September 01, 1997 12:00 PM

Syndicated (check local listings)

Grade: Vibe C; Wayans C+

They’re hip. They’re hot. They’re dope (and we mean that in the nicest way). But an early look at these late-night entries—direct competitors in some markets—suggests there’s nothing really new under the moon. Vibe has little backstage skits. Same with David Letterman and Jay Leno. Vibe and Keenen Ivory Wayans offer clips of embarrassing roles from guests’ early careers. Ditto Dave and Jay. Wayans high-fives ecstatic audience members. So does Leno in his awkward fashion, although the better-conditioned Wayans tops him by dashing through the crowd to the stage.

Geared toward the young urban viewer left out in late night since the 1994 demise of The Arsenio Hall Show, both Vibe (spun off from the magazine of the same name) and the Wayans effort feature more rap music than is dreamt of in Dave and Jay’s philosophy. But it’s the host who makes or breaks a show like this. Or, as executive producer Quincy Jones said to Chris Spencer on Vibe’s opening night, “It’s all on you, baby.” It’s not immediately clear that the 29-year-old comedian is ready to carry the load. Though likable, he has often seemed ill at ease, overeager and starstruck. The 39-year-old Wayans, best known as the creator-host of In Living Color, comes on comparatively relaxed and confident, casually advertising his friendships with guests like Eriq LaSalle (“Me and you go way back”) and Robert Townsend (“Me and you go all the way back”). If anything, he’s too laid-back. As for the house bands, the early nod goes to the Vibe outfit led by Greg “Mouse” Phillanganes, a good sport in the Paul Shaffer-Kevin Eubanks tradition. Wayans is holding a contest to name his fetching, all-female group. What else but the Sex Objects?

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