As the host of "Talk Soup," a daily cable program that samples confessional talk shows, Greg Kinnear has won a reputation as a deadpan satirist and perhaps the leading expert on bizarre on-screen behavior.

But what is there in his background that persuaded NBC to choose him as the new host of "Later," the 1:30 a.m. show in which one-on-one conversation is everything?Kinnear the question with a question: "Does the name Hart Bochner mean anything to you?"

From 1987 to 1990, he explains, when his on-air job consisted of introducing movie trailers on the now-defunct Movietime cable channel, he occasionally talked to real-life actors on his set - which was located in a converted porno-film studio.

"Maybe once a month," he continues, "the talent booker would coax some foolish celebrity to come into the dark cavernous hell that was Movietime. I remember when we got Bochner. It was a huge deal! The building was in an uproar. Hart Bochner came by! And we did this little interview, and I'll never forget the horror in his eyes as he got into the studio and began really looking around."

Of such encounters, particularly in the irony-friendly Letterman era, is talk-show stardom created. To hire Kinnear, NBC had to top offers from the likes of Fox television and Disney. In the past six months the "heat" around Kinnear, as industry insiders say, has been intense.

"Greg is extremely telegenic," says NBC president Warren Littlefield. "He comes off as someone you want to spend time with."

Littlefield is a fan of "Talk Soup," a half-hour program run six times each day by E! Entertainment Television. In this, he has something in common with many other entertainment executives.

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"Talk Soup" collects particularly grotesque and outrageous segments from daytime talk shows like "Donahue," "Vicki" and "Ricki." The segments are pithily introduced and, afterwards, snappily summed up by Kinnear ("They're currently unemployed and living off the government," he said, updating a clip of a porno actress who appeared with her husband on "The Jane Whitney Show." "Who says that the system doesn't work?").

Often, after a particularly ridiculous excerpt, he simply stares dumbfounded into the camera. "Sometimes," says Kinnear, "even I can't believe what I'm seeing."

Kinnear says that when he takes over "Later" next month from Bob Costas, who wanted to move on, the show will start to include short skits and comedy performances.So that he can continue to appear on "Talk Soup," "Later" is relocating from New York to Los Angeles.

Kinnear insists, however, that one-on-one interviews will remain the backbone of "Later."

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