PASADENA, Calif. -- For Fox's new "Wanda Sykes Show," the comedian at its center has a simple mandate: "I'm your wrap-up of what happened during the week, but from my point of view."
Sykes' show replaces Fox's long-running "Mad TV," but it won't follow that show's rigid sketch format. Instead, Sykes' show (11 p.m. Saturday, WPGH) will be closer to "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO with a few sketches thrown in.
"We're going to have panels," explained executive producer John Ridley at a Fox press conference in August. "We want to have conversations. We want to have people mixing it up so it's not just going from a publicist's talking points but what do people really think."
Sykes has never been shy about telling people what she thinks, something she did most recently in an HBO stand-up special that touched on what it means to her to have the first African-American U.S. president ("I can buy whole watermelons now. I no longer have to grow them in a closet under my weed lamp") and what her life has been like since coming out as a lesbian ("It's harder being gay than being black. ... I didn't have to sit my parents down and tell them about my blackness").
Her desire to star in a Fox late-night series grew out of how she missed the show where she got her start: HBO's "Chris Rock Show."
"We had a blast on that show," she said, but she hadn't been looking for a talk show when Fox executives approached her about this new venture. And then Barack Obama's presidential campaign happened. "I was like, 'Wow, I really wish I had an outlet where I could go out there and just speak on this on a week-to-week basis and be current.' "
Sykes, who will continue her co-starring role on CBS's "The New Adventures of Old Christine," is just one of several minority performers to recently land a late-night program. George Lopez's weeknight show debuts Monday on TBS and Mo'Nique's BET chatfest has been on the air for a little more than a month, but Sykes remains the only woman in late night on a broadcast network.
Ridley said being black or being a woman only distinguishes a show briefly.
"I also think that a little bit of the problem is if you go with that assumption, then you're assuming that being a woman or being black is just one thing," he said. "It's really an opportunity to show that, no, just because we're of color, we may see things completely differently. ... Yes, Wanda's black, she's different, she's a woman. But beyond that, let's highlight her uniqueness and not her supposed similarities."
In a follow-up teleconference with reporters yesterday, Sykes agreed.
"All these shows are driven by the hosts. David Letterman is the only one who can do the Letterman show, and that goes for all of us," she said. "It's driven more by our personalities, not just the voice of a black woman. Yeah, I'm a black woman, but I don't speak for all black women."
Saturday's premiere will feature a panel that Sykes said won't have the same feel as the one on Maher's show.
"It won't be as serious, not as confrontational," she said. "You want to feel like these people are on the show for a reason, that I enjoy them. It's like mingling, but they will be opinionated."
Panelists scheduled for the premiere are Mary Lynn Rajskub ("24"), Daryl "Chill" Mitchell ("Brothers") and Phil Keoghan ("The Amazing Race").
"I want to get to know Phil," said Sykes, a "Race" fan. "I'm a little bit tired of seeing him standing on that mat greeting people from all around the world. I want to have a drink with him."
Yes, alcohol will be served. "The viewers at home will be drinking, so we should all be on the same plane," Sykes said.
The show will open with a monologue about what's bugging her -- this week it will likely be about how "everyone is picking on the president," Sykes said -- and her "Christine" co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus will appear in a taped piece. Keith Robinson will appear as a sidekick to Sykes.
There are no plans for regular appearances by musical acts, but she's willing to make exceptions.
"If Dick Cheney puts out a hip-hop album, we're booking him," she said.
Contact TV editor Rob Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.