When Neil Patrick Harris walked out onto the Oscars stage in his tighty-whiteys during February's Academy Awards broadcast, he wasn't just spoofing a memorable scene from "Birdman." Intended or otherwise, his skimpy costume also spoke to how he was exposing himself, putting it all on the line by playing Hollywood's biggest, toughest and most scrutinized room.
Not that he ever let the worldwide audience see him sweat: “Acting is a noble profession,” he deadpanned.
It's unclear whether Harris earned another Oscars hosting bid that night. But the peripatetic performer, who previously notched strong notices for Emmy and Tony hosting gigs, keeps putting himself out there: His new variety show, “Best Time Ever,” launches Tuesday on NBC, giving him another platform to bring his multiple talents to a big crowd, this time on a weekly basis.
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The TV variety show format is a throwback – and, in some ways, so is Harris, an all-purpose entertainer armed with a quick wit and a gift for carrying musical production numbers. He’s built a varied fan base that covers a quarter-century stretch of sitcoms (“Doogie Howser, MD” to “How I Met Your Mother’), and includes movies (from the chill "Harold & Kumar" comedies to the chilling "Gone Girl") and musical (from Broadway's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" to the Comic-Con-friendly Internet romp "Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog").
At age 42, Harris is just old enough to remember the end of "The Carol Burnett Show," TV's last great primetime, mass-audience, network variety show – and he’s young enough to shake up and update the traditional variety mix. The website for “Best Time Ever,” based on the British show "Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway," promises “mini game shows, audience giveaways and hidden camera pranks,” along with the usual celebrity guests, comedy skits and songs.
The producers no doubt envision the show producing viral clips. But “Best Time Ever” – like the Oscars, Tonys and Emmys – will air live, rising or falling with the charming, high-energy Harris, no matter what he's wearing. Check out a preview above as Harris bids to bring some new spice to variety.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.