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'Small Shots' lets regular guys act

Sunday, August 19, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Finally, a reality show that doesn't require anyone to get voted out, doesn't force participants to lie down with rats and isn't really about self-exhibition in "The Real World" sense.

TNN's "Small Shots" tours the country giving regular people the chance to audition for and appear in short movie parodies. In Wednesday's premiere (8 p.m.), "Silence of the Lambs" becomes "Silence of the Yams," with Hannibal Lecter re-imagined as a vegetarian.

"He's making her eat vegetables," an FBI agent says, peering through binoculars at the house where Lecter holds Clarice Starling hostage.

"That sick bastard," his superior responds, before the film cuts to a scene inside the house.

"Meat is murder, Clarice," Lecter says.

"You're a lunatic," she responds.

Then he offers her "a tofu burger with lima beans and a nice chamomile tea."

The film parody in each week's episode comes at the end of the half hour. Most of "Small Shots" is devoted to auditioning the cast and preparing for the production.


"Small Shots"

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday on TNN.

Hosted by: Chris Cox and Matt Sloan.


Hosted by filmmakers Chris Cox and Matt Sloan, who made the acclaimed Internet movie "Swing Blade" (a parody of "Swingers" and "Sling Blade"), "Small Shots" offers a dose of whimsy in a summer dominated by mean-spirited network programming.

Cox and Sloan travel the country in a beat-up Winnebago, looking to cast the parodies they write themselves. Next week's "Non-Violent Gladiator" features a real find in Deac Hunter, a 77-year-old retired English/drama teacher who looks like Jonathan Winters and plays a Roman senator in the film. Deac is actually quite well cast, and his willingness to go along with the pair's antics makes him a good sport, too.

Some may see "Small Shots" as Cox and Sloan taking potshots at the rubes of middle America, and to some extent that's true. The heartland folks get put in ridiculous situations. Old white guys audition reading dialogue from "Boyz 'N the Hood" for no good reason other than it sounds funny. But the absurdity of the situations are often laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Guys auditioning to play Hannibal have to eat from a grapefruit with a photocopied picture of Ray Liotta's face taped to the front of the fruit. (Anyone who's seen "Hannibal" will get the joke.)

But making fun isn't their intent, the filmmakers say.

"Part of our goal is to make the people we use look good in the film," Sloan said at a January TNN press conference. "Our show is more about celebrating people and their dreams in the industry."

"It's uplifting," Cox added. "Pretty much everyone who got cast, they were right for the role."

For the most part, the filmmakers allow the auditioning townsfolk to be themselves. And let's face it, when left to their own devices, people are often unintentionally funny.

The women who audition for Clarice attempt to upstage one another by ad-libbing dialogue. One teen-age girl adds, "I want to throw up every time I look at you." She doesn't get the part.

At its best, "Small Shots" offers a dose of "Hey, let's put on a show" exuberance crossed with the community theater goofiness of "Waiting for Guffman." The series only shows weakness when it strays from the auditions and attempts to fill time by concentrating on the antics of the hosts. In "Silence of the Yams," Sloan is obsessed by a statue in Alton, Ill., of the world's tallest man. A tour of an Alton haunted house feels like padding to fill the half-hour.

But the parodies are gems. Nine episodes have been filmed and upcoming spoofs include "Charlie's Middle-Aged Angels," "Jurassic Dog Park," "The Amish Matrix" and "The Great, Great Godfather."

"Small Shots" is part of TNN's premiere week of original programming, with original series airing each night at 8 p.m. It includes the debut of "Pop Across America," a traveling talk show that taped in Pittsburgh last month. The Pittsburgh episode, featuring special guest star Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow Soprano on "The Sopranos"), airs as the series premiere Friday night at 8.

TNN, once cable's version of a country bumpkin when it was The Nashville Network, now bills itself as The National Network. It will make more than TNN's current marketing campaign and the meaningless slogan "We've got pop" to erase memories of the old TNN. But "Small Shots" is a funny, watchable step in the right direction.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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