“Yadda yadda yadda,” “Shrinkage,” “They’re real – and they’re spectacular.”
Peter Mehlman, the writer-producer who penned those famous lines on the TV sitcom classic Seinfeld has moved beyond television and brought his unique sense of humor to the web. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” (Okay, that one was written by Larry Charles, but you get the point)
Turning his attention from the realm of self-centered New Yorkers to the realm of sports, Mehlman’s first foray into cyberspace is the off-kilter and hilarious Peter Mehlman’s Narrow World of Sports. Each episode features Mehlman, as himself, interviewing big time sports celebrities like LA Lakers MVP Kobe Bryant, Boston Red Sox slugger Kevin Youkilis, Olympic champion Shawn Johnson, and Indy car speedster Danica Patrick. Sound pretty straight forward? I can assure you it is not.
Just as the show’s title is a funny take on the classic ABC series Wide World of Sports, the show itself is a funny take on the classic celebrity interview format itself. All the traditional elements are there – the host, the celebrity, the cameras, the Q&A – but they’re all twisted into a surreal event that’s just a little bit off from what we’re used to. For example, Mehlman poses a question to Kobe, but while they’re sitting on opposite ends of a fifteen foot long conference room table. Or Mehlman offers the burly Youkilis a beverage, but instead of the normal talk show mug of water, it’s a fruity red umbrella drink. Or how Mehlman starts each episode by greeting the audience from a desk, but the desk is inexplicably sitting in the middle of a basketball court or a soccer field.
If you couldn’t tell already, this show is all about the laughs and not much about the actual interview. And that’s fine by me. There’s plenty of places I can hear skateboarding legend Tony Hawk talk about where he got his start, but this is the only show I know where the host will comment “You’ve been married three times, but you’re the greatest in the history of your sport so you’re entitled to three wives, aren’t you? Other off-the-beaten-path questions include asking Patrick “When you get a speeding ticket, do you get to write that off as research?” and asking Kobe “Do you ever stop in the middle of the day and think to yourself, ‘holy shit, I’m Kobe Bryant!’?”
Despite the silly questions and absurdist touches, Mehlman’s tone is dry and there is never a single wink to the camera. Even when he inspects Tony Hawk’s mouth with a tiny orthodontist’s mirror or asks him how difficult it is for a man of his profession to find a willing health insurance provider. Mehlman should also get credit for directing his guests in the same pitch perfect fashion. Kobe has trouble keeping a straight face, but Youkilis, Hawk, and Johnson play along nicely.
If you’re wondering where a sitcom writer gets off interviewing world-class athletes, Mehlman actually began his career as a sportswriter for the Washington Post. He then parlayed that print experience into writing and producing the TV series, SportsBeat starring Howard Cosell. So, in a way, Narrow World of Sports is Mehlman going back to his roots.
Peter Mehlman’s Narrow World of Sports is produced by BermanBraun, the production company run by former TV executives Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun. It can be found exclusively on YouTube and is sponsored by Palm, which receives one or two unobtrusive product placements in the intro and outro segments that wrap around each interview. In fact, they are usually pretty funny and play right into the style of the show.
The series premiered in early August 2009 and 9 episodes have been released so far. I, for one, am hoping there are plenty more to come. Peter Mehlman’s Narrow World of Sports is consistently funny and truly original. Even on the web, Mehlman is truly the “master of his domain.”