LOS ANGELES – One week and counting before the debut of his prime-time talk show on CNBC, Dennis Miller wants to get a couple of things straight.

One, he’s no liberal. And two, his sidekick on the show will be a chimp.

“At least if I’m to the right on things, I’m going to announce it up-front,” Miller says. “Peter Jennings couldn’t be more liberal, (but) he sits there all year and makes you figure it out.”

Miller, a stand-up comic whose credits include an acerbic HBO show and a stint in the booth of “Monday Night Football,” remains a cynic, but “9-11 changed me. I’m shocked it didn’t change everybody as much as it changed me.”

Now, “There are certain things I’m liberal on, certain things I’m conservative on.” To wit: “If two gay guys want to get married, I couldn’t care less. If some psycho from another country wants to blow up their wedding, I expect my government to kill him pre-emptively. I guess that makes me a right-wing fanatic.”

The one-hour CNBC show, called “Dennis Miller” and making its debut next Monday, will feature opening commentary, topical guests and a panel discussion. “I hope to do some news stories. I hope to get p—ed off at the right moment,” he says. “But essentially I’m an entertainer. I’ll try to be funny.”

Miller promises to be fair but not balanced. “The devil’s advocate is often boring, and I just don’t want to present both sides of everything.”

The idea to use a chimp started out as a gag, but now – apparently – one will actually appear on the show.

Miller was inspired by the old “Today” show, featuring J. Fred Muggs. Unfortunately, Miller’s chimp, which he swears he has hired, can’t be called J. Fred Muggs, because the real Muggs is still alive “and you get sued.” Instead, he’ll be called Muggsy.

Miller is still spinning chimp ideas. “He’ll wear little T-shirts color-coded to the terror alert level,” he suggests at one point.

Or the chimp may romp through the background of a serious interview, so the audience thinks, “Did I just see a monkey?”

“We can’t afford him every day, can we?” Miller asks executive producer Eddie Feldmann. “Well, the monkey costs more than humans. But we are going to have him in periodically.”

Miller’s audience of TV critics couldn’t be sure whether he was joking and continued to question him about when and how the chimp would work. When one woman persisted with a particularly complicated query about how the chimp would (or wouldn’t) interact with presidential candidates, Miller finally snapped: “You’re too deep for me, Sylvia Plath.”

Another questioner wondered whether “there’s no possibility the chimp will be your only guest?”

“Listen, there’s a possibility that I get canned and the chimp ends up hosting the show. It’s television. There’s no second act promised.”

Gail Pennington: gpenningtonpost-dispatch.com

(c) 2004, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Dennis Miller

AP-NY-01-19-04 0828EST

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