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Back as host, but it's a whole new reality

October 29, 2006|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

IN a Burbank television studio, fame is being redefined, once again.

At the center of the action is a dark-haired woman with a pretty, clear-skinned face and a multi-octave voice that seems intent on rendering this, and most things, slightly ironic. She is Kennedy, host of the year-old "Reality Remix," a show on Fox Reality evenings at 8:30 that encapsulates the latest developments on reality shows from "America's Next Top Model" to "Survivor" as well as providing postmortem interviews with the freshly axed.

And on a recent Monday, she was seeking to expand her portfolio.

"Can I get the 'Survivor' castoffs this year?" she asks a publicist from Fox. "I totally need to get the 'Survivor' castoffs this year."

The publicist allows that this might be a possibility, though she warns that Kennedy would have to wait until the appropriate show had aired and the winner became public.

"They don't know," says the publicist quickly. "Oh, they do," Kennedy says. "I mean they call each other up and say 'I totally voted for you' and they figure it out." Finally noticing the woman's darkening expression, Kennedy takes the animation level down a notch.

"Well, they shouldn't," she says, looking serious, like a very stern kindergarten teacher. "They certainly shouldn't." Then she ducks her head, her face sporting the original grinning mischief, her voice dropped to a cartoon whisper: "But they do."

Although no one can claim to have entertained a lifelong ambition to host a reality TV recap show, Kennedy comes pretty close. Having made her name as an MTV VJ -- the pushy one in the geek girl glasses who supported Bob Dole and Dan Quayle -- the former Lisa Kennedy Montgomery is all about pop culture. The glasses are still there, though a bit softer in their lines, as are the politics -- at 34, Kennedy remains a registered Republican but considers herself a libertarian rather than a conservative. "I am certainly not an excited member of the Republican Party," she says. "These are not my people."

She is, however, shameless in her love of reality TV. "You can't escape reality, and why would you try" is her tag line, and her enthusiasm for the various players of the various TV shows could not be conjured from even the pithiest script.

"I'm pretty sure that's what got me this job," she says. "Because I know they interviewed all sorts of great people but I truly love reality TV. Madly. Deeply."

Why?

"The unpredictability of the human condition," she says with wide eyes and an exaggerated shrug. "You just can't beat it."

That unpredictability extends long after the shows are over. As reality TV increases in longevity and in share, an underclass of minor celebrities teems just below the radar of major media outlets. And often their first stop is "Reality Remix."

And therein lies a problem. Because as the years and shows mount, simple mathematics dictates that the probability of another blockbuster a la "American Idol" or "Survivor" has diminished. "The pie is getting larger, the pieces are getting smaller," Kennedy says.

As someone who moves among those who are so last season, Kennedy sees the effect even 13 weeks can have. "It is really hard for some of them to let go," she says. "They get agents or publicists who book them on local talk shows or college campuses or whatever and they think it will last forever, but it doesn't. It can't."

Having experienced the vagaries of New Order Fame -- 30 years ago, there was no such thing as a video jockey, much less a former video jockey -- Kennedy feels their pain. During her five years at MTV, she says, she waited for someone to offer her a fabulous show of her own. But in 1997, her then-boyfriend and now-husband, professional snowboarder Dave Lee, broke his back. During his recovery, the two decided she should leave MTV anyway. They moved to Seattle, where she got a gig as a radio talk show host.

Some of the winners and even some contestants of the entertainment-themed shows do go on to make ripples in their respective industries; others cling to the subculture that has arisen in the wake of so much nonstop reality, attempting to get on other shows, or special editions of other shows, sometimes at "Reality Remix."

"We have used some contestants as correspondents," Kennedy says, "and we've had some try out for hosting jobs. But though hosting may look easy, it actually is a skill you have to train for."

Six years ago, she and her husband moved back to L.A. after Kennedy got a development deal with 20th Century Fox Television to do a daily talk show, as well as an Internet talk show.

"It seemed so great; what could go wrong?" Well, the former fell through and the latter quickly ran out of money. So she took the opportunity to get her college degree in philosophy -- "for a while there I was convinced I would become a professional philosopher. I mean, arguing is what I do best" -- and have a baby.

Daughter Pele was born two weeks after she received her diploma in 2005 and motherhood put the thought of becoming the next Immanuel Kant pretty much out of her mind.

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