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Larry Himmel — Channel 8's clown

Life begins at 7:30

Himmel and his crew from San Diego at Large have come to capture Alpine for video posterity.
  • Himmel and his crew from San Diego at Large have come to capture Alpine for video posterity.

In a morning’s work in Alpine, Larry Himmel has interviewed Aggie McGuffie at her soda fountain, provided some smart-ass, on-camera commentary poking fun at the Alpine Mobile Estates sign, spent five minutes trying to get a tongue-stuck Alpine Elementary School kindergartner to explain her watercolor painting, been interviewed and photographed by a newspaper reporter for the Alpine Sun, gathered together four on-duty firemen to tell about their jobs (leaving out the story about how they were called to separate the copulating lizards, which is too raw for TV), and is now headed for the Alpine Community Center, where a group of retirees is about to kick off a sing-along.

Larry Himmel: “These have not been the two most wonderful years of my life."

Larry Himmel: “These have not been the two most wonderful years of my life."

Himmel and his production crew from his nightly television show, San Diego at Large, have come to capture Alpine for video posterity — or at least for next week’s broadcast. Chief photographer Bruce Patch pulls the Channel 8 car into the parking lot and notices the abundance of handicapped parking spaces. “Look at this, they're all handicapped spaces,” he laughs. “We can’t park here.”

“Yeah” answers producer Dan Arden, “they got two nonhandicapped spaces and a sign that says fifty-dollar fine for handicapped people parking in a nonhandicapped spot!” The laughing band of TV-men eases into a space of indeterminate legality.

Editing video at KFMB

Editing video at KFMB

Inside, twenty-five or thirty creaky locals are seated at tables on which are resting large cards with the lyrics of sad old songs printed in capital letters. Himmel immediately falls into the role of the visiting celeb, back-slapping, glad-handing, smiling, returning non sequiturs as if they made perfect sense to him.

Producer Dan Arden. Himmel and Arden agree that “Tierrasanta,” the feeble sitcom send-up, has been canceled by unanimous agreement among the staff.

Producer Dan Arden. Himmel and Arden agree that “Tierrasanta,” the feeble sitcom send-up, has been canceled by unanimous agreement among the staff.

One table of folks implores him to sit and talk with them. A woman extends her hand and brushes her fingers across Himmel’s knuckles. “I’m going to touch you, just so I can always say I touched Larry Himmel,” she beams. Himmel beams warmly back.

Rehearsal of the CIA magazine skit

Rehearsal of the CIA magazine skit

The show’s mini-profile of Alpine is being shot in the inimitable Himmel style of benign joshing. Not quite journalism, not quite fiction, Himmel’s community profiles are pure television: all attitude, image, and surface luster. And at the heart of these pieces is not the community but Larry Himmel himself, or at least his carefully crafted image.

Executive producer Jim Holtzman in appraising the show: “I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed it all along.”

Executive producer Jim Holtzman in appraising the show: “I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed it all along.”

The crew films the room from different angles, Bruce Patch working smoothly and with practiced detachment. He was an award-winning news photographer before being tapped in 1984 by executive producer Jim Holtzman to provide the visual direction for the new show. Video verite and news-style intrusive, the show’s snappy images seem dissonant with the reality before us: tables of sad-eyed retirees, a bit resentful of age, waiting quietly for Himmel to confer his celebrity upon them.

Finally, the sing-along begins and Himmel takes a seat alone in the back. But he’s soon restless and moving among the people again, and then it’s time to shoot him standing and talking before the group. Dan Arden has Himmel stand up front and reminds him that this segment will be closing the show. As he has done all day, Himmel ad-libs his lines after just a few moments’ reflection, and he gets it right on the second take. “We always save the best for last on this show,” he begins, and after a short tribute to the Alpine Community Center, he ends by saying, ”... and this is the most active group of seniors I’ve ever seen in my life! Phil...’’

With that introduction, an old codger in red suspenders and Birkenstock sandals leads the group in the song “After the Ball.’’ Their quavery voices warm to the piece, especially when they realize they’re singing this for television.

  • After the ball is o-ver
  • After the break of dawn
  • After the dan-cers' leav-ing
  • After the stars are gone
  • Many a heart is ach-ing
  • If you could read them all
  • Many the. hopes that have van-ished
  • Af-ter the ball.

Before the crew leaves, Phil breaks out his saw and plays “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi,’’ with piano accompaniment, while Himmel glad-hands his way toward the door. One old guy just this side of fossilization calls out, “Tell Allison Ross I think she’s beautiful!’’ referring to the Channel 8 anchor-woman. Himmel cracks back, “Hey, and she’s single now, too.”

Back in the car. the crew is jiving about the oldsters. Himmel does an imitation of a wheezy old man saying, “That Allison Ross, if I’d known her five years ago and had some handcuffs, I’da shown her a good time!” To which somebody replies, “I bet she’d like it, too!” As the merry band of electronic pranksters leaves the parking lot, Himmel cracks, “Hey, Phil, I bet you can’t play the chain saw!”

Forty years old, semi-rich (he admits to making $100,000 a year), and recognized everywhere he goes, Larry Himmel is living the video dream. His unthreatening blend of cheeky irreverence and disc jockey humor has made him a prize commodity for KFMB. Since taking the air on January 7, 1985, San Diego at Large has succeeded in capturing for Channel 8 the young, money-spending audience the station had gambled for, proving once again that you don't need to produce an artistically successful show to be financially successful on television. A compendium of short skits, parodies of television shows and commercials, light features, music videos, and cartoons such as Rocky and Bullwinkle, San Diego at Large is an oddity. For although its comic style is highly derivative — many of its ideas were hatched years ago by other comedy shows — the show itself is unique in this market and probably unmatched in the nation. The one other locally produced comedy show in the west is called Almost Live and is broadcast Sunday evenings on KING television in Seattle. Himmel’s show takes up twenty-two minutes of air time five nights a week, and in a good week, two of those shows are funny. The others run the gamut from wretched to so-so.

The crew doesn’t hold many illusions about the show’s hit-and-miss quotient. “I like (the show] about half the time,” Himmel says. “Some shows work, some don't. I'd like to bat a thousand. We all make mistakes, but when you make them here, just by the sheer amount of content that the show eats up, your mistakes are gonna go out over the air, so you gotta sit and watch them again go by you. You can't pull it if it doesn’t work, because there’d be a hole in the show.”

Comedian Rick Rockwell, who plays the beach bum character Skippy on the show, says, “You have to be kind in judging us, because the work load we have is so astronomical. Try and crank out fifteen minutes of original material a night and see how it goes. How many people say one original sentence in a whole day?”

Jim Holtzman is also clear-headed in appraising the show. “I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed it all along,” he comments. “There was a long time that I thought the show was so silly and so slapstick that I just would not watch it. As though if I didn’t watch it, I wouldn’t feel the obligation to try and make it better. But I enjoy it on a consistent basis now. When I watch it, I will find just what I should find: some shows are very good, some shows are not so good at all, and a lot of shows are in between. But I always find some things in every show that I can smile about or enjoy. And that’s the whole idea: hope that people will feel better at eight o’clock than they did at 7:30....

“It’s nice to look at San Diego at Large and say, ‘Gee, we’ve done 500 of those suckers, and every one of them has been different.’ That’s a pretty impressive feeling for me. Those people who put the show together are doing television. That’s exactly what I think television is. It’s back to the old days of the Fifties. It’s local television, it’s simple television.”

Time is on the show’s side. Unlike other media, such as print, where a new magazine can count on losing money for years before it turns a profit, regardless of its quality (and usually because of its quality), the television medium’s wealth allows it to be forgiving and patient. One Channel 8 executive says he can recall the days when one could broadcast a test pattern and get a rating. It’s a little different today, but executive producer Holtzman has shown that with a $500,000 budget, thirteen workaholics, one oddball character who’s not too radical and just untame enough for an easily scandalized community, and a good time slot, he can make money for the station.

“I have to go into it realistically, the same as when we’ve added newscasts here [at Channel 8],” Holtzman explains. “The idea for the people who run the station has to be, maybe not number-one but certainly right up there next to number-one, to make money. And if you can make money while increasing your local community image, you’ve got two for one. There’s no way in the world, the way this program was set up, that it wasn’t going to make money. Wc don’t do anything that I’m associated with that doesn’t make money. That’s the whole idea.”

Believe it or not, the prosperous San Diego at Large show is also meeting a high-minded mandate, to boot. The 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. time slot is the “local access hour” in which network-affiliated stations are free to broadcast shows of their own choosing. (Stations are contractually obligated to broadcast the network feed during the other prime-time hours.) In 1975 the Federal Communications Commission, responding to concerns that all primetime television programming was being monopolized centrally in the network headquarters, decreed that in the fifty largest television markets, one hour of prime time was to be reserved for the local stations to program. It was hoped that this hour would be filled with local programming, of interest to the local community. But this decision gave rise to a system of syndicators who produce and sell mostly game shows for broadcast in the local access hour. “The FCC wasn’t very realistic about this,” comments Jules Moreland, programming director for Channel 8. “The costs of producing your own programming are very, very high, and the minicam wasn’t around when the FCC made this ruling. It’s just a lot easier to buy Wheel of Fortune and avoid the headaches we have with equipment, time, and people.”

San Diego at Large replaced the game show Tic Tac Dough, which had been winning the highest overall ratings in the 7:30 p.m. time slot. Channel 10 was broadcasting $100,000 Name That Tune, and Channel 39 was running Family Feud, and both had a smaller viewership. But the most lucrative part of the viewing audience, those in the eighteen- to forty-nine age group who are most attractive to advertisers, was not a big part of the Tic Tac Dough audience. It is a general axiom of television that game shows skew toward an older audience. “So we abdicated the number-one position in that time slot against the risk of gaining a more attractive demographic for advertisers,” explains Weldon Donaldson, sales manager at Channel 8. “And in this business, there’s almost a fetish to win every time slot, so if you drop a number-one show, you’d better have a good reason.”

That good reason was money, and almost immediately the show’s ratings made Channel 8 executives look like geniuses. The numbers indicated that overall, more people were now watching the other two stations’ game shows, but the biggest chunk of the most lucrative audience, the young spenders, was tuned to San Diego at Large. And it has stayed that way for two years. Channel 8 can now charge about $900 for a thirty-second spot on San Diego at Large, which is among the highest local rates in that time period, and all the show’s commercial slots are often sold out completely.

Also, unlike the other two local network affiliates, which are running syndicated shows in the time slot (Entertainment Tonight on Channel 10, Jeopardy on Channel 39), KFMB is free to sell every second of that period’s commercial time. When a station buys a syndicated television show, usually at a cost of about $250,000 a year, it also usually has to give the syndicator “barter time,” which amounts to about one minute of commercial time per show. The syndicator is allowed to sell this time to advertisers and pocket the money. According to Don Lundy, programming director at Channel 10, this barter time amounts to about S800.000 per year that his station gives up to the syndicators. “I'm envious of the Himmel show,” Lundy says. “You can either sell a bulk audience or go after a specific demographic like they have. They’re doing a local show, have complete control of the product, and their costs are under control.”

Whether you think the Himmel show is worthy of your time or is the absolute worst half hour of television you’ve ever seen, that’s really beside the point. The reason is that this is television, and in more ways than one, San Diego at Large is pure television, where money, not artistic quality, is the measure of all things.

Still, with a $500,000 budget, assured profitability, a crew of thirteen talented photographers, editors, and producers, and Jim Holtzman’s abiding patience, has the Himmel show been able to strike comical pay dirt? Asking people if something like a joke, a skit, a fake commercial, or an acerbic commentary is funny is a little like asking people if they like Brussels sprouts. Comedy is in the taste of the beholder, and everybody is an expert critic. There are those experts who say Himmel should stick to one character, a la David Letterman, rather than try to assume various personas like Johnny Carson. Many of Carson's personas are simply not funny — and neither are Himmel's — but Carson has the talent and the advantage of performing before a studio audience, where he can always (and frequently does) employ his “my jokes are dying” shtick. Himmel, having nothing to appeal to but a camera lens, can only lament, as he did on a recent episode of his sitcom send-up “Tierrasanta,” “You try coming up with three of these episodes a week, and see how funny you are!”

Recently, during a break in the shooting of a skit that reprised the characters of Biff and Skippy, two fictional beach bums played by Himmel and comedian Rick Rockwell, Himmel told a story about his vacation in Cabo San Lucas. And although he didn't realize it, he was talking about television and its lazy audience. He said he'd done some fishing down at Cabo, then chuckled as he described the odd practice of the fishing guides. The guides hire a Mexican to go out with them, Himmel said, and this man does everything for the fishermen, including baiting the hook and holding the rod. When a fish bites, the Mexican sets the hook and then hands the rod over to the fisherman to reel in. Himmel laughed heartily at this, unaware that the story provided a perfect metaphor for television and particularly the Himmel show. The viewer sits passively while Himmel and his crew find the fishing hole where the laughs or simple good feelings might be. Himmel baits the hook, even plays the joke a little, then hands it over to the viewer to reel in the laugh or lose it. Oftentimes the laugh slips the hook before it reaches the viewer, but that’s okay. The point for most viewers is just to sit there, waiting, not demanding too much, and basking in the bluish rays of the television tube. Most people don’t really need to catch anything in order to have a good time.

Back in Alpine, Himmel has settled onto a stool at the soda fountain counter of McGuffie’s store. Septuagenarian proprietress Agnes McGuffie is seated next to him, nervously trying to rise to his good-natured, baited questions.

“Have you ever just closed up and said, ‘That’s it. I’m not coming back’?’’ Himmel inquires.

“No, never have,’’ she answers quizzically.

“What kind of people live in Alpine?” he continues, probing for a revealing quote.

“Nice ones,” McGuffie replies.

As the interview winds down, McGuffie starts to feel relieved, and she finally says something with confidence and sparkle: “You’re better looking,” she blurts to Himmel.

“In person or on TV?” he asks.

“No,” she laughs, “in person.”

Television has raised Himmel’s popularity far above his ability to be funny. Jim Holtzman has overseen the sculpting of Himmel’s image into the equivalent of a poor man’s Huey Lewis: the bad boy act is only for show, wink wink. The image building began in 1979 when Holtzman hired Himmel to do short commentaries for the news. The feature segments in San Diego at Large were seen by Holtzman as a way to expand and soften Himmel’s image. “Larry had an image that he had built up over the years of being a wise ass,” says Holtzman. “And we really wanted to have the features to show that Larry interacts well with people and that people really like Larry, especially when they meet him face to face. Otherwise he wasn’t going to have the image that could be the main part of a half hour every night, night in, night out.”

Holtzman feels that one of the keys to Himmel’s success is the way his irreverence rubs against San Diego’s conservativism. “This is a conservative television market, but in a lot of ways, that kind of works to our advantage,” Holtzman explains. “Because there are times when you can do things, knowing that you’re going to touch a nerve with a certain segment of the community out there, and that’s fine.... When we put Larry on in the beginning, he had this long hair, he had the beard, and it was like, ‘You can’t put a guy like that on a conservative television station!’ But that’s exactly what you wanted. If you put on some guy from the Young Americans for Freedom who had pimples and a short haircut, people are gonna say, ‘Yeah, uh-huh, that’s fine, he looks like the kid down the block or in the bedroom next to us.’ Who cares about that? You want somebody who’s a little bit different, who might expose them to things that aren’t a part of their everyday life.”

Himmel no longer sports the long hair and beard; now he wears the spiky, punk-cum-yuppie haircut and cool-dude duds of the generation he spoofs. He could never have imagined when he arrived in San Diego in 1971 that he would eventually be one of the most recognizable people in town.

Himmel seems always to have been a distilled product of his time, and these are celebrity-laden times. In the 1950s, as a child he wanted nothing more than to be a disc jockey. “At that time, disc jockeys were the smart-mouthed wise guys who were cool,” Himmel relates. “They were rebel heroes. The only time I can remember not wanting to be a disc jockey is when I became one. I just wasn’t very talented at it. I was never a good disc jockey — I got fired from an awful lot of places.”

He had attended graduate school in the late 1960s in order to keep his student deferment and avoid conscription into the army and the war in Vietnam. He entered FM radio at the time when “guys were calling themselves by their astrology signs. ‘I’m Gemini, and Virgo will be in here at two,’ you know. Tracking Ravi Shankar albums.” After being fired from a station in Windsor, Ontario, he and a DJ partner drifted west and ran out of highway in San Diego.

They got hired and then soon fired at rock station KPRI (which is now station KLZZ), then Himmel moved into a cottage beside the Ocean Beach pier and tended bar at the Sunshine Company on Newport Avenue. He was later hired on as a DJ by KGB, where he worked under the name of the Cruiser for about five years. In 1977 he had started working amateur hours at comedy clubs in Los Angeles, and two years later, he became the house emcee at the Comedy Store in La Jolla. News Eight executive producer Holtzman caught his act there one night and later sent him a note asking if he was interested in doing commentaries for the news a couple of days a week. It was inevitable that Himmel would accept. As he says now, “I love the attention. I do this job for the attention.”

After about five years of producing commentaries for the news, Himmel was becoming desirous of a less tenuous attachment to the camera lens. He told Holtzman that he wanted to work in television full time. Coincidentally, Holtzman had been considering ways to use Himmel in some kind of locally produced comedy show that would run five nights a week. “This station really believes in local programming,” Holtzman says, “and I had a desire to try to do something for a change that was not a newscast.... Game shows do great, but for a station to take the easy way out and say, ‘Yes, we’ll buy the game show, we’ll put it on the air and sell commercials in it,’ that’s fine. But that doesn’t involve any sort of an effort. It’s nice to take advantage of the people you have and make the effort.”

Himmel of course leapt at the opportunity to host his own half-hour show. But soon after shooting began, he realized it was a project that would consume most of his life. He says he rarely has time to go out to clubs, shows, or movies, and he’s given up a social life. As one of only three principal writers for the show, along with Kathe Stanton and Ron Birnbach. Himmel spends much of his free time in front of the typewriter, feeding the insatiable maw whose appetite for more material never abates. At work, he appears to be less of a jokester than an incredibly hard worker, a serious worker who struggles against the daily grind like any clock-puncher. “Sometimes I feel like I’m telling the same joke over and over. I'm just finding another way to say it,’’ he says. “I don’t think there’s any writer or performer in the world who doesn’t sometimes say, ‘I don't have any more ideas. I’m all used up.’ ”

Himmel freely acknowledges that the pressure to be funny and creative can be psychically taxing. “True story. There was a time about two months ago when I drove to work and had a particularly bad morning, felt I wasn’t on top of my game, felt we were doing real crap material, and I went to the bank and took out two thousand bucks cash and put it in my pocket so that I could assure myself that if I just wanted to get on a plane and get out, I could go. I walked around with the cash all day. It felt good. If just one more thing went wrong, I was gone.

“Look, I had no way to go in this situation. If someone presented to you a half hour, ‘You’re going to be on TV for a half hour a night, every night, and the odds are real long that it’ll be good for your mental or physical health, but I’m going to give you the opportunity,’ what was I gonna do? Say no and spend the rest of my life going, ‘God! I coulda had my own show! What have I been working all these years for?’ There was no choice.

“These have not been the two most wonderful years of my life. They have been the two most exciting years of my life.... But if you came to my house, just showed up at ten o’clock on a Saturday night, you would find me in front of the typewriter. If you came at noon Sunday, you would find me in front of the typewriter. It has been more often than not a case of going home on Friday afternoon and getting out of my house Sunday morning for brunch. That’s next chance I have to get out.”

In Alpine, after lunch at McGuffie’s Fountain and an interview with a horse surgeon, Himmel and producer Dan Arden head back to the station while Bruce Patch and Deryl Andrews stay in Alpine to shoot some more pictures. On the road, the conversation turns to the organization and hierarchy of the thirteen-member San Diego at Large staff. Arden explains that it’s his job to build the show from the clips, music videos, skits, cartoons, and features he has available but that a kind of consensus operates within the group concerning what ideas should be brought to video life. “I’m much more of an executor than an idea man,” he says. “If we do more music videos, it’s because that’s what the photographers want to do. Or if Larry doesn’t want to do Biff and Skippy anymore, we’ll find a way to phase it out. I don’t say yes or no. I want to try different things and see how they work.”

Though Himmel is the backbone of the show, his is only one voice in the show’s makeup. “I can’t say it thrills me sometimes to see myself hosting a cartoon show,” he says, only half-kidding, conscious that the show’s producer is listening in the back seat. He’s referring to the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon segment that airs nightly. Both Himmel and Arden agree that “Tierrasanta,” the feeble sitcom send-up, has been canceled by unanimous agreement among the staff. “There was just no chemistry there, except among the two girls [Jennifer and Amber Cluck, who played the daughters of Larry Himmel and Kathe Stanton]. With Biff and Skippy, Rick Rockwell and I could click off each other, and even if we didn’t know the lines, we could ad-lib it and it would work. With ‘Tierrasanta,’ we found out that we’re not script writers, and we don’t have actors on the staff who can carry it off. And ‘Tierrasanta’ wasn’t really fun, anyway.” The segment will be replaced by shorter, more topical skits and commentaries. The staff feels that its “Eyewitless News,” in which Himmel and Kathe Stanton spoof newscasters and newsmakers, is one of the most successful parts of the show, and they want to try to carry its smirky style into other venues.

Himmel is now hustling back to the station to make the 3:30 shooting time for “Eyewitless News.” It's shot on the five o’clock news set, and the news department will only give up fifteen minutes of time in the director’s booth and on the sophisticated computer graphics equipment. Staffers say Himmel bustles like this constantly, and as he presses hard on the accelerator, he talks about the murderous pace of the job. “It’s like a factory job, an assembly line," he sighs, but it's obvious that he's having a great time loading his sixteen tons a day.

“The number-one obligation is quantity,” explains Arden, who works on an edge of adrenalin. “We have to get the show done, no matter what. Of course we want it to be as good as it can be, but I miss a show, and I get fired.” Arden, who is thirty-two, has three children.

Inside Channel 8’s production offices, preparations for the “Eyewitless News" segment have gone smoothly. Producer Lori Gallo culled the newspapers for interesting items this morning, and Kathe Stanton and Ron Bimbach have written the script. Himmel skulks around the small San Diego at Large production office with the restless air of a man who badly needs a video fix, while Arden turns his attention to a computer screen. He needs to pick a fake commercial from a long list of possibilities to plug into tonight’s show. Other staffers pop in and out of the room, asking Arden questions, making phone calls, joshing with Himmel. It is not a sit-down job.

Kathe Stanton is taking a few minutes to relax in another office before she goes onto the set as fictional anchor-woman Jill Willow. Stanton, who is thirty-seven, is a former Minneapolis television news reporter who was hired by Holtzman as one of the original writers for San Diego at Large. Since then her on-camera role has expanded, and now she’s also doing one commentary a week for the five o’clock edition of the news. Stanton's pieces stand out from the usual soft television commentary by their sharpness of tongue and wit. Her range of ironic parody includes family life and children, which balances Himmel's penchant for trying to spoof local hipness. Holtzman has encouraged Stanton to use her natural cynicism, and she has slowly developed into one of the more interesting local video personalities. “It was hard at first because for a long time before we went on the air, I didn’t have any real sense of what the show would be,” she explains. “Holtzman has infinite patience with you. I didn’t just want to be a typical homogenized TV person, but some people said I have too much of a hard edge on screen. But now I can say awful things and smile at the same time.”

Stanton originated the idea for “Eyewitless News.” “At first the concept was for there to be too. many anchors, all competing for attention, and there was no time to do any of the stories,” she says. Himmel, who is sitting at a typewriter behind her, pipes in laughing, “Yeah, little did we know, that would come true right here.” They laugh together at the reference to the ill-conceived 11:00 p.m. news show This Day, another Holtzman brainchild that proved too unwieldy and self-conscious. It was canceled last October after only nine months on the air.

Stanton says the “Eyewitless News” segment eventually began satirizing stories in the news and became a good vehicle for topical humor. Tonight’s show includes gag lines such as “Mayor O’Connor gives her first state-of-the-city address. The mayor says money is no problem — she’s got plenty.” And there’s also a poke at their own network: “And they said it wouldn’t last. The CBS Morning Program has been on the air an entire two days! The highlight of the show so far was when Mariette Hartley took viewers on a tour of the set and showed how much food she had in the refrigerator [video clip on fast forward showing Hartley zipping over to the refrigerator and showing its contents to her audience, followed by a clip of a woman holding up a card with 18.6’ printed on it.] The studio audience was polled during the first commercial break, and an amazing 18.6 percent voted to let the producers leave the studio alive.”

Stanton seems most to enjoy her role as writer and satirical anchorperson on the spoofy news segment. “This is a heavily male-dominated show” she explains after Himmel leaves the room. “We tend to portray women as, well, bimbos. We don’t use a lot of intelligent women’s roles, and I'd like to try and change that.” Gaye Straza, the leggy hardbody who plays Andrea, the sidekick of Biff and Skippy, provides cheesecake that is worked into the show as often as possible, and the all-male camera crew rarely misses an opportunity to photograph bikini-clad girls on location. Stanton herself played something of a bimbo on the “Tierrasanta” segment, and it was obvious both in watching her during the filming and viewing her on television that it wasn’t a fun role. “I do sometimes feel a little out of step with the rest of the show,” she says.

At about four o’clock, most of the crew is gathered in the production office to watch a tape of the just-produced “Eyewitless News” segment. They chuckle at Stanton's delivery of certain lines and guffaw at some of the taped clips used to illustrate the “stories.” But the biggest laugh comes during one of the fake news show’s fake commercials, in which Himmel is appealing for money on behalf of the America's Cup race. “People who own yachts are poor” Himmel says to the camera. “That’s why they need your financial support.... Send it to Let’s Kick the Aussies Down Under ...” In return for the contribution. Himmel says you’ll receive a “silver-plated replica of America’s Cup...” On screen the camera slowly tracks around a mannequin torso wearing a silver jockstrap with a protective cup. The crew breaks up laughing at this image, but there’s no time for dawdling. Once the five-minute segment is over, they're all back to the task at hand: working awfully hard to be a little funny.

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