NEW YORK -- The best way to discover "My Talk Show" is to be an unwary late-night viewer who tunes in, not quite sure of what's happening.
It sure looks like a talk show. there are couches at conversational angles. There's a cast of regulars and there are Celebrity Guests. But there's something vaguely screwy about the show, something just slightly out of whack.
"We've been saturated by talk shows," said executive producer Andrew Alexander, who also was a developer of "SCTV," the acclaimed comedy series. "It seems logical that everybody should have their own talk show."
Our host for "My Talk Show" (midnight week nights on WJLA) is homemaker Jennifer Bass. She originates the live show from the living room of her home in Derby, Wis. The studio audience sits on bleachers in her garage.
Jennifer began her talk show career at Derby Junior College, where she was host of "Coed to Coed." After graduation she married her high school sweetheart, but he left "to search for his identity."
Then her best friend and next-door neighbor, Angela Davenport, urged her to do "My Talk Show." It aired on a cable access channel, where it was seen by a visiting TV executive who put the show into national syndication.
The biography of Angela, Jennifer's co-host, says she rebelled against her upbringing and joined the Hell's Angels.
"Along the way, Angela saw much of America and learned to strip and reassemble a Harley-Davidson in 20 minutes."
Other regulars include Jennifer's semiworthless brother-in-law, Marty Dissler, whose trailer is parked in her driveway, and Anne Marie Snelling, the local dinner theater's leading lady and head of the Chamber of Commerce.
Ms. Bass introduces her guests, usually two or three local celebrities and the Celebrity Guest, who talks of a current Hollywood project or a hobby or personal cause. It sure looks like a talk show.
But something just doesn't . . . feel . . . right. Maybe it was the segment with Derby's newly voted "Bachelor of the Year," who seems terribly insecure and slightly afraid of women.
Maybe it was the eccentric neighbor who bursts into the room in his undershorts, giggling hysterically and shouting that he's dreaming that he's appearing on national television in his underwear.
As it turns out (ah, but you saw this one coming, right?) the syndicated "My Talk Show" is really one of the cleverest situation comedies on TV. It airs late at a night in more than 100 markets, or about 90 percent of the country.
It's the spiritual heir to "Fernwood 2-Nite" and "America 2-Nite," the wildly alienated, sometimes offensive parodies of late-night talk shows in the late '70s that were summer replacements for "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."
Martin Mull and Fred Willard played a glib, egotistical talk show host and utterly stupid second banana. Their talk show interviewed other characters, usually grotesques of Hollywood stereotypes.
The difference with "My Talk Show" is that it actually is a talk show. The Celebrity Guest is being interviewed by fictional characters who are working out their lives on a talk show, literally "living up there."
Jennifer Bass actually is an actress named Cynthia Stevenson; Stephanie Hodge plays Angela, and David Packer is Marty, the brother-in-law.
"The functional characters are constantly imploding into the interviewers," said Alexander. "There's a certain structure to it, but the questions are real."
The celebrities seem to enjoy it, said staff writer Debra McGrath, an alumnus of the Second City improvisational troupe, who plays Anne Marie Snelling and who co-created the show with Linda Kash.
They envisioned a talk show where the regulars were more wrapped up in their own lives than in celebrities. "A guest would have to come on and deal with whatever was going on in their lives," McGrath said.
A running gag in "My Talk Show" is its low budget, as when Robert Goulet did the show and there was no money to pay the royalties if he sang "If Ever I Would Leave You."
"But we do have a list of public domain songs," McGrath said, lapsing helplessly into character. "Robert Goulet sang 'The Bear Went Over The Mountain' and 'The Itsy Bitsy Spider' with such conviction."