Today’s Guest: Tom Bergeron, TV host, “Fox After Breakfast,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “America’s Funniest Home Videos”
Originally Published February 24, 1997
Is the 6,500-square-foot “Fox After Breakfast” TV set really a complete working apartment? Real enough for comedian John Leguizamo.
Given the choice of rooms in which to be interviewed, Leguizamo chooses the bathroom. No problem; host Tom Bergeron and guest co-host Daisy Fuentes hop up on a side-by-side washer/dryer combination. But that leaves Leguizamo lacking a place to sit.
“Where’s the toilet?” he asks, confused.
Sorry, no toilet. That would be too realistic. Not a problem; the comedian climbs into the claw-footed tub. He even turns on the faucet, like ha, ha, water’s going to come out. Ha, ha! It does. And there’s no stopping the tape so Leguizamo can dry off — this Fox TV show goes out live.
Leguizamo is on the show promoting his new movie, The Pest. In it, he performs a rap — in the shower. And since he swears he’ll do anything for laughs, Fuentes dares him to recreate his rap in the “Fox After Breakfast” shower.
Not missing a beat, Leguizamo steps into the shower and — ha, ha! — turns on the water. Fully dressed and soaking wet, he raps.
“At some point,” Bergeron says, taking charge of his show again, “we’ll see a clip from John’s new movie, although I think this sold it better than any clip could.”
When the show is over, Bergeron is delighted.
“None of us knew he was going in!” he swears, insisting the shower was completely impromptu. “I’m always pleasantly surprised — when I’m pleasantly surprised. The only other person who has been in our shower and turned the water on is Rob Schneider (“Men Behaving Badly”), who was stark naked, giving himself a loofah when he was interviewed. He was promoting the movie ‘Down Periscope,’ which I said gave that title a whole new meaning based on what I saw.”
Bergeron, a former Boston radio personality, insists that “Fox After Breakfast” — the network version of a show he previously did called “Breakfast Time” on the fX cable network — is unscripted and unrehearsed.
“We’re improvising a lot of this, which amazes people,” the host says. “On the show you see virtually all of our thought processes working their way out. That’s the core of what’s different. It takes a few days of viewing to settle into the visual language of the show because you’re used to seeing everything so neatly buttoned down and predictable. But we’re like a wacky little house party.”
If you haven’t seen his show yet, the look and feel are unmistakable. Hand-held cameras follow the action from kitchen to dining room to bedroom and bath; the apartment set offers real depth of field. On this particular installment, Bergeron and Fuentes introduce segments with a lively Latin mambo band, DLG, playing and dancing in the living room behind them. Later, Bergeron sits in a king-size bed with MTV VJ and calendar pin-up Fuentes, introducing the next segment. There are few of the typical talk show’s usual close-up shots and tight two-shots. And Bergeron works without the usual safety nets — no TelePrompTer tells him what to say next, no earpiece barks a studio director’s instructions.
“Some people come in and really freak,” Bergeron says of the kinetic atmosphere. “There’s movement everywhere, even a dancing housekeeper!” As wild as all this sounds, Bergeron yearns for the good old days of fX, when he really flew by the seat of his pants. Back then, his regular co-hosts including Laurie Hibberd and Al Rosenberg, who gave life to wise-cracking Bob the Puppet.
They enjoyed good times together starting in 1994 in the relative anonymity of fX. Especially when it came to welcoming celebrity guests who had never seen the show before.
“Molly Ringwald had a deer in the headlights look,” Bergeron recalls, chuckling. “Bob the Puppet was freaking her out. She couldn’t wait to get out of here. And Bronson Pinchot came in feeling he was too hip for the room and told a couple of really bad taste jokes. I got so fed up with his condescending attitude!”
Ah, the good old days of puppets and Pinchot.
Hibberd made the jump to Fox with Bergeron in August 1996 but was let go after a few months. Bob the Puppet survived until Christmas before the strings were cut. “The network said, ‘We don’t think the puppet is working,’ ” according to Bergeron.
And while Bergeron knows many fans assume he’s responsible for breaking up the old gang, he swears it went against his wishes.
“I work best when people are here to puncture me,” he says. “I’ve always said, ‘Treat me like a bulls-eye with pants.’ That’s what Laurie was good at doing, and Al, doing Bob the Puppet, was a master of all the insults and stuff. My natural-born sarcasm, when it’s unimpeded, can be a bit overbearing at times and I’m the first to admit that. When I had people scratchin’ my shorts a bit, it played better. We lost a bit of that in all the personnel changes and it’s an element we need to get back.”
Bergeron wonders how the host of “Politically Correct,” another recent cable to network TV graduate feels about any compromises made for a wider audience.
“I’d like to have a drink with Bill Maher and see how he feels,” Bergeron says. “We were too conservative coming over to Fox from fX, and got ourselves off our best game. We heard from focus groups that, ‘People don’t understand when you move, they don’t understand when you walk and talk at the same time.’ But we have to sink or swim on shows that have energy, movement and unpredictability.”
“Fox After Breakfast” competes in many markets against ABC’s “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee,” a show with which it has a few things in common. For one, both go out live at 9 a.m. Eastern. For another, both shows have hosts with children named “Cody.”
“I don’t mind talking about my two daughters,” Bergeron says. “But I don’t feel comfortable denying them their privacy. I call them ‘Cody & Cody’ because I decided to use the name of a kid who has already been relentlessly dragged into the public eye.”
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