Timing: E! signs deal with Ross Mathews as Chelsea Handler lets him guest host, looks to exit

Seems like only a decade ago that viewers first saw a flamboyant chubby kid stealing scenes from Jay Leno’s Tonight Show as “Ross the Intern.” Wait. That was a decade ago? Well, now Ross Mathews is all grown up, slimmed down, but still flamboyant in a suit as a frequent panelist on Chelsea Handler’s late-night talker, Chelsea Lately.

Mathews is looking a potentially big upgrade in the next year. The Hollywood Reporter reported this morning that E! had signed Mathews to a talent deal with promises to develop his own talk-show pilot — just as Handler allowed Mathews to sign her own show last night, and as Handler reveals in a new interview that she is ready to leave E! behind and host a more serious show that’s not all about what’s in the celebrity tabloids.

Let’s break it all down.

First, here’s a clip of Ross Mathews from last night’s Chelsea Lately, standing in for Handler to deliver the opening monologue. Roll it.

In today’s THR, Mathews said of his new deal with E!: “We’ve been doing stuff together for a couple years now, but this really makes it official. And so what this is going to do is sort of firm up our relationship and say I’m going to be one of E!’s people now,” he said. “I’ve been earning my stripes for the past decade. And really honing my craft as far as surrounding myself with people that inspire me like Jay Leno and Chelsea Handler. I’ve been so lucky that they provided my opportunity to develop a clear voice that the audience has responded to.”

Meanwhile, Handler graces the cover of D.C.’s Capitol File magazine this month, wherein Rachel Sklar got her to open up about the fact that Handler wants to do “something more well-rounded” on TV when her contract with E! is up in 2012. (Disclosure: Not only am I quoted in this article, but I’m also privy to the full discussion used for the piece) The new project she’s pitching is “just a little bit more serious, still have the tone of who I am, but be able to talk about other topics and have more responsibility about what I’m talking about rather than just talking about celebrity.” She added: “I don’t want to do it on E! You know, E! is not the right network for what I want to do with regard to the new show.”

The E! network already has been looking for at least a complementary late-night talk show with Handler, if not her outright replacement, having ordered and filmed pilots within the past year with Whitney Cummings and Michael Ian Black. At the summer press tour with the TV Critics Association, Cummings told the TCA she didn’t know the status of her E! pilot. She’s obviously busy enough this fall starring in her own new self-titled sitcom for NBC as well as co-creating Two Broke Girls for CBS — not that that would in itself prevent her from hosting a weekly show on E! (See: Joel McHale, Community and The Soup).

But just as Jay Leno served as Johnny Carson’s permanent guest host two decades ago before replacing Carson on NBC, don’t be all that surprised if Handler (a frequent guest on Leno’s show) taps her guest host Mathews as her would-be successor to help ease her transition out the door of E!

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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