June 16, 1997 12:00 PM

MTV (Monday-Friday, 11 p.m. ET)


Picture The Gong Show without Chuck Barris and the hanging judges, Stupid Human Tricks without David Letterman or The Joe Franklin Show without Joe Franklin. There are any number of precedents for this talk-variety spoof, which premieres June 16 on MTV after a decade on public-access cable in New York City. “Special guest superstars” (early invitees include actor Stephen Baldwin; Cosby’s Doug E. Doug; and basketball player Kendall Gill, a semi-superstar of the New Jersey Nets) share an overcrowded couch with amateur performers whose talents are meager, weird—or both. Although you’ll probably sit up and take notice when a “human pincushion” runs a bicycle cable through his pierced tongue, your jaded ears may not detect a significant difference between the woman who imitates a seagull and the woman who imitates a dolphin. There’s a problem with relying on novelty acts: the novelty tends to wear off.

What this little circus needs is a ringmaster with comic attitude, like smirky Martin Mull on the ’70s cult favorite Fernwood 2-Night. Manning the host’s desk here is a geeky but sincere character called Frank Hope (played by the show’s producer, Rich Brown). Like his announcer, bouncy Melissa Gabriel (her real name), he seems blind to the absurdity of it all. Frank’s other sidekick, David Greene, keeps his posture rigid, his eyes averted and his lips sealed. He’d be funnier if, like Fernwood’s Fred Willard, he said something stupid every few minutes.

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