, he can’t figure out what to do with his hands. But for the most part, he’s more articulate and self-possessed than his previous work would have suggested. He’s also very uncharismatic and never seems to connect with his guests—who have included such people as Steve Allen, Danny Bonaduce and Quentin Crisp.

The program resembles a collegiate version of Firing Line with Ron as a callow version of William F. Buckley Jr. The liveliest moments so far came when Reagan got heckled by both a panelist and an audience member about his own sexual preference and persistent rumors that he is gay. (He categorically denied them.)

No matter what the topic, these shows seem to be devoted to chewing old fat. While Reagan has said in interviews that his program proves TV doesn’t have to underestimate viewers’ intelligence, the process he has overestimated their patience.

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