June 27, 2010 — -- Variety is hardly the TV powerhouse it once was, but it has a fan who can bring it back, at least for one night: Ellen DeGeneres.
"I grew up watching Carol Burnett and the Smothers Brothers and Sonny and Cher and Donny and Marie. I just like that format. I like seeing different things," says DeGeneres, who brings her own take to the genre in "Ellen's Somewhat Special Special" (TBS, tonight, 9 ET/PT).
The daytime talk host and "American Idol" judge, who taped the special last week at the Just for Laughs festival sponsored by TBS in Chicago, believes there is enough interest to revive variety.
"I think the right person needs to do it, especially with everybody's fascination with 'America's Got Talent.' I love 'So You Think You Can Dance' and 'Idol,' then you've got all these different (programs and performers). So why not combine it in one show?" says DeGeneres, speaking in the days before the taping.
The cable network drew several specials from the festival; "Somewhat Special" will be followed by one featuring Conan O'Brien's writers doing stand-up comedy (10 ET/PT). "The writers of our show, many of them are performers in their own right," says O'Brien sidekick Andy Richter, who will host. "It's a showcase of different talented people."
In DeGeneres' special, acts range from Grammy-winning country trio Lady Antebellum to a comedian, a magician and acrobats, including one known as The Flag Man. Japan's Kabuki Expert, in its first U.S. appearance, will perform its Matrix Ping Pong act, made popular in a YouTube video.
"We try to find people who have not performed in the States before, or if you've seen them, it's not in this kind of situation," DeGeneres says.
The motivation to find and present talent, an outgrowth of DeGeneres' efforts on her daytime talk show, also spurred her to form her own record label, eleveneleven. One of her first performers is online singing sensation Greyson Chance.
"It's all about paying it forward and sharing it," she says. "I like being able to give somebody a break and share my experience and help them along."