Monday, June 16, 2003

Kiesewetter: A late-night Jones


With his new show, Orlando promises to offer something entirely different

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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The Orlando Jones Show will premier today at 11 p.m. on FX.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
No white guy, no desk, no band. No way you're going to confuse Orlando Jones with Letterman or Leno with a slogan like that.

Jones, 35, whose credits stretch from Drumline to Mad TV and the clever "Make 7 Up Yours" commercials, brings the freshest new show to late-night TV since Arsenio Hall.

"I don't get the sense that anyone is having fun in late-night," says the host of the new half-hour weeknight Orlando Jones Show premiering today (11 p.m., FX).

"There was a vibe, an energy and hipness to Johnny Carson that you don't see today." (Except Jon Stewart's The Daily Show?)

Jones is eager to try his luck on the late-night landscape that derailed Dennis Miller, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Sinbad, Chevy Chase, Pat Sajak, Joan Rivers and Earvin "Magic" Johnson, to name a few.

His show will be different.

No lengthy opening monologue. ("I'm an actor, not a stand-up comedian," he says.)

No cityscape backdrop.

No interviews interrupted by the obligatory movie or TV clip.

"I'm going to show the clip as they come out," Jones says. He'll talk to the guest about their new project for 21/2 minutes, then break for a commercial.

"When we come back, we're not talking about business anymore," he promises.

And no viewer should assume that every commercial is legit. He's seen on the show as spokesman for Rainbow Bandages, which come in a wide variety of shades for African-Americans: Chocolate Thunder, Shaq Black, Bernie Mac Black, Halle Berry Latte, Morgan Freeman Black (with freckles) and Michael Jackson Vitiligo White (for sensitive skin).

"Are we going to push the envelope? Absolutely!" he says. "After all, our slogan is 'No white guy. No desk. No band.' "

Goofy characters

The actor-writer has spent weeks stockpiling fake spots featuring his loopy characters - rap promoter C.N. Money; Clarence Thomas hosting The You People's Court; Raye-Raye from the House Arrest reality show; and Dr. Greeter from the Handshake Institute of Technology that creates new handshakes for African-Americans.

No doubt, from time to time we'll see that delightfully na‘ve goofball character that Jones did for 7 Up. Remember that guy in the green T-shirt which said "Make 7" on the front, and "Up Yours" on the back?

"I love these strange Peter Sellers-esque clueless characters who don't have any idea what he's saying, but he's totally committed to it," says Jones, who wrote much of the "Make 7 Up Yours" campaign.

Clueless certainly doesn't describe Jones, who majored in chemistry at the College of Charleston (S.C.). He and a friend started a Charleston advertising agency at 19 to launch his acting career.

"When you're a skinny, nerdy black kid in South Carolina, it's not like Hollywood was looking for you," he says.

His commercials helped him land a writing job on A Different World, Roc and The Sinbad Show. He made the transition to performing on Mad TV in 1995, which led to serious and comedic movie roles in Liberty Heights, Office Space, The Replacements, Bedazzled, The Time Machine, Drumline and Biker Boyz.

No thanks, no way. That's what Jones told his agent when FX called and wanted Jones to host a late-night show. But he met with FX executives, who expressed their desire for an out-of-the-box show.

"They said, 'We did The Shield, and that's not your typical cop show.' They wanted a cool vibe, something different in late-night," he says.

Movie career postponed

So Jones put his promising movie career on hold to design, write and produce 13 weeks of the Orlando Jones Show.

First he and his team designed the studio: No bleachers, no chairs. The audience will sit on overstuffed, cushioned benches.

Now that he's banked some comedy sketches, he's working on guest lists. No surprise, it's going to look different from Leno's or Letterman's lineups.

If he chats with anyone from NBC's Friends, first on his list would be Aisha Tyler, the first African-American with a recurring guest role (as Ross' girlfriend) on the all-white NBC sitcom set in diverse Manhattan.

"She's the first black person to break through that barrier on Friends," he says. "I'm not that interested in the others on Friends, and I'm not sure the audience is that interested. Haven't they heard it all before?"

Jones knows he can do a better interview with rapper 50 Cent than Jay or Dave. .

"The No. 1 golfer in the world, Tiger Woods, is black. The No. 1 R&B singer today, Justin Timberlake, is white," he notes. "It's a whole new world."

So the kid from South Carolina is ready to spread some Orlando magic on late-night TV. If it fails, he can always go back to movies.

"This is an opportunity that doesn't come around every couple of months, to create a late-night franchise. It's pretty incredible."

No kidding.

---

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com




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