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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “How’s Your News?”

MTV’s “How’s Your News?” would seem to be a real tightrope-walk of a series. On one hand, it’s about a group of people with disabilities who have put together a news team…and if that sounds like the makings of a really good documentary, you’re right: the show sprang forth from the film of the same name. On the other hand, it’s produced by Matt Stone and Trey Parker of “South Park” fame, and once you’ve heard that, you immediately find yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop, figuring that, sooner or later, they’re gonna make fun of these people.

Except they don’t.

We were shown clips from the show, with the news team visiting various locations and interviews celebrities; their enthusiasm was downright contagious throughout the footage, and any concerns we might’ve had about these folks being treated inappropriately were quickly dismissed by their parents, who gushed about how much their kids are getting out of the experience. So, yes, it’s funny, but it’s also sweet and touching. I still think MTV is just about the worst possible place for the series, since I just can’t imagine the network’s typical demographic doing anything but mocking what they’re seeing on the screen, but, hey, it might actually get me to watch MTV for a change.

The origins of “How’s Your News?” stretch back almost fifteen years, when Arthur Bradford directed the aforementioned film about these guys and gals. “We all met at a summer camp for people with disabilities,” explained Bradford. “I was teaching a video class, just trying to figure out how to make videos with all ranges of disabilities, and we hit upon this idea of a news show. And one of the things we decided to do was just have some of the campers from the camp go downtown and interview people on the street. And we were really pleasantly surprised at how fun to watch these interviews were. They were funny and awkward in a nice way and also kind of interestingly revealing about the people that they were interviewing, and that’s how the whole thing got started.”

Stone and Parker had seen some of the original videos done by Bradford and the campers, back in the days before “South Park” had premiered, and it was love at first sight. “We were just camping out in L.A., and I think we called Arthur and said, ‘Hey, we want to finance doing a little more of this, or on kind of a bigger level,’” said Stone. “And so we flew him out here, and he slept on our couch for a couple days, because we weren’t that high flying. I think he thought he was going to come out and meet some Hollywood producers, but it was just me and Trey.”

The project gradually evolved over the course of time, starting with a short film and then evolving into the feature-length documentary; from there, however, they did a few things for Trio during the 2004 conventions, which is what ultimately led to the MTV series.

“Arthur and I and Trey started talking. ‘What if we did…? Could this be really a…?’ It was, like, ‘This is not something that needs to be thought of as a PBS special or a special that needs to be over there in this box. This is, like, actually good,’” said Stone. “‘This is as good as anything on television. You know, we should do a TV show.’ But Trey and I were a little concerned in the beginning about having our names on it. We weren’t concerned about being associated with them. We were worried about them being associated with us…and we were really concerned about that for a long time. It was one of the reasons why, when we started talking about where would we go pitch this, MTV was kind of at the top.

“MTV’s one of those Rorschach things,” Stone explained. “Everybody has their opinion about what MTV is, but it certainly is youth culture and vibrant and it’s America today. We were a little concerned about doing it on, like, Comedy Central. But now that the show’s done, now that we have six episodes — and, frankly, it turned out great — we’re not concerned at all. We’re proud to be part of it. As far as our creative involvement, we give notes. We give some kind of general ideas. But, really, it’s Arthur’s show. It’s these guys’ show. And, hopefully, we can get open the right doors at MTV and stuff, but it’s really their show.”

“How’s Your News?” premieres on MTV in February, with a specific date still TBD.

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