Join Or Die – or – The Poor Man’s QI

After his comedy pilot The King of 7B didn’t get picked up to series, Craig Ferguson returned to his old love. Hosting a late night talkshow. Albeit in a different form, on an unusual channel: The History Channel. It’s called Join or Die and apart from an audience and a comfortable set, it needs minutes.

Delightful Cocktail
In December 2014, Craig Ferguson quit his Late Late Show, leaving a big hole in the late night/early morning schedule. As entertaining as his shoe filler James Corden is, Ferguson’s delightful cocktail of philosophy, absurdism and conversations instead of prefab interviews, was a breath of fresh air and a true successor has yet to emerge. When gay robot skeleton Geoffrey Peterson (Josh Robert Thompson) came on the scene, things got even more out of control, which only made the show better.

Quiz Talk
Because Ferguson got his big break on The Drew Carey Show, it wasn’t such a strange move to go back to sitcom land. For some reason, ABC didn’t think the pilot of The King of 7B was funny enough and decided to abandon the project. The History Channel jumped in and contracted Ferguson for a 22 episode season order of Join or Die. An historical, half hour talkshow slash quiz show.

Bleak Gimmick
The quiz show part of the equation might’ve looked like a good idea. The BBC has been pairing science and history with a panel and a bunch of interesting questions for years in Stephen Fry’s marvellous QI. Compared to that show, Join or Die is a rather bleak gimmick. The first episode features ‘History’s Biggest Political Blunder’. Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel, Jen D’Angelo and Howard Bragman discuss which of the 6 nominees should take home the prize; Rod Blagojevich, Herman ‘pizza delivery man’ Cain, Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, Christine ‘not a witch’ O’Donnell or Dick ‘trigger happy’ Cheney. In the second episode, Chris Hardwick, Jordan Carlos and Bob Pflugfelder shed their lights on ‘History’s Worst Medical Advice’.

Ferguson’s a terrific host, and even has a monologue at the beginning of the show à la late night, but the laugh track is obvious and annoying. In some of the shots, we see a couple of heads in front of the camera, to create the illusion of a studio audience, but I’m positive there’s nobody in the studio other than a few interns. It’s 2016, people. Why do the History Channel executives still think we’re happy listening to canned laughter? Whoever becomes President of the United States coming November, I hope (s)he will pass a bill that prohibits laugh tracks. Seriously. I know there are many who believe Friends (10 seasons) wouldn’t have been the phenomenon that it was, if they had left out all the knee slapping, but come on. The Office (9 seasons) did alright without it.

20 Minute Segment
Anyway. Join or Die is a nice get-together of people who try to decide what is the best or worst particular thing in history. But that’s all it is. I’d hoped for a more intellectual approach, to be honest. Less guests, more depth. Now it’s basically just a late night talkshow segment, stretched out to 20 minutes. Maybe, if they’d gone for an hour an episode, there’d be more time to philosophize, reflect and get more personal, too.

Green As Can Be
One more thing: the set is a bit awkward. It’s like a living room, but a living room stripped of any form of personality. Besides, the 6 options are projected behind the guests, so they have to look over to the side, to a different screen. Ferguson even has to turn around to see it. This just looks silly. In short, The History Channel is obviously as green as can be when it comes to a late night-like show. Still, Ferguson’s a great host and there are a lot of laughs, but he deserves a better format and environment.

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