Smile, you are on TV

This time, however, I found myself in a slightly different situation than that of the normal talk-show viewer. This time, I was in the Frontroom of our very own Keefe Campus Center. There was no Leno to be found here; instead, I was about to witness the first ever taping of “Weekly Roundup,” courtesy of Benjy Caplan ’03 and Amherst Community Television (ACTV).

I have to admit that I felt a little self-conscious as I took my seat amidst the quasi-hushed students who comprised the audience. Understated blues music filled the air, and the stage was set with the telltale markings of talk television-two chairs and a desk, a blue coffee mug, spotlights and mysterious prop-cards peeking out from behind the host’s desk. While taking my careful notes at the beginning of the show, I suddenly became rather aware of the fact that yes, there were cameras. Yes, they were taping. Yes, the back of my head was probably going to pop up on some TV screen somewhere and yes, I was having a particularly bad hair day.

The lights dimmed at around 8:00 and an easygoing Caplan strode onto the stage in an endearing ensemble of a blazer and tennis shoes. What followed was a two-ring circus of banter and bards, with guitarist Tim Blane ’01 and vocalist Warren Seubel ’01 providing an integral part of the evening’s entertainment. As the show progressed, I found myself slipping into my role as member of a “LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE!,” soaking up the ambience and clapping when appropriate. I have to admit, given my initial cynicism toward the form, I wasn’t really expecting that the “appropriate” time would occur naturally as much as forcibly.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that “Weekly Roundup” provided a refreshing look at the world around us. I also took a certain amount of pride in the fact that my classmates were completely running a show, from cameras to switchboard to lighting to sound, which will actually be on TV, via ACTV’s local cable station.

This project was certainly an ambitious endeavor, and though it took Caplan a little while to warm up his audience, he and his crew definitely earned their applause. The hour-long program, which centered around an interview with guest Channel 22 weatherman Brian Lapis, did get off to somewhat of a rocky start. Caplan struggled through his requisite “weekend update”-style 20-minute monologue and a somewhat languid bit about new course offerings for Spring 2001. “During the monologue, the silence while I spoke was frightening,” Caplan told the Student after the taping.

Caplan’s monologue, though flawed, was definitely promising; its saving grace was to be found in both his witty observation of the easy target that is pop-culture (writers injected a particularly hilarious critique of Strom Thurmond-he’s water-soluble, you know) and in his laid-back demeanor. Caplan also deserves credit (and definitely gained my respect) for his unapologetic delivery of the writing.

The monologue at times bordered on raw and edgy, a tone which would benefit future shows were it to be used more often. During these moments, the audience often responded with a slightly uncomfortable chuckle that gradually progressed into a collectively riotous laughing fit as Caplan’s musings landed on the far side of the political correctness fence.

These bits exhibited a willingness among Caplan and his crew to step out a little farther than the normative levels of appropriateness would dictate, something which all great projects must do if they are to become successful in an ‘industry’ which has seen everything once, if not twice, before. Luckily for “Weekly Roundup,” there are quite a few Communists still left in the world, not to mention George W. Bush and his impending term of butchering both foreign policy and the English language.

After the monologue, the sailing became noticeably smoother. About 30 minutes into the program, Caplan seemed to find his groove with Lapis. The conversation turned quickly from benign career matters to a hilarious lesson in McCarthyism as Caplan delivered lines questioning Lapis’ political affiliation with an amusingly straight face. Audience approval definitely went up at this point. “Brian was a good sport and before the show had a lot of encouraging things to say. Most of all he didn’t mind being outed as a dirty, dirty Communist, which is always a plus in any working relationship,” said Caplan.

Overall, even though the show wasn’t perfect, it has definite promise as an innovative addition to the Amherst programming scene. During the performance, Caplan seemed to have a good grasp of his strengths and weaknesses and took note of them with humble, yet hopeful, self-deprecation, a la Conan O’Brien. “I would have loved for the show to have been perfect, but it wasn’t…The only thing to do is to look it over and do it better next time,” he said afterwards.

As the first show ended, you could detect the warmth and satisfaction exuding from not only Caplan and his crew but most of the audience members as well. In terms of his goals for the project, Caplan said, “We do this show because we find it fun, and because we hope that when the cameras stop rolling and the audience is filing out of the room, that they leave a little bit happier than the way they came in.”

So far, Caplan and company are definitely on the right track. They hope to leave audiences smiling six more times this semester on Feb. 23, March 9 and 30 and April 6, 13, and 20. Future guests will include Dean Lieber, Rhodes Scholar Jordan Krall ’01 and Miss Massachusetts, among others. Musical acts will include Amherst band Full Service and music department Professors Dana Gooley and Bruce Diehl.