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Who Knows What You'll Catch on 'Fishing With John'?

Television: The cable show, which premieres on the Independent Film Channel on Monday, takes an offbeat approach to the celebrity interview.

June 13, 1998|PAUL BROWNFIELD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are cable shows, and then there is "Fishing With John," which is very cable.

The John of the title is John Lurie, a part-time movie actor, full-time jazz musician-composer who also likes to fish.

Lurie isn't a particularly good fisherman, but he has gone to some interesting places with some famous friends, including musician Tom Waits and actor Willem Dafoe.

They fish, they sit there, they fish some more. They have exchanges like this one between Lurie and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, for whom Lurie starred in the films "Stranger Than Paradise" and "Down by Law":

Lurie: "What do you want to eat tomorrow?"

Jarmusch: "Fruit. Just fruit--you said it's not cool to eat fish while fishing. Is it bad karma? Or what?"

Lurie: "No, if you are chumming--you know--if you throw tons of dead fish into the water, it tends to make your stomach a little bit. . . . "

Jarmusch: "Oh it does? So what do you eat, then?"

Lurie: "Roast beef, roast beef and beer."

Jarmusch: "I don't eat roast beef."

Lurie: "Um . . . yeah."

Where else but the Independent Film Channel could "Fishing With John" find a home? IFC airs the first of six installments at 5 p.m. Monday. The debut episode features Lurie and Jarmusch looking for sharks off the coast of Long Island.

Subsequent episodes have Lurie and Waits in Jamaica fishing for red snapper; Lurie and Matt Dillon in Costa Rica fishing for snook; Lurie and Dafoe ice-fishing in Maine; and Lurie and Dennis Hopper, in faux Jacques Cousteau fashion, joining a squid-hunting expedition in Thailand.

"They're kind of like travelogues, like Monty Python meets Marlin Perkins," says Lurie, on the phone from his New York apartment. "What I really wanted to do was get them to [TBS], and every time there's a rain delay [during Atlanta Braves games], put them on without saying what it is."

"Fishing With John" comes along in the grand tradition of the celebrity fishing/outdoor adventure show, from Curt Gowdy's "American Sportsmen" on ABC to "In the Wild" on PBS, which only several weeks ago had Julia Roberts hugging orangutans in Indonesia.

"Fishing With John" actually has more in common with "Gadabout Gaddis," the syndicated fishing show with Roscoe Vernon that ran from 1950 to 1965, or "The Fishin' Musician," the sketch made famous by the late John Candy on "SCTV."

Very deadpan in tone, "Fishing With John" plays like "Waiting for Godot" on water--as Lurie and his guest celebrity wait for a bite that never comes and have conversations that veer from the mundane to the absurd. To borrow a "Seinfeld" analogy, this may be the first fishing show about nothing.

Adding to the comic dissonance is the over-serious narration provided by Robb Webb. "These are real men doing real things," Webb intones, as Lurie and Dafoe erect shelter in the frigid tundra of Maine.

In a sense, Lurie has stumbled onto a great format for a talk show: Take a celebrity out into the middle of some ocean or frozen wilderness, wait until they're good and dehydrated, then start peppering them with questions.

Or don't. In fact, take them fishing and then just ignore them, as Lurie does with Dillon in Costa Rica (Lurie says he and Dillon didn't exactly hit it off). Out on the river, Lurie is unable to think of much to say to the actor beyond "I always thought Matt Dillon was a stage name." Considering the way talk shows and their fawning hosts debase the art of conversation, Lurie's neglectful approach is both comic and refreshing.

"Fishing With John" was funded by a TV production company in Japan, where Lurie's jazz band, the Lounge Lizards, has a strong following. The completed series was then bought by IFC, where it isn't liable to look out of place alongside the stuff of the art film world.

"It's just so dry," said IFC President John Sehring. "There's a spirit about it that really attracted us to it."

According to Sehring, there's a very good chance more of "Fishing With John" is on the way. Lurie himself is sheepish. People such as Quentin Tarantino and Winona Ryder have expressed interest, but Lurie's far more focused these days on his music (in addition to the Lounge Lizards, Lurie did the soundtracks for the films "Get Shorty," "Manny & Lo" and "Mystery Train").

If he did continue "Fishing," Lurie would like to get a more eclectic blend of guests. You know, he says, have writer Noam Chomsky one week, tennis player Martina Navratilova the next.

"I saw her in the airport in Los Angeles," he says of Navratilova. "She shines. I was so taken with her. She just has this aura about her."

And after Navratilova?

Lurie considers.

Paul Reubens, he decides. Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman.

*

* "Fishing With John" premieres at 5 p.m. Monday on cable's Independent Film Channel.

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