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Published: Tuesday, 7/18/2006

Sci Fi schedules a guilty pleasure

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Among the contestants in Who Wants to Be a Superhero? are,
clockwise from front left, Mary Votava as Monkey Woman, Nell
Wilson as Fat Momma, Tonatzin Mondragon as Lemuria, Chelsea
Weld as Cell Phone Girl, and Tonya Kay as Creature.
Among the contestants in Who Wants to Be a Superhero? are, clockwise from front left, Mary Votava as Monkey Woman, Nell Wilson as Fat Momma, Tonatzin Mondragon as Lemuria, Chelsea Weld as Cell Phone Girl, and Tonya Kay as Creature.
Enlarge

PASADENA, Calif. - Look! Up on the TV! It's a guy in a unitard! It's a woman wielding bananas! It's the stars of Who Wants to Be a Superhero?

The reality show debuts at 9 p.m. July 27 on Sci Fi, and it may become summer's most enjoyable guilty pleasure.

The six-episode series features 11 geeks in homemade costumes competing to have comic-book god Stan Lee, the show's host, create a comic book about them. (Sci Fi will make a TV movie about the winning superhero character, too.)

Some of the characters are recognizable comic-book types (The Iron Enforcer, Levity, Feedback) and then there are the others, like Fat Momma, a large woman who wears doughnuts on her belt, and Cell Phone Girl, who wears a cape and carries a phone (it's unclear how this makes her "super"). Monkey Woman sports bananas at her hips and screeches a monkey-like bark, and Major Victory, a dead ringer for Mr. Incredible, exclaimed, "Hello, citizens, carry on," when meeting the press last week.

They're a motley but fun-loving crew (read their individual bios at www.scifi.com/superhero), and many of them have been dreaming for many years about the chance to play a superhero.

"I used to dress up as a kid in San Francisco as Batman with my sister," explained Chris Watters (Major Victory). "Then I moved to Modesto. That didn't work out too well."

Monkey Woman (Mary Votava) said she was a tree-climbing tomboy growing up and her siblings always called her "a little monkey," which motivated her character. Nitro G (Darren Passarello) works in a comic-books store and has been developing his character for five years. Fat Momma (Nell Wilson), on the other hand, knew nothing about comics. Her 14-year-old child heard about the show, and she decided to create the character using a write-what-you-know philosophy.

"I'm fat and I'm a momma, so I'll be Fat Momma," she said. Wilson even wrote a rap-like theme song: "Fat Momma, Fat Momma, I'm here to save the day. Fat Momma, fat momma, I'll take your food away."

Executive producer Scott Satin said each of the superhero characters is an extension of the person beneath the costume.

"We knew we couldn't test who can fly the highest or who's the strongest or who can stop a locomotive with their pinky," Satin said. "What we looked at with Stan was that every superhero that's ever been created has the same qualities on the inside, whether it's compassion, intelligence, courage, selflessness, integrity, etc. Those are all qualities in every superhero, and those are human qualities, so those we could test."

Lee and Satin also dropped a hint about a twist that could emerge during the series.

"Every super villain that has ever been out there started out as good," Satin noted. "That should give you a little hint of what we're talking about."

CBS News president Sean McManus and Katie Couric, new anchor of the CBS Evening News beginning Sept. 5, didn't offer a lot of details about how the revamped national newscast will differ from the current version, but it's clear they don't intend to reinvent the wheel.

McManus said the newscast will be "fresh, intelligent, relevant, and transparent" with a stated goal of attracting a larger share of the 25 million people already watching one of the three evening newscasts.

"To put on a program so jarring and so different to the audience already watching would be a mistake," McManus said, as a noticeably subdued Couric sat to his left.

Interim Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer will continue to have a "regular and prominent" role in the newscast, contributing from Washington.

Couric recently embarked on a listening tour to select cities around the country, surveying how people get their news and trying to learn what the nightly national newscasts are not offering that she can incorporate into the CBS Evening News.

"It reinforced, happily, that there are a lot of highly intelligent, very engaged people in the country who are interested in serious subjects and news of the day," Couric said. "I think it will help inform the way we approach the news come September."

Among the approaches: A heavy online component, including daily, on-demand, Web-exclusive interviews; a blog; a radio simulcast of the newscast's first segment on CBS Radio News, and a 4:35 p.m. one-minute look at the day's top story that will be broadcast on 500 CBS affiliated radio stations nationwide.

Couric said she hopes to offer a newscast that better explains the ramifications of what's happening in the world, including the history behind current events.

"I think sometimes we assume people know more than they do about history and historical context," she said. "I think some Americans hear 'Hamas' and 'Hezbollah,' and it might as well be Greek to them. We need to do a better job of explaining things better, of distilling them better."

Couric said she wants to continue to use the skills she honed on Today, including interviews when warranted, and she said the evening news format won't obliterate her existing persona.

"I'm not going to suddenly be in a straitjacket and not able to have any of who I am as a person come out," she said. "It's going to be a different format, and I'm going to have to learn as I go, but certain skills I acquired at the Today show will be used at the CBS Evening News.

Couric grimaced at the notion that she's part of America's "media royalty" and indicated that the media have a greater interest in her changing role than most viewers.

"I don't think they're nearly as interested as you all are," she told the assembled TV critics. "There's always interest when there's a big change in something that's been around for this long and played such an important role in the tapestry of this country. But I think it's easy for us to be consumed by it. The rest of America is dealing with other things that affect them directly."

w●USA Network has renewed the singing competition Nashville Star for a fifth season to begin in January.

w●Bravo has renewed The Real Housewives of Orange County for another eight episodes airing later this year.

w●Canceled Comedy Central series Crank Yankers is getting another shot on MTV2, which ordered eight new episodes.

w●TBS has ordered a pilot of Late Night Buffet, a late-night talk show starring puppets created by The Jim Henson Company.

w●CBS will stamp ads for its TV shows on 35 million egg shells in grocery stores this September, including such slogans as "CBS Monday: Funny Side Up" and "CSI: Crack the Case on CBS."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, the TV editor for the Post-Gazette, is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles.

Contact him at:

rowen@post-gazette.com



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