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'Dog Bites Man': Laughing at the (Fake) News


This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. For the cable network Comedy Central there's no better target for satire than television news; take The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. Now, there's a third show. It's called Dog Bites Man. It debuts tonight. Here is TV critic Andrew Wallenstein.

Mr. ANDREW WALLENSTEIN (TV Critic; Editor, The Hollywood Reporter): Sure, every now and then The Daily Show sends a comedian posed as a journalist to a news event. But the new show Dog Bites Man takes that shtick a lot further. It concocts an entire fictional news team that conducts fake interviews with real people. It's a sly bit of genre blurring, but it's actually not what makes Dog Bites Man distinctively funny.

I'm not saying you won't get a good chuckle when Kevin Beacon, the fake news reporter at the fake TV station KHBX asks one of his patently stupid questions on camera. Actor Matt Walsh goes full tilt as this determined dim-bulb when he interviews a bodybuilder who definitely isn't in on the joke.

(Soundbite of television show "Dog Bites Man")

Mr. MATT WALSH (Actor): (As Kevin Beacon) Statistics have shown that a high percentage of bodybuilders are bisexual.

Unidentified Man: I've heard that, yes.

Mr. WALSH: If most bodybuilders are bisexual, which you just agreed to, what do you spend most of your time doing?

Unidentified Man: First of all, I didn't agree that most bodybuilders are bisexual. I heard through the grapevine and the world.

Mr. WALSH: Is the grapevine the name of a gay bar?

Unidentified Man: I have no idea.

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: It's a cute bit, but to tell you the truth it's nothing we haven't seen before on The Daily Show, Colbert Report, or even HBO's Da Ali G Show. What elevates Dog Bites Man is that it isn't entirely goofing on unsuspecting real people. It's also a workplace comedy, not unlike NBC's The Office.

Walsh is surrounded by three other actors depicting the other members of his news team. When it's just them interacting without a mark, the show goes to a whole other level.

There's Marty, the hapless production assistant; and Allan, the hygienically challenged cameraman. But best of all there's Tillie, the rookie producer who looses her composure the second a challenge comes her way. In this scene, Walsh's character comforts Tillie, who's played hysterically by Andrea Savage, in her moment of crisis.

(Soundbite of television show "Dog Bites Man")

Mr. WALSH: We can save any segment. We've done it in the past, okay?. You remember that segment where we did the world's fattest pets, Glen(ph) lost all the tapes. We made that work.

Ms. ANDREA SAVAGE (Actor): (As Tillie) You mean when got those two rabbits and we tied them together to look like a big fat one?

Mr. WALSH: Yeah, people loved it, they bought it. Listen, if we stick together, we can do anything, all right?

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Dog Bites Man spends plenty of time skewering how bottom-feeding local news can be. And that's fine. But the Will Ferrell movie Anchorman pretty much nailed that territory already. Dog Bites Man can take its cast of four and have them work in a coal mine and it would be just as funny.

This oddball quartet has the kind of chemistry nine-tenths of TV comedies would die for. So if you happen to be in the KHBX hometown of Spokane, Washington and are approached by a microphone wielding Kevin Beacon, keep moving. But from the safe distance of your living room, it's a news team worth your time.

BRAND: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor for The Hollywood Reporter. He's also co-host of Square Off, on the TV Guide Channel. Dog Bites Man debuts tonight on Comedy Central. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Wallenstein
Andrew Wallenstein is the television critic for NPR's Day to Day. He is also an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, where he covers television and digital media out of Los Angeles. Wallenstein is also the co-host of the weekly TV Guide Channel series Square Off. His essay on Holocaust films was published in Best Jewish Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass), and he has also written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Business Week. He has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.