Ellen Gray: MTV debuts a different kind of 'News'
HOW'S YOUR NEWS? 10:30 p.m. Sunday, MTV. SOME IDEAS only sound bad. Take "How's Your News?" A show featuring man-on-the-street and celebrity interviews conducted by people with developmental disabilities might sound dicey enough. Even if the series, which premieres Sunday, weren't being produced for MTV by "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
HOW'S YOUR NEWS? 10:30 p.m.
SOME IDEAS only sound bad.
Take "How's Your News?"
A show featuring man-on-the-street and celebrity interviews conducted by people with developmental disabilities might sound dicey enough. Even if the series, which premieres Sunday, weren't being produced for MTV by "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
The pair have long been "godfathering" the films that grew out of a video class that executive producer Arthur Bradford taught at Camp Jabberwocky, a Martha's Vineyard camp for people with disabilities. (The title comes from one participant's question to a sports class, "How's your sports?")
"Trey and I were a little concerned in the beginning about having our names" on the project, Stone told reporters last month. "We weren't concerned about being associated with them. We were worried about them being associated with us."
Still, when Bradford and the pair started talking about where to pitch the series, MTV topped the list, Stone said.
"MTV's one of those Rorschach things. Everybody has their opinion about what MTV is, but it certainly is youth culture and vibrant and it's America today," he said.
"And, you know, it isn't, like, ghettoized. It isn't, like, 'OK, these people have to be on PBS.' Or this kind of show, I think, it's over here for this kind of audience. It's, like, no, we want to go right to the center of the universe," he said.
And so they have, assuming you believe the center of the universe lies somewhere near Hollywood and Vine.
As the mother of a pop culture-obsessed kid with Down syndrome, I'm on board with Stone's intentions, even if I'd rather keep him off that particular bus.
If you believe in inclusion, and I do, MTV matters.
But as a TV critic, I might wish the cross-country bus tour we'll see cast members Susan Harrington, Bobby Bird, Lucas Wahl, Larry Perry, Sean Costello, Brendan LeMieux and Jeremy Vest taking over the next six episodes had brought them into contact with more so-called real people.
Not that they don't have the "Entertainment Tonight" thing down cold. In 15 years covering TV, I've observed (and conducted) far worse interviews than the ones in that first episode.
Harrington, in particular, is a dogged reporter, treating passers-by and the famous much the same, frequently cutting through her subjects' blather to bring them to the point.
But it's Vest, a 20-year-old with Williams syndrome whose mother says he's "always been what we like to call 'severely unusual,' " who's the show's star.
Williams, a genetic condition associated with, among other things, outgoing personalities and good verbal skills, may have given Vest a leg up in a frothy world where one minute you're palling around with John Stamos and the next you're doing red-carpet interviews at the Grammys.
Stamos, who apparently shows up in another episode as Vest's "wing man," comes off as trying a little too hard in his staged encounters. Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman, interviewed separately by Bird, a middle-aged man with Down syndrome, strike a more relaxed note, and have a nice rapport with their interviewer, who's expressive but not very articulate.
When Bird's exuberant behavior at the Grammys embarrasses his younger colleague - himself jazzed over meeting Kermit the Frog - it's a nice reminder that people with differences aren't all the same. *
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