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Tuned In: Pittsburgh 'Joe Schmo' will show up on Spike TV's faux series

Thursday, July 10, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- Now that Spike Lee has dropped his lawsuit and TNN can get on with its name change to Spike TV, "the first network for men," the channel also will go forward with plans to offer programming guys like best, which evidently includes watching someone get humiliated on national television.

In the case of "The Joe Schmo Show," the guy in question is Pittsburgher Matt Kennedy Gould, 27, who was selected to be the dupe in a faux reality series called "Lap of Luxury." All the other alleged contestants are actors working from a script in this show built around fooling one guy over the course of 10 one-hour episodes. The series premieres Sept. 7.

Producers said Gould lives with his parents in Mt. Lebanon, recently dropped out of the University of Pittsburgh law school and now delivers pizzas. They declined to make him available for an interview and he could not be reached independently at press time.

Executive producer Scott Stone said Gould was discovered by a casting agent while playing basketball in a gym during a recruiting trip through Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

"There were two ways to go with this show, and I'm not going to tell you which way we went," said Stone, who was previously responsible for "The Mole" and "Fame" with his producing partner, David Stanley. "You can either go for the guy that's kind of a [jerk] that everybody loves to hate, a la Richard Hatch, or you can go for the guy that's kind of the nice guy people will be protective of."

"Joe Schmo" was filmed over the course of 10 days at a mansion in the Los Angeles area, and producers said Gould mentioned Pittsburgh frequently during production.

"There will never be as real a character on a reality show as Matt Kennedy is," said executive producer David Stanley.

"He's a man without artifice," added executive producer/creator Rhett Reese. "He has no filter between what he feels and what he expresses. He is genuine and authentic."

But how will a genuine human being feel about being made a fool of for the purposes of entertainment? That's what producers want viewers to tune in to find out.

"We really don't want to give away what happens during the course of the show and about Matt because it will take away, frankly, a lot of the suspense and anxiety and fun the viewer is going to have waiting for something to go wrong," Stanley said.

Stone said Gould was given psychological tests before he was selected as the "Joe Schmo" patsy and a psychologist remains available to him.

"It's safe to say he had the experience of a lifetime," Stone said.

Clips from "Joe Schmo" depict a series that goofs on the genre by casting stereotypical "reality" show characters, including the jerk, the grizzled veteran, the schemer, the witch and the virgin.

When characters are kicked out of the house, the smarmy host (also an actor), smashes a plate bearing the person's likeness and declares, "You're dead to us, please leave."

Jessica Lynch movie

Jeff Gaspin, NBC's executive in charge of movies and miniseries, said preproduction continues on a movie about the rescue of former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, even though details of her capture remain in dispute. The telefilm will be available for NBC to air in the fourth quarter of 2003. NBC bought the rights to the story from Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Al-Rahaief, who led U.S. soldiers to the wounded Lynch in an Iraqi hospital.

"We tell the story from several different perspectives," Gaspin said. "The story of Jessica Lynch is actually downplayed to some extent in the film because we don't know everything that happens."

Gaspin said the script is in a state of flux and is being rewritten as new details emerge.

"I'm confident when we put it on the air, it will be as accurate as humanly possible for the time," he said. NBC made an offer to Lynch to buy her rights to the story, but "there has not been much communication out of her camp from the beginning. That's why we decided to alter it a little bit and tell it from other people's perspectives and not just hers."

Though Lynch remains a central figure in the film -- everything in the story is either about her or done with the goal of rescuing her -- in terms of screen time, Gaspin said, other characters will appear as much as or more than Lynch.

Filming in Lynch's West Virginia hometown remains a possibility, he said, although it seems unlikely because only a few flashbacks take place there. Most of the film will be set in Iraq.

Though some have suggested NBC should scrap the Lynch movie because of the controversy surrounding the veracity of initial reports about her actions and the rescue, Gaspin defends it as a heroic story likely to draw big ratings for the network.

"Much like we did with the Martha Stewart [movie], and we still don't know what she did yet [regarding the stock deal she faces charges over], but it was a compelling movie, a very highly rated movie, a very successful movie," he said. "Part of our strategy is to play off of pop culture, to play off current events in the few movies we make a year."

Don't watch this show!

Even under the watchful eye of Sci Fi Channel executives, Edward James Olmos, star of the network's "reimagining" of "Battlestar Galactica," urged die-hard fans of the original '70s series not to watch the new version.

"A person who really has a strict belief in the original I would not advise to watch this program," Olmos said. "Don't watch it because it'll hurt."

Olmos made similar statements in an interview with the Post-Gazette in April.

"Kill me now!" exclaimed Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer, standing at a podium nearby.

The four-hour "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries is scheduled to debut in December.

Returning

"American Idol" judge Simon Cowell has inked a deal with Fox to return for three more rounds of the talent show. ... MTV has signed up "The Osbournes" for an additional 20 episodes to begin airing in January 2004. "I miss the [expletive] cameras to be honest," Ozzy Osbourne said when asked why the family, which previously had said they were done with the show, agreed to allow camera crews back into their home. "I'm an entertainer, and that's what I do."


Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com .

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