Can You Handler? - Broadcasting & Cable

Can You Handler?

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With the strike giving us a chance to check out new shows, I decided to try Chelsea Handler's 11:30 p.m. talker on E!.

Normally, if I want to watch a good-looking blonde in a raunchy late-night show, I go where everyone else does: Cinemax.

But Chelsea Lately is the kind of light, fluffy offering that in time could develop into a fixture. Plus you don't have to remember to change the channel when you're done at night to avoid your wife catching you when she flips on the tube in the morning. And the show's ratings are good enough to ensure its survival.

E! spends 23.5 hours a day genuflecting in front of Hollywood. Handler punches the town in the groin for the remaining half-hour. The harder Britney crashes, the more Handler's smile flashes.

And that's the brash appeal of this show. The strike has made Hollywood look even more self-important to many, if that's possible. So the timing couldn't be better for someone like Handler to get a little traction by tearing it back down to size.

On a typical night, Handler—a comedian the last 12 years—starts with an often-rabid rant about something that ticks her off. With her blatant disdain for the Lindsay and Paris set that sends trash mags flying off grocery store racks, this is when she is at her best. She is acerbic yet likable, the kind of girl you want to have a beer with while you talk about people behind their backs.

Unfortunately, the rest of each show features too little of this Chelsea for one's liking.

The monologue segues into a frenetic walk through the day's pop culture headlines featuring a rotating three-person in-studio panel that includes comedians, journalists and TV personalities. This segment is predictably uneven because it's only as good as the guests any night. The comedians' cheap shots are often fun, but the E! and tabloid TV personalities are usually more cautious (read: boring).

When we met for coffee recently, Handler told me she tries to avoid the glorified junket stops when she then goes one-on-one with a guest. “I don't want to hear about your movie,” she told one recently. Not that she's always so on-point: A few days after our meeting, she spent almost half an Andy Dick appearance talking up his movie.

The show often closes with taped comedy. A funny recent bit had Handler dressing in a fat suit to suffer a la Tyra Banks, only to find that all the guys on her staff wanted to bed her.

If it sounds like Handler enjoys talking about sex, it's because she wrote the book on it: My Horizontal Life charts her history of one-night stands. Another one's on the way called Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea.

Our coffee meeting was the third time we'd seen each other that month. I said it was like our third date. “Then we would have already had sex three times,” she fired back. Sex three times in one month? Clearly this woman is not married.

She is, however, dating; the man in question is her boss, Comcast Entertainment Group CEO Ted Harbert (he oversees E! as well). They deny it, but the couple is blatantly trying to usurp Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen as the top executive-talent power couple in TV.

The odds may be long: Handler loves to tell people Harbert's time is about up. “Our relationship is short term; that lease is probably up in January,” she says.

Ouch. I guess NBC is not the only thing a Comcast executive may be trying to acquire in 2008.

And when I watch her show, I'm probably thinking what Harbert is: I wouldn't mind seeing Chelsea a bit longer.

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