Thank God You're Here



9-11 p.m., Monday, April 9

There are clever moments in NBC's new improv series "Thank God You're Here," but you can get awfully restless waiting for them. Mostly, it is because of the unpredictably hit-or-miss nature of the improv form. It nearly is impossible to be consistently funny with the first thing that comes into your head. Comedy club audiences understand and give actors leeway; TV viewers probably won't.

Adapted from a hit Australian show by FremantleMedia North America, "Thank God" has a host, a judge and four guests each week. The host, producer David Alan Grier, introduces the guest, who then goes backstage to be put in costume. The guest returns and is thrust through a door and into a scene without knowing the situation. The surprised performer always is greeted with the same line: "Thank God you're here."

The show has a two-hour premiere Monday and then a subsequent two-hour episode the following Monday before shifting to its regular 8 p.m. Wednesday slot April 18, Wayne Knight dons a white lab coat for an interview about his line of food supplements, Jennifer Coolidge becomes a beauty pageant contestant, Joel McHale is an archeologist on the brink of a great discovery and Bryan Cranston turns into an aging rock star. Other anonymous (though often convincing) actors in the scene pepper the guests with open-ended questions. After all of the guest skits, there's a scene in which all four participate.

Dave Foley, as sole judge, gives brief and unfailingly complimentary feedback after each sketch. At the end of the show, he picks one performer to get a plastic award. That's it. No donations to charity. No playing for a member of the audience. Just the plastic award.

In between skits, there are taped pieces, which Grier said were made to help guests warm up to the process. These were much funnier than the performances before the remarkably appreciative studio audience. That's not ironic. The taped pieces were edited to include only the best ad libs; the studio show has lots of lines that go thud on the stage floor.

There's a reason improv-based shows like ABC's "Sons & Daughters" and Bravo's "Significant Others" shot take after take to come up with 20 minutes or so of funny material. And even with all that, these shows failed to click with a wide audience.

There's a way to make "Thank God" better. Stop dressing the stars in costumes. Let them figure out their characters even as they ad lib their initial responses. That would add some excitement, though probably not enough to prolong the life of the series.

NBC is under a mandate to cut production costs for some of its primetime shows. "Thank God" will certainly help do that. Whether it does anything else for the peacock network is unlikely.

FremantleMedia North America based on a format created by Working Dog
Executive producers: Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Fax Bahr, Adam Small
Producer: David Alan Grier
Line producer: Steven Markowitz
Director: Ron de Moraes
Production designer: John Calkins
Art director: David Edwards
Host: David Alan Grier
Judge: Dave Foley