When a new talk show hits the air, publicists often employ a wait-and-see attitude before encouraging their clients to appear.
If the host has a reputation for being somewhat acerbic, the caution flag is raised even higher. The pubs need to be convinced he or she is suitably obsequious to Celebrity. (Some performers refuse to appear on Letterman for that reason.) Oh, and there's also a little thing called ratings.
In the case of Dennis Miller, who's been known to cut down oversized egos to Ritz cracker dimensions, the attitude among some publicists was "Wait ... wait a little longer ... and see." But now that it's been on the air for six months, Miller's show on CNBC is a "known quantity," says talent booker Stephanie Bowen. "In the beginning, we had to take the time to explain the show's format and concept, and how it could work for their client. "
Making that case was made a bit more difficult due to Miller's curious flip-flop from a somewhat liberal Republican basher to a somewhat conservative liberal basher. (He blames it on 9/11.) Plus, he was coming off a less-than-stellar stint as a Monday Night Football sidekick. But a strong start in the ratings and his still-razor-sharp wit satisfied critics. And, despite a subsequent dip in viewers, the show is seen as a solid platform for authors, comics, politicians, and current-events-minded celebrities. An actor who floats in the shallow pool of Hollywood self-absorption, however, might find himself in over his head.
"We have specific ideas we want to explore, and we approach appropriate guests through their publicists," Bowen says. "We are also fielding more calls from publicists who want to expose their clients to Dennis' demographic. Obviously, the better they know the show, the better they can pitch the show."
As with most fledgling efforts, the format has been tweaked along the way, evolving into more of a comedy program with an emphasis on being topical and skeptical. The "top of the lineup" guest is booked relatively late, to capitalize on newsworthiness, while the panel guests are often scheduled weeks in advance to achieve a political balance.
Publicists may all be on board the Dennis Miller Show, but imagine the hand-wringing they're now going through over the new guy who follows him: John McEnroe.