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The joke's on 'Joe,' but he proves he's no schmo

The unwitting star of Spike TV's reality series may have been stung, but he's a winner with viewers.

October 28, 2003|Mark Sachs | Times Staff Writer

For nearly 10 weeks, Matt Kennedy Gould has enjoyed an only-in-show-business existence. The law school dropout who had been living in the basement of his parents' Pittsburgh house just six months ago has been the undisputed star of a hit TV series.

Too bad it happened to be a reality TV series, one whose stated intent was to make Gould the butt of a very public joke.

Throughout the series, taped over eight days last summer, Gould thought he was a contestant on Spike TV's "Lap of Luxury," competing for a $100,000 payoff.

He was, instead, the title character in Spike's "Joe Schmo," in which he was surrounded by actors following a script designed to guide him toward the finish line.

It concludes tonight with the episode in which it's finally revealed that he's been had.

If it's any consolation for the previously unsuspecting Gould, he was nothing short of brilliant on the guilty pleasure that has been "Joe Schmo."

The 28-year-old Gould will learn the truth in a two-hour finale that's split between a resolution of the faux "Lap of Luxury" competition and a behind- the-scenes clips and interview segment.

The producers of "Schmo" had contractually kept their star under wraps while the series played out. But far from coming out with guns blazing once the muzzle was removed, Gould said he couldn't be happier with how it all turned out.

"I was fortunate enough to watch the first show when I was filming the recap, and I thought it was hilarious," he said. "It really did ease my fears. My family is so proud of me. They think I acted like a person with character and integrity."

Gould's disarming honesty and loyalty, together with a frat-boy randiness, helped boost the show's audience 75% since its Sept. 2 premiere.

"We could have searched for another decade and not found anyone as good as Matt," said Rhett Reese, who created the show with Paul Wernick. "We fell in love with the guy, and that made the show that much more difficult to pull off."

The show seemed torn at times between steadily upping the outrageousness quotient (contestant challenges involved hands-on encounters with nude porn stars and licking chocolate off models) and keeping Gould from suspecting that it was all a put-on, which would have put an immediate end to the shoot.

"We did push it," Wernick said, "but reality TV has opened the door so wide that it's almost become a parody of itself."

Gould, himself an avid fan of reality programming, agreed, saying he chalked up the wall-to-wall kookiness to the genre.

Gould, who was paid $10,000 up front to be in the show, added that he's been pleasantly surprised by the response from people who recognize him in public.

"It's been very positive; everyone says they have a friend just like me," he says.

Gould, who wouldn't offer any hints about how the truth is revealed to him, including whether he wins the $100,000, says he's had some feelers about other showbiz projects, but for now, he's resisted thoughts about heading for New York or L.A.

"I'm on the dole," he said. "I'm back living in my parents' basement. I didn't want to make a rash decision."

Not exactly the lap of luxury, but "Joe Schmo" seems content nonetheless.

*

'Joe Schmo'

Where: Spike TV

When: 9-11 tonight

Rating: The network has rated the series TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children)

Executive producers Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese, David G. Stanley, Scott A. Stone and Anthony Ross

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