The Orson Welles Show
1978-79, Unaired television series pilot
In September of 1978, Welles began work on another attempt to mount a television series, in a format that Welles knew very well: the talk show. A pilot was finished by February of 1979, but it failed to drum up support among the moneymen and was never developed any further. Burt Reynolds, the Muppets, and Angie Dickinson appeared as guests. According to editor Stanley Sheff (who also directed some sequences of the show when Welles was ill), this show marked Welles' first experience editing video material, as opposed to film. While the show never saw further production, it's intriguing to think of Welles as a talk show host, given the strict schedule involved and Welles' tendency to always want to move on to new projects. It is easier to imagine this as a several times a year type affair, rather than an ongoing daily or weekly series. The show is certainly good enough for a regular series, but one wonders if execultives believed that Welles was not reliable enough for a regular show, given his reputation in the industry, and not a big enough name any longer to host a periodic special attraction.
One of Welles' ideas for the show was rather unique, in that while the show featured the host-guest format of Johnny Carson and his ilk, Welles made his role as host more passive, allowing his major guest to be interviewed in part by the audience, rather than himself. This was an idea with some potential, providing that the guest was gregarious and the audience asking reasonably lucid questions. In the pilot, part of this equation was fulfilled, as Burt Reynolds obviously had a way with audiences and appeared to enjoy associating with them. Alas, the audience's questions for Reynolds, despite being scripted by Welles himself, are relatively dull, typical, and occasionally cheesy, as in the case of one female audience member who asks Reynolds for a kiss. Stanley Sheff informed me that "We used [the questions] as a way to bridge sections of the Burt Reynolds interview, which had an original length of three hours." While one might assume that it was a gag, Welles and Reynolds were not aware of the other wearing the same red shirt beforehand.
Reynolds was followed by a sequence of patter between the Muppets and Welles, and a magic trick by Welles. Interestingly, the trick itself ("the Mummy's Curse") was not shot for this show (it was intended for The Magic Show instead), but was intercut with Muppet reaction shots and comments. After this segment, a brief interview with chief Muppeteers Frank Oz and Jim Henson followed.
Angie Dickinson's appearance in the final segment revolved around Welles performing a pair of magic tricks, with Dickinson serving as an assistant of sorts. In the first, Welles performs a card trick, and in the second, Welles plays Russian roulette in a manner of speaking, as he tells the audience that he will know which of the six bullets in a revolver are blanks and which is the one live cartridge. The standard "experts checking the bullets" bit is included before Dickinson repeatedly fires the gun as Welles tells her either to aim at him or the target (see image below). The tricks are both handled well, but the gun trick is much more effective, as Welles builds the drama well. This particular trick was later to be recycled for The Magic Show. Following a commercial break, Welles wraps the show up with a poem, something he often did in his radio programs.
While enjoyable in parts, a problem with the show is Welles himself; his scripted comments during the guest segments come off as rehearsed, rather than spontaneous, and Welles delivers these speeches in a portentous fashion, which begins to grow wearisome, especially when the subjects are Burt Reynolds and the Muppets. Talk shows are rarely so heavy, for lack of a better term, and I can't imagine it playing well with viewers. Part of the appeal in television talk shows is their spontaneity between a good host and a given guest, and in The Orson Welles Show, that spark is often lacking. What Welles did so well in his radio hosting duties and guest appearances on other talk shows comes off as forced here. He should have trusted to his own natural charisma, rather than ponderous pronunciations on how much we were going to appreciate the future directorial career of Burt Reynolds. In its favor, the show does look better than a typical talk show, as the camerawork is more lively and inventive than would would expect. The screen captures above and below give some indication of the what went on. To see larger versions of the captures, as well as further images, click on the links below the final capture. (UPDATED: 11/24/03: Thanks to Stanley Sheff for providing some corrections and further information about the program.)
Further screen captures:
|Welles in audience 1||Jim Henson|
|Welles in audience 2||Card trick introduction|
|Reynolds and Welles 1||Card trick, Angie Dickinson|
|Reynolds and Welles 2||Card trick, Welles reveals|
|Oz, Henson and Welles 1||Russian roulette introduction|
|Oz, Henson and Welles 2||Russian roulette 2|
|Frank Oz||Russian roulette 3|