Between the twin humiliations of his frozen peas and Paul Masson commercials, and unable to finish his last feature The Other Side of the Wind, Orson Welles found himself on an LA soundstage with Burt Reynolds, wearing matching red shirts with enormous collars and chatting about showbiz for a TV pilot. This was Welles’ shot at hosting a talk show. There were no takers.
Like much of the great director’s work, The Orson Welles Show was made on the cheap, and if no one will confuse this unloved project with Chimes at Midnight, it’s not because Welles was slacking. In Orson Welles Remembered, the show’s editor, Stanley Sheff, says that he got the job by offering to work for free for three days, which “turned into a year of collaboration with Mr. Welles on The Orson Welles Show.” That’s right: according to Sheff, he and Welles put in a year of eight-hour days editing this 74-minute program on video, “working weekends and holidays when required.” Compare this with Citizen Kane, which started post-production in November 1940 and was first screened in January 1941.
Did I mention The Orson Welles Show was cheaply made? The budget was such that Sheff had to wear three hats, filling in for Welles as director for a few inserts and playing the part of the violinist in the big finish with Angie Dickinson. And according to the notes on YouTube, it’s not just the canned laughter that makes the lengthy interview with Reynolds (roughly the first half of the show) seem so odd:
Audience questions for the Burt Reynolds Q&A session were scripted, with members of the audience given line readings - this was necessary, as unlike normal talk shows filmed with a multiple-camera setup, the low-budget show was filmed with only one camera, and so it was necessary to do multiple retakes to get multiple camera angles.
The second half of the show runs at a higher gear. Welles intones something about “the unfathomable antiquity of ancient Egypt.” Fozzie Bear gets flop sweat doing his “A material” during the Muppets’ bit, which leads into an interview with Jim Henson (“think Rasputin as an Eagle Scout,” Welles says) and Frank Oz. But it’s the last fifteen minutes of the show that are pure Welles. Fans of F for Fake will discern a strong formal resemblance between that film and the elaborate magic tricks that close The Orson Welles Show; I’m guessing this is where all those hours in the editing room went.
Watch the pilot for ‘The Orson Welles Show’ after the jump…