She's done her share of stand-up, she has her own talk show, she's hosted the Oscars and the Emmys, and now Ellen DeGeneres is tackling one of her first loves: the variety show. Ellen's Really Big Show (tonight at 9 pm/ET, TBS) combines musical numbers with some of her favorite quirkier acts, like quick-change artists David & Dania and magician Lance Burton, as well as acrobats, jump-ropers and dancers, oh my! Mary J. Blige, Barry Manilow and Lyle Lovett are among the bigger stars scheduled to appear. Plus, says DeGeneres, "We have Sheryl Crow and she's performing this song ["Shine Over Babylon"] and it's her world premiere — I don't think she's even seen it. She'll be singing it for the first time ever. It's neat to see a lot of different types of talent instead of one thing for an hour and a half."
In fact, it's her love of the hodgepodge genre — and her fond memories of shows like Carol Burnett, The Smothers Brothers and Sonny & Cher — that led Ellen to her newest endeavor. "I've been wanting to do a variety show for a long time," says DeGeneres. "If this does work, I'd love to do it on a pretty regular basis; I think a lot of people do miss that kind of show. You don't get bored — it's not just a singer, a sketch, it's a little bit of everything."
When it came time to pick the acts that will be performing, "I just put their names in a big drum and I reached in and one guy didn't do anything, he was an insurance salesman, so I put his name back," jokes DeGeneres. But seriously, "We had an abundance of talent to chose from," like singer Ryan Shaw, who will be performing with the African Children's Choir. "He's great and very soulful."
With the popularity of talent shows like Dancing with the Stars and American Idol (and with the threat of networks running out of programming as a result of the writers' strike), could the variety show be making a comeback? "Things seem to be cyclical," says DeGeneres. "It's only a matter of time. I really think that people are ready to see a variety show on prime time, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say a mullet — people are going to want to wear mullets again."
As for the prospect of DeGeneres — who's famous for dancing her way into her talk-show studio every day — going after the DWTS disco-ball trophy like one of Really Big's marquee performers, Wayne Newton, don't hold your breath. "Oh, god no, no," DeGeneres says emphatically. "This [dancing on her show] is just a fluke that has happened. I have, like, four moves if you really slow down the tape, so I don't think I could do any of those things that they're doing. Plus, I think they make the girls wear a dress, so that would put me out right away."
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