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A Platform for Paranoia

Comedian Kevin Nealon is hosting 'The Conspiracy Zone' on TNN.

January 03, 2002|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As host of the National Network's new series "The Conspiracy Zone With Kevin Nealon," the actor-comedian has become a bit paranoid. "I wasn't much concerned about conspiracies before this show, but since doing 15 episodes, my paranoia has been piqued and tweaked a little bit."

Not only is the former "Saturday Night Live" regular looking behind his back, "I am looking behind my knees and every part of my body now and just scratching my head," he deadpans. "I have heard all kinds of theories from the Earth being hollow to Big Brother is watching us to alien abductions with a podiatrist taking metallic fragments out of people's feet who have been abducted and it's a substance unlike any found on Earth."

"The Conspiracy Zone," which premieres Sunday on the cable channel (formerly known as the Nashville Network), is a light-hearted but "open-eyed" look into the world of the unexplained. Each episode features expert panelists, plus a celebrity guest who can either be a proponent or skeptic of a conspiracy theory. In addition to staples like alien abductions and Big Brother, topics will also include the deaths of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana and the Kennedy assassination. Celebrity guests include Coolio, Adam Carolla, Harry Shearer, Skip E. Lowe, Gabe Kaplan and Linda Blair.

The 30-minute weekly series is the brainchild of executive producer Scott Carter, who produced more than 1,000 episodes of Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect."

Carter says it's been interesting encountering the community of people who believe in conspiracy theories.

"They are divided into two groups," he says. "There are the experiencers and the researchers. There also tend to be people who either divide themselves into the paranormal realm, which can be alien abduction, or the people who tend to be more on the political side with assassination theories."

And occasionally, the paranormal and the political twain do meet. "There are those who believe Marilyn Monroe was assassinated because Kennedy had revealed to her the secrets of Roswell and Area 51," says Carter. "And she was going to be blab them and therefore she had to be silenced. That is the crossroads of the two theories."

Nealon discovered during the taping of the first 15 episodes that the members of the conspiracy community firmly believe in their respective theories. "They are very well-educated and aware of all the events," says Nealon. "They are well-versed in what they believe in. But as with any conspiracy, it's hard to disprove or prove it."

Though Nealon is able to have fun with his guests, he is careful not to make fun of them. "You don't want to use the word 'crazy,'" Nealon says. "You have to walk a fine line."

"We told the people in the conspiracy community that we will give you a forum for your ideas but we won't give you a blank check," says Carter. "You have to defend your ideas. And the viewpoint of Kevin as a host is that he is not coming to this from a tremendous expertise. He is open to being convinced."

Though the panelists format is akin to "Politically Incorrect," Carter says that Nealon is a vastly different host from Maher. "Bill comes to it with a very strong point of view and wants to take on the panelists himself," says Carter. "Kevin comes on with a position of curiosity. He wants to find out what all the panelists have to say if anything, and get them to talk to each other."

Carter and his staff cast a wide net for mainstream conspiracies such as the Kennedy assassination, to the more bizarre ones, like an alleged time-travel experiment by the government in World War II.

One of the most bizarre installments finds theorists proclaiming that the center of the Earth is inhabited by reptiles. And there is the inner-Earth-sun theory. "Some people believe there is a sun in the center of the Earth and the northern lights are from the sun in the center of the Earth coming through the hole at the North Pole," says Carter.

There's also a whole community of theorists who maintain the last battle of World War II took place at the South Pole in 1947, two years after the official end to the global conflict.

"It was a battle between the last remnants of the Third Reich and 10,000 U.S. Navy sailors under the direction of Adm. Byrd," says Carter of the theory.

The conspiracy community has thrived and is growing because of the Internet, Carter believes: "There is kind of a phenomena occurring here, and I think we are going to be able to tap into it."

*

"The Conspiracy Zone With Kevin Nealon" can be seen Sundays at 9 p.m. on TNN. The network has rated it TV-PG.

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