Television viewers across America will tune in tonight to catch Spokane news station KHBX’s hard-hitting hidden-camera investigation into the world of sandwich shop sexual discrimination.
But the city’s real television producers and tourism promoters are hoping viewers will realize the station is a fake and the story isn’t real, and they’re crossing their fingers that the joke won’t be on the Lilac City.
“As long as it’s clear that this is a fake news show and they’re not coming here to pass themselves off as something they’re not, then more power to them,” said Jerry Post, news director at KXLY-TV.
Post and others in town have known for a while now that “Dog Bites Man,” a new show on Comedy Central premiering tonight, was claiming to be a legitimate news station based in Spokane. One episode features a stunt in which an undercover reporter attempting to act stereotypically homosexual feels he is short-shrifted two pieces of cheese at a sandwich shop because he is gay.
“We’re kind of known for a lot of exposés,” says an actor in a preview clip. “No one’s safe in Spokane.”
How the audience will react after the airing of tonight’s show is anybody’s guess.
“The last thing you’d want the nation to think is that there’s some sort of reality in that, and that’s how people behave here,” said Jeanna Hofmeister, who handles communications between film companies and the city for Convention and Visitors Bureau. She discouraged the show from filming in town because it was starting to get a bad reputation nationwide for tricking interviewees. “We’re a town filled with good people and good journalists, and we don’t need somebody using us as the butt of their bad jokes.”
The show, slated for 10 episodes this season, features the fictional, bumbling KHBX news team from Spokane, which presents itself during stories and interviews with real people as a legitimate news organization. It isn’t until the interview is over that people realize the crew is part of a comedy show.
Still, the creators of the show insist it’s all in good fun.
“It’s incredibly benign, the joke is never on them and it’s pretty much always on us,” said Dan Mazer, executive producer and director of the show. “It’s all pretty innocent.”
Spokane was the perfect location for the show, because the city wasn’t too big yet it wasn’t too small, Mazer said. Actors posing as reporters from Spokane wouldn’t have to conjure up regional accents, and the city seemed “kind of cosmopolitan,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s a case of Spokane being ‘average,’ ” Mazer said, speaking in a thick British accent during a phone call from London. “I don’t have a life-long axe to grind with someone from Spokane. It just fit all our criteria.”
Mazer said neither he nor anybody in the cast has yet to step foot in Spokane. His attempts to film an interview in the city were “scotched,” he said, though he said he’d love to come back and film for the second season, “as long as we weren’t driven out of town by residents wielding frying pans.”
Exterior shots of the news crew walking around “Spokane” are actually filmed in Portland, Ore., chosen because it added some of the Pacific Northwest “greenery and ambiance,” Mazer said.
Biographies of the characters on Comedy Central’s Web site tell of a reporter growing up in the “small resort town” of Medical Lake and living in a large two-bedroom, split-level, ranch-style home, with a hot tub, in a “very nice part of town.” Another character was an assistant trainer for the Spokane Community College basketball team.
Hofmeister was a leading force behind keeping the show from setting up any actual shop in Spokane. She had heard that the show’s surprise interview techniques were upsetting people across the nation.
“I know enough about the show to not be happy about it,” Hofmeister said. When producers approached her about building a set, she told them there would be a problem if they brought their shtick to town.
“We don’t appreciate our media being portrayed as less than ethical, or in a mocking, less than professional demeanor,” she said.
Producers at KREM-TV aired a report Monday night telling people not to confuse the station with any real news organization in town, news director Noah Cooper said.
And a press kit with clips of the show was circulating around the KXLY newsroom, garnering chuckles from staffers there, Post said.
“It’s very funny,” Post said. “In some ways it hits a little close to home, but it was very funny.”
Is it possible that viewers from around the country will view Spokane in a new light?
“I’m sure the possibilities for notoriety are endless,” Post said, then adding, “depending on how popular the show is.”
“Dog Bites Man” recently stirred up controversy in Southern California, when several community leaders were invited to a panel on media ethics, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. After the discussion began, the KHBX “news team” questions quickly turned inappropriate, leaving many participants to feel as though they were made the butt of a joke.
Also, two college professors were duped into interviews with the news crew and became furious when finding out they were being set up, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The professors took part in the show, believing it to be part of “American Eye,” another fictional enterprise created by the “Dog Bites Man” producers.
But only after the episodes are aired will the people of Spokane know whether America is laughing with us – or at us.
“I just hope that the people in Spokane realize it’s an affectionate look at local news in general as opposed to being Spokane-specific,” Mazer said. “I hope the town takes us to heart.”