Felli Fel, a Los Angeles hip-hop station disc jockey. (Barry J. Holmes, 20th TV )
Before "The Soup" or any number of cable television shows filled their airtime with celebrity mockery and current-events satire, morning radio hosts made such bits their stock in trade.
Now, some of those radio hosts will turn the tables and bring their snark and silliness to TV viewers around the country.
"Dish Nation" puts cameras in the studios of drive-time radio shows in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Detroit and gives viewers a best-of collection of jokes and interviews from that day's programs. The half-hour show premieres Monday night at 6:30 on Fox's KTTV-TV Channel 11, and also airs in New York, Atlanta, Detroit, Baltimore, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., for a six-week trial run.
Its creators call it a mix of "TMZ on TV," "Entertainment Tonight" and radio "morning zoos," with jokes about celebrity foibles and misadventures, and interviews with stars from music, movies, television and sports — elements that have long been the bread and butter of morning radio.
Executive producer Madeleine Smithberg describes the show as "the funniest people, in their respective cities, just spinning what's going on in the world into comedy."
The "Dish Nation" lineup features DJ Felli Fel of hip-hop station KPWR-FM (105.9) in Los Angeles and New York's Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill from adult-contemporary WPLJ-FM. From Atlanta, WHTA-FM features stand-up comedian Rickey Smiley and his eight-member team, who are syndicated to more than 60 radio stations, while Detroit offers Blaine Fowler and Allyson Martinek on WDVD-FM.
"What keeps it grounded is, hopefully, they're talking about the same things our viewers are talking about," Smithberg said.
"Dish Nation" — the "dish" in the name plays off the gossipy content and the satellite feeds from far-flung hosts — will feature segments from each of the cities, interspersed with humorous animation and video elements such as paparazzi-photo slide shows. One example Smithberg gave was a torrent of Kim Kardashian red-carpet images, all of her looking over her shoulder, that highlight her behind.
The graphics and other extras aim to push the program past a mere simulcast, like Don Imus on MSNBC years ago. Smithberg, who was co-creator of "The Daily Show" and, before that, a producer on "Late Night With David Letterman," noted how much crafting is necessary in programs like those, with jokes rewritten countless times and the additions of graphics and B-roll film. The efforts of live radio hosts, on the other hand, are more high-wire act.
"I've been floored by the material I've been watching," she said, praising the hosts' ability to think on their feet. "For our show to be successful, it really has to come from them. I want it to be as organic as possible."
Fel is the only one whose show isn't in morning drive. He and his cohorts, Michael Bachmann and Krystal Bee — Krystal Bianca Guzman — broadcast from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays. They tape their "Dish Nation" segments before that; otherwise they'd be done too late to add to the show for East Coast television audiences, Fel explained. A side effect: Los Angeles viewers will be getting fresh material they didn't already hear on his KPWR show.
And because he's not just a radio host but also a club DJ and record producer, Fel said he hopes his music industry background will enrich the program.
"I'm going to try to bring some of my buddies on the show," he said, citing artists he's worked with such as Snoop Dogg, Akon, LMFAO and Kanye West.
He said he's also looking forward to sharing the L.A.-as-entertainment-epicenter perspective with the rest of the country.
"I live here, I work here, I record here, I'm at parties. 'Yeah, guys, I was actually at that party with … whoever.' We run into people at the grocery. Or 'I have a friend that's a friend of Charlie Sheen or Will Smith…' and I can comment," Fel said.
Shannon was a pioneer of the radio morning zoo, first at Tampa's WRBQ-FM in the early 1980s, then in New York, where he took the format to WHTZ-FM and turned Z-100 into the market's top station. He and his partner Pettengill have led off the broadcast day at WPLJ for 20 years.
"Our show is driven by celebrity news and our commentary on everyday events," Shannon said. "It's cynicism with a heart."
But Shannon said they're not about to alter what works on their radio show to cater to television.
"Our main focus and thrust is our radio show, and we don't want to screw that up," he said, though he admitted there might be some "very small changes." "We might look a little nicer or shave when we come to work."