REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Rebecca Roberts.
(Soundbite of recording)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: How would you like hear a tune that we recorded just a couple of years called "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconut"?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Merv Griffin going to sing that thing?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: He sure is.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I'm going to sit over here and listen to him.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Merv, you all ready?
Mr. MERV GRIFFIN (Talk Show Host; Game Show Host, "Jeopardy"): Yes.
Boys, here we go.
(Soundbite of song "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconut")
Mr. GRIFFIN: (Singing) Hey, hey. Down at an English fair, one evening I was there. When I heard a showman shouting underneath the flair. Oh, I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts…
ROBERTS: In 1950, this novelty act hit the top of the charts, a big break for the unknown vocalist, Merv Griffin. "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" was just the beginning for Griffin who went on to become a talk show host, game show creator and real estate tycoon.
Merv Griffin died today at the age of 82.
Joining me now with more is Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales.
Tom, how many different TV shows did Merv Griffin had a hand in?
Mr. TOM SHALES (TV Critic, Washington Post): Well, maybe too many to count because some of them flopped and went away immediately. But most of his successes, of course, are very well known. The biggest probably being "Jeopardy," as far as being a producer and inventor of shows, this silly little game that has become something of an institution.
ROBERTS: And as a talk show host, do you think his influence or legacy is still being felt?
Mr. SHALES: I think so. It would be better if it were felt more because he had an eclectic mix of guests. That thick DVD collection came out last year, I think, Merv sort of published himself. But if you watched it, you saw the range of people, that was politicians, not just the movie star who's plugging the picture that opens on Friday the way we have now with Jay Leno and David Letterman and the others.
But Merv had been a lot more interesting. His idol in that respect, or his mentors sort of was Jack Paar. In fact, Merv filled in for Jack a few times during Jack's mini-vacations on the "Tonight Show" and Merv was even considered a likely replacement for Paar when he left. But Johnny Carson, of course, got the job instead.
ROBERTS: And he went on to become a Hollywood fixture, obviously, enormously wealthy, involved in everything from the Ronald Reagan Library, bought the Beverly Hilton. He became sort of a larger-than-life personality off television.
Mr. SHALES: Yes. Well, of course, his figure ballooned too. And he became larger than life in that respect. When you get rich and successful, that often follows. You eat well and drink well, and he was a man who loved those pleasures. He wasn't a buoyant, fat figure always. He was mocked easily for his sort of little ticks as an interviewer, leaning way forward into the guest to, you know, foster more intimacy and candor in a conversation.
They used to parody him regularly on SCTV and kept repeating his mantra, we'll be right back. We'll be right back. The imitation became almost as iconic as the man himself. But the show was enjoyable. It's fun to look back on at now on those old DVDs. It's a time capsule, of course, of the decades during which he romped through the airwaves. I always thought it would have been nice if he'd remained in television but he chose to become as kind of a game player himself, buying and selling huge properties and making lots of money.
ROBERTS: Thanks so much, Tom.
Mr. SHALE: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales remembering Merv Griffin who died today at the age of 82.
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