NEW YORK (AP) — If you doubt that Maya Rudolph and Martin Short are funny together — indeed, a match made in heaven — just recall their memorable number on the 40th anniversary special for “Saturday Night Live.”
Rudolph revived her uncanny impersonation of Beyonce, resplendent in her lace bodysuit, her tresses billowing from a wind machine that threatened to blow Short offstage. Their duet was one of the highlights of the broadcast.
Now these multitalented stars of TV and film have partnered for a six-week NBC run that promises to whip up the same level of hilarity.
Debuting Tuesday at 10 p.m. EDT, right after the two-hour season premiere of “America’s Got Talent,” “Maya & Marty” is a variety show whose first outing will welcome guests Miley Cyrus, Larry David, Jimmy Fallon and Tom Hanks as well as series regular Kenan Thompson.
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A day before that first show would be taped one floor down in Studio 6A, the two hosts greeted a reporter in the conference room of their 30 Rockefeller Plaza offices as Rudolph, casual in jeans and an oxford-cloth shirt, pulled on a sweater against the overwrought air conditioning.
Rudolph: “Sometimes, you gotta layer!”
Associated Press: You’ll be shedding that sweater when you go outside this building!
Rudolph (laughing): “We’ll NEVER leave this building!”
Short (comfy in blue blazer, plaid shirt and jeans): “Is it warm today?”
Rudolph: “It’s supposed to be 90! It’s exceptionally gorgeous outside, which is still a treat for me. The beautiful thing about different seasons for someone from L.A. is —”
Short (feigning impatience): “Yeah, yeah. Let’s move on!”
Rudolph: “Sorry. I forgot I was talking to a Canadian.”
AP: You both seem very composed for this to be the day before you do your first show.
Rudolph (with a slight shrug): “I can tell, you WANT us to be nervous. But I think this is it.”
Short: “Long ago, I realized that to be nervous or scared did NO good when I perform. So I zen myself into a state of great relaxation.”
It turns out this easygoing twosome have known each other for a dozen years, but had never worked together until the “SNL” anniversary show in February 2015. They clicked.
Short: “Sometimes you find an immediate chemistry with somebody, like you’ve known each other for many decades. Mama!”
Soon after, they began talks with the network and Lorne Michaels (executive producer of “SNL” and well as the new series) about teaming up for a weekly TV show. Then, last summer, Short invited Rudolph and her husband, director Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”), and their four children up to his cottage in Canada, along with some writers, to brainstorm.
Short: “We just sat on the dock and drank Rum-and-Ting and talked about what the show might be.”
Rudolph: “Nothing’s better than Rum-and-Ting.”
Short: “Part of the creative process!”
Rudolph: “And what we came away with was, we want work be a joy, with the best possible people.”
Short: “On our show, there will be singing and dancing and sketches and characters.”
Rudolph: “We’re entertainers! Or, as some like to call it: ham-bones!”
Two years ago, Rudolph headlined a variety special on NBC, which allowed her to get her feet wet with what was a dream project.
Rudolph: “I did it to show myself I could do it. I knew it was the next direction I wanted to go in.”
Since then, she’s been waiting for the moment she could jump in all the way. But then, as now with “Maya & Marty,” a bit of skepticism has greeted what she aims to do. That’s because of the term applied to it, “variety,” which many observers think of fondly (thanks to bygone classics like “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show”), but others may consider passe (supporting this view: the Neil Patrick Harris “Best Time Ever” variety show, which survived just one cycle last fall.)
Rudolph: “Other people are more concerned about the idea of ‘variety’ than we are. For some reason, there’s an expectation that our show is meant to be something we’ve all seen before. But we’re NEVER gonna see what we saw before again. We’re gonna see what we’re seeing today: Marty and my show — today!”
Short: “We’re not trying to bring back a form, because I don’t think the variety form ever went away: ‘America’s Got Talent’ and ‘The Voice’ are variety shows. (‘Tonight Show’ host) Jimmy Fallon does a full-fledged variety show every night.”
AP: Yes, but can a variety show stand on its own without an element of competition, or a talk-show’s couch and sofa?
Short: “It’s like when the sitcom was considered dead. Then Bill Cosby created a hit show (his legendary ‘The Cosby Show’ in 1984) that was a sitcom — and, by the way, was really well-written and (well)-acted. Suddenly: ‘We were wrong! The sitcom is BACK!'”
AP: That’s true. Every faded program genre is just one hit away from a comeback.
Short: “I think our show has a good shot. But I never assume when I start something that, ‘Oh, I bet I’m gonna be on for eight years. Or, I bet this is gonna win the Oscarrrrrr!’ If our show is a success, fantastic! And if not, we’ll do just six shows. And we’ll be fine.”
Rudolph: “But do you think there is a possibility that we might win an Oscar from this?”
Short: “We could win a Daytime Oscar.”
Rudolph (all smiles): “I would like one of those on my mantle!”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore