MTV's 'Dogg After Dark' puts Snoop's paw prints on the variety genre
No surprise here, but Snoop Dogg is not a big worrier. Tucked into a banquette at a Hollywood nightclub last week, the rapper seemed entirely at ease about the prospects of his new MTV variety show, “Dogg After Dark.”

"The people that tune in will definitely be entertained," he said, finishing off his second helping of chicken wings, fuel for what would likely be five or six straight hours of taping. "Those that don't, they'll catch up sooner or later."

Fo'shizzle, the great man might also have added in his trademark Snoop-speak.

Good thing he's brimming with confidence, because he may need it. With the variety format, the fearless Snoop has taken on a style that has shredded many another star. That would include Rosie O'Donnell, whose critically drubbed disaster "Rosie Live" on NBC last Thanksgiving eve is now the stuff of TV turkey legend.

The 37-year-old Snoop, who was a childhood fan of variety shows starring Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor, understands that the format has been troubled of late. But he's pretty sure the right host can turn things around. "The voice has to be likable, lovable, different and cutting-edge," he said. "There's only one guy like that. Y'know what I'm saying? Snoop Dogg."

But the show poses a risk for MTV in other ways too. The company earlier this month announced a big overall deal with Snoop that encompassed the variety show plus a new album, "Malice in Wonderland" (the rapper recently parted ways with his longtime label Geffen/Interscope). Some of Snoop's songs will also be used on the Rock Band video game, which is published by MTV Games.

Getting into the Snoop business is part of a network push to reconnect with music fans, some of whom may be inclined to forget about MTV now that the channel is probably best known for female-skewing lifestyle reality dramas such as "The Hills" and "The City." Such series have more to do with careerism, dating and stylish wardrobe choices than with music.

Late last year, MTV yanked the music-video countdown "Total Request Live" after a 10-year run, further distancing the network from its musical roots. So "Dogg After Dark," hosted by one of the world's most famous rappers, is an effort to get back to the tunes.

"Variety is tough, but I think the great thing about MTV, it's all about experimenting and trying new and different things," said Tony DiSanto, the network's executive vice president of series development and programming. "Particularly right now, with 'TRL' not being on the air, the idea of doing a multi-camera talk/variety with music as its heart and soul is very appealing to us."

To give the program -- which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays, an unfortunate slot that sometimes puts it opposite "American Idol" -- an appropriately nightclub-ish aura, the producers of "Dogg After Dark" took over the Kress, a plush, Art Deco-themed restaurant and nightspot that occupies the old Frederick's of Hollywood space. The goal, DiSanto said, was to escape the stagebound feeling of traditional 1960s variety shows and deliver something more spontaneous. The prototype was "Playboy's Penthouse," the syndicated series in which a pipe-smoking Hugh Hefner roamed around a set designed to look like his apartment and engaged guests in chitchat and supposedly impromptu perfor- mances.

"The way it looks, the way it feels, the way I float through the club, the way the music is throbbing, it feels like a nonstop, continuous party," Snoop said.

In the premiere of "Dogg After Dark," Snoop sat down behind the bar where he found -- lo and behold! -- Paris Hilton serving drinks and rapping: "My name's P Hizzle. I'm chillin' in the clizzle with my homeboy Snoop Dizzle." (Afterward, Snoop was gracious toward Hilton's rapping endeavors: "She's real good at it. Any time you're not afraid you're great at it.") Other guests include MTV perennials such as Johnny Knoxville.

MTV has so far ordered only seven episodes of "Dogg After Dark," so its long-term future is unclear. The initial outlook is not promising: The premiere earlier this month drew just 587,000 total viewers, or 40% less than MTV had averaged in the time slot for the previous four weeks. By comparison, the MTV reality series "T.I.'s Road to Redemption" drew 1.3 million viewers earlier this month.

But Snoop -- who also stars as the paterfamilias in E! Entertainment's reality show "Snoop Dogg's Father Hood" -- clearly wants to further his TV ambitions.

"I have a dream to do a scripted series that just may come to life in the next 18 months," he said.

Is it a comedy?

"Maybe a little drama and comedy," he replied. "So what you call that? Dramedy? I definitely gonna be the star of it. I mean, anything I do, I got to be the star. You dig?

"Anything that got my name on it gotta have my paw prints on it."

scott.collins@latimes.com