Monday, March 18, 2024

DJ David Brenner

David Brenner Live was a very short-lived program by a comedian who was very famous at the time. It's so brief that some of the articles about the debut, didn't run until it was almost over. The image above is from the August 31st, 1985 issue of Billboard magazine. The show first aired July 17th of that year. The earliest reference I found was in the July 6th issue of Billboard, it was a short plug.
"Also in New York, DIR Broadcasting has a music/comedy weekly dubbed "David Brenner Live" slated for a July 17th debut. David Lee Roth and Joe Piscopo are the honored guests for that episode, and the 90-minute program is promised to be mostly music. Features on the show, for which 150 stations have signed up so far, include, an oldies segment, top 10 count down, live performances and a listener phone-in bit."

The description sounds like the dogs breakfast, it's music, it's comedy, it's talk, it's live, it's a call-in... It sounds like they didn't have a plan. Alternate theory... maybe they wanted to give Brenner options. A smart programmer might understand it was the safe move to give a stand-up comic flexibility. Who knows. 

That description left me wondering what the show sounded like, but my impression was that there were very few episodes aired. How many show's were there?  I don't really know for sure.  There are 15 weeks and 3 days between the given start and end dates. If it was a weekly program, then that'd be an absolute maximum of 16 episodes. I wrote this draft post years ago, but I found a tape of one show just in March of 2024. At some point I'll have to digitize that aircheck.

August 31st, 1985, Billboard described a CBS segment on DIR Broadcasting's new comedy program "David Brenner Live." That first episode included an interview with David Brenner, DIR's Bob Myrowitz, and the guest was David Lee Roth. The article also identified July 17th as the debut. Myrowitz and DIR are better known for other syndicated programs: The King Biscuit Flower Hour, Schaefer Rock City, and Country Cuts.

David Brenner was a trail-blazer in the genre of observational comedy. He was a  regular on Tonight Show in the 1970s, a frequent guest of Howard Stern, Bill Maher, David Letterman, Larry King and even Ed Sullivan. He was a very influential comic and a beloved figure in his home town of Philadelphia. He's kind of like Rocky, except that he's real. I'd also like to state for the record that his books are good. My personal favorites are Soft Pretzels with Mustard and Nobody Ever Sees You Eat Tuna Fish. Those are autobiographical and have real depth. He didn't tone down the poverty, cocaine or revenge. More here.

David Brenner Live was officially cancelled by November. The New London Day newspaper ran a short article confirming the news on November 2nd. The reasons for the cancellation were disputed. DIR stated that Brenner had scheduling challenges between the program and his stand up comedy obligations. It sounded plausible. But in December Brenner himself stated that he was actually concentrating on a TV pilot. His radio contract was only for 4 shows, with an option to do more. He did the four and moved on. That's all the episodes that exist according to Brenner as a primary source. [SOURCE]

So what was that TV pilot? Brenner got his own TV talk show, Nightlife. It aired weeknights from September 8, 1986, to June 19, 1987. It was produced by Motown Productions in association with King World Productions, the show was filmed in New York City and featured a house band led by Billy Preston. (Yes, the fifth Beatle Billy Preston.)  Dan Ingram was the show's announcer. Nightlife earned an average Nielsen rating of  2.4; not amazing but not bad. Purportedly it was just lost in a sea of other night time talk shows. It still ran for 195 episodes. That's about 40 weeks.

According to that November 2nd issue of Billboard, Brenner's slot was filled with "Almost Live With Richard Belzer." (Mr Belzer has his own oddball radio career I'll cover another day.) Finally in 1987 DRI explained what they had been trying to do. It was Kim Freeman at Billboard again covering the comedy beat. 

"Even with the likes of hot comedians Robert Klein, Richard Belzer, and David Brenner and New York radio star Howard Stern, DIR's longform efforts in this field have "hit a wall" after clearing 30% to 40% of the country. each of these shows were targeted mainly toward album rock radio, a format that [Peter] Kauff feels is missing the boat by not embracing more comedy."
Brenner took a second stab at radio in 1994 hosting a daytime talk-radio program. He took over the time slot of the Larry King Show on Westwood One. It ran 3:00 - 6:00 PM Eastern time. The first episode guests included David Letterman, Howard Stern and comedian Richard Lewis. Some critics bemoaned the change from news to entertainment but the show aired in 100 markets and ran from 1994 to 1996. David Brenner died in 2014 of pancreatic cancer.

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