The Watchman: Norm Macdonald’s Funky Talk Show, Novelist Somerville Finds Inner ‘Maniac’

Norm Macdonald Has a Show is live on Netflix. Offbeat funnyman Macdonald hosted the news on Saturday Night Live back in the ’90s, and brings a typically quirky talk show to the streaming platform.

Macdonald was initially iffy about doing a talk show. “It’s hard for me to be curious about people I’m not curious about,” he said.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer (“chief something or other,” according to Macdonald), told the host to only bring on people he was interested in, and Macdonald was good to go. Guests include David Spade, Drew Barrymore, David Letterman and Lorne Michaels.

Macdonald credits both Sarandos and Letterman for pushing him to create the show. Sarandos, he said, is a fan of Macdonald’s novel Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir. Letterman debuted his Netflix series, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman, in January.

Letterman is credited as a location scout on Macdonald’s show. He did not want to be an executive producer and instead would suggest a new title every week. Among them: second best boy.

Macdonald got in trouble recently for defending pals Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr in light of their wrongdoings. He said his show will not touch on hot topics.

“Nothing topical,” Macdonald said. “It’s in the Netflix vault forever, so there’s nothing that’s time-stamped.”

On Sept. 21, Netflix debuts drama Maniac, about “two strangers drawn to the late stages of a mysterious pharmaceutical trial, each for their own reasons.” The promise of a radical treatment designed to repair any psychological breakdown attracts them.

Things don’t go as planned.

Patrick Somerville created the series, which is based on a Norwegian one. Cary Joji Fukunaga directs. Emma Stone, Jonah Hill and Justin Theroux are in the cast.

Somerville was a novelist with no TV experience when a Hollywood player read one of his books, contacted him, and asked if he thought about screenwriting.

“I didn’t even think he was real,” Somerville said.

He was. Before long, Somerville, his wife and baby were on a plane to Los Angeles. He found an agent, and wrote for The Bridge on FX and The Leftovers on HBO.

Maniac, he said, plays in the space between the absurd and emotional realism. “I want to laugh and cry when I watch a show.”

It’s been an eventful run in television for the exec producer, though not one that ran according to his original script. “The plan was for me to sit in Chicago and write books,” Somerville said, “for the rest of my life.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.