'The Big Debate'

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Ben Silverman's production company, Reveille, might just have created the gossip show equivalent of the uncanny valley.

That term describes the negative emotional reaction we have to things that are almost human but not quite, as geeks, robotics experts and anyone who saw Tom Hanks in "The Polar Express" will attest. It also well describes "The Big Debate," the first of 10 shows produced by Reveille for Microsoft portal MSN, and a show that seems lost somewhere between amateur production values and professional programming. And I don't mean that in a hip, lonelygirl15 kind of way.

The 21/2-minute webisodes run daily and feature semi- recognizable pop icons — robo-blond game show hostess Stacey Hayes, actors Mystro Clark and Regan Burns, among others — in fast-paced debates about such substance-free topics as Madonna's mommy skills, Leonardo DiCaprio's acting ability and Britney Spears' sex appeal.

But whereas "Debate" is pitched as a gossipy "Crossfire," it comes across more like a high school debate team stumbling over their notecard cues. Bright colors, slick editing and a catchy beat provide good energy, but the debators' rehearsed extemporizing is transparent. The result is an awkward cacophony of poorly timed one-liners.

At the end of each episode, viewers are directed to vote their viewpoints, and the percentage voting each way is displayed. For my money, I'd rather vote for the debaters themselves, a feature that could build rapport with the audience. But MSN leaves the community aspect to the forums. The forum comments are less entertaining than earnest, apparently reflecting the heartfelt opinions of MSN's soccer-mom demographic.

But that's not a bad demo to capture. While the kids get their snarky quips and nipple slips from blogs, MSN and Reveille are free to go mainstream with a tamer but still relevant show. I won't watch it, but maybe my mom will.
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