"It's Cable-TV Showtime for Chris Isaak"

by John Carman, San Francisco Chronicle, 11 July 2000

Pasadena — Visiting critics get hungry, you know, so comes a dinner invitation from HBO.

The site of the meal, it said, is "less than one block from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Buses will leave the hotel beginning at 6:45 p.m."

Less than a block. We could have crawled.

So it's another TV press tour — cable sector at the moment — and while the food came from HBO, the first giggles were provided by Showtime.

From Chris Isaak, specifically. The San Francisco rocker has committed himself to 17 episodes of a Showtime series described as "an irreverent look at the sexy, outrageous world of rock music."

"The Chris Isaak Show" probably will premiere in December. He'll play a scripted semblance of himself — at home, on the road, goofing with his band mates and having a meaningful impact on his female fans.

Isaak joined us in a cosmological sort of way, via satellite from water's edge somewhere in Seattle, and the thing he refused to commit himself to was a serious answer to any question.

Which was an immense relief. There is an overrepresentation of serious answers on press tours, many of them shameless lies.

"It's very much like real life," Isaak said of the Showtime series. "It's 100 percent bullshit."

"They're going to script it so that for the first time I will be leading a normal life. And, hopefully, this will be Step 1 of me leading a productive and useful life in the community. Kind of making up for those pet deaths and the fires."

Isaak was particularly adroit on the subject of the mental deficiencies of his fellow musicians. He'd been asked how the "musical community" might react to a weekly show about the life of a real rock star.

"The musical community doesn't get cable," Isaak shot back. "And I'm not telling them. They're musicians, you know.

"They'll see it and they'll go, 'How are you here? I saw you on TV.' They'll be lucky if they don't take a little hammer and break it open, and try to take us out of the set. They're musicians."

For the record, the show will be filmed mainly in Vancouver, which will stand in yet again for the costlier San Francisco. Isaak's Sunset district house might even be re-created up north, as well as musical venues such as Bimbo's.

Isaak will be joined by three of his real band members (Kenney Dale Johnson, Hershel Yatovitz and Rowland Salley) as well as a fictional band member, a keyboard player. The role of Isaak's manager, a woman yet to be cast, is another fictional fillip.

Perry Simon, the president of Viacom productions and a native San Franciscan, said there will be at least one musical performance in each hourlong episode.

The blend of fiction and real people seemingly suggests that "The Chris Isaak Show" will be a derivative of another cable series, the late, great "Larry Sanders Show" on HBO.

But Simon said Isaak's show will tilt more toward whimsy than barbed satire. The executive producers and writers are Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider of "Northern Exposure," a program that managed to agitate its absurdist material with a feather duster rather than a sharp stick.

Isaak was having none of this. He variously described the show as "like 'The Monkees,' only filthy," as a continuing dialogue between himself and a lovable hand puppet named Skylar and as a long-awaited remake of "My Mother the Car."

"For legal reasons," he said, "this year for the first time a lot of the old episodes of 'My Mother the Car' became public domain. We've taken those scripts and written ourselves into them. It's going to be big."

Maybe not all that big. Showtime reaches 11 million homes nationally.

A critic wondered why fictional characters were necessary. Aren't the lives of real-life rockers sufficiently diverting without invention?

"Yeah," said Isaak, "but we wanted to have people that we can kill off every week."

Isaak accomplished one thing. His banter with the press left Simon and the producers wondering if wall-to-wall scripts would be required.

"We left that press conference thinking maybe we ought to let the camera just roll a bit," Simon said later on the telephone.

©2000 San Francisco Chronicle



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