Meghan McCain, like most Millennials, only watches TV on the Internet. Was it ironic or just awkward, then, when she declared this preference while guesting on a new L.A.-based late-night talk show that specifically aims to engage people under 30 but is only available online to those who can afford DirecTV?
It was only the third episode of TakePart Live, which began airing Aug. 1 in 40 million homes on Pivot, the new youth-oriented TV channel from the progressive entertainment company Participant Media. McCain came on to lend some star power in the show's first week and promote her upcoming talk/reality show on the fledgling network. Other Pivot programming includes Friday Night Lights, an Australian comedy that's being compared to Girls and, at some point next year, a variety show from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
"It's for and by Millennials," Pivot president Evan Shapiro says. The hosts of TakePart Live, Jacob Soboroff and Cara Santa Maria, are both bespectacled, attractive and young. "We did a lo-o-ot of research into what this audience wants for news," Shapiro continues. "Humor was a must-do. [And they] really do want to give a shit about what they're watching."
As a result, each night the new show has at least one "impact" guest, who is somehow making a difference, and the TakePart website offers petitions and pledges associated with the issues raised on air. But they don't want it to be preachy.
"We're not all about being so earnest at midnight that people feel like they're being guilted into anything," Santa Maria says.
With SNL's Weekend Update-style jokes and Jon Stewart's sincerity, the hosts begin by presenting three news stories and dissecting why each is both funny and infuriating. The rest of the hour-long show includes a panel discussion, two interviews and NewsVille, in which a group of guests needs to determine collectively whether or not a story is real. Yes, NewsVille is a play on Zynga juggernaut FarmVille. No, most Millennials do not associate FarmVille with anything cool.
What else happens when you design an entire show around the preferences of Generation Y? They use words like "bullshit" on air. They translate the NSA's attitude towards our personal information as, "Don't worry bros. We'll keep it hella secure."
And, most of all, they tweet. Both hosts are on Twitter throughout the broadcast and read tweets from viewers, guests and family members about the show while on-air. Not that there's anything new about that: All the 24-hour news networks have been throwing tweets on the screen to kill time for years, because people often tweet about what they're watching on television. And as a Nielsen study released earlier this week shows, conversations about TV on Twitter do indeed cause people to turn on their sets.
However, using Twitter during a TV show only makes sense if you're off-stage, on commercial break or in the audience: When someone who is supposed to be performing stares down at his phone and uses Twitter in real time, it feels lazy and awkward. Choosing funny tweets ahead of time, as Ellen DeGeneres often does, can work, especially if the host isn't reading them off of a phone. But scrolling through your feed for something good, as Soboroff and Santa Maria do in the final minutes of each show, yields some eye-roll-inducing moments.
In these early stages, the show is a bit too stilted to feel authentic. During the NewsVille segment, for example, four or five panelists talk over each other as they hover, standing, around a high table. There is no camera angle that makes this look or sound natural.
If the show has a genuine core to it, though, it's Soboroff. His self-deprecating, adorkable ease closely resembles that of Ben Wyatt from Parks and Rec. And he isn't afraid to keep it real: When Santa Maria made a joke about Bill Nye rolling in his grave, Soboroff immediately called her out on the fact that Bill Nye is alive and well.
With her lip ring and tricolored hair, Santa Maria offers a punk-rock edge to balance out Soboroff's tailored suits. She seems less comfortable than he does, but she shines when talking about science. (She has a masters' degree in neurobiology.) During the show's third episode, she masterfully lays out the case for why the Discovery Channel shouldn't have aired "Megalodon," a dramatized legend masquerading as a documentary, when the channel advertises itself as "non-fiction."
The show also mirrors Millennials in that it doesn't identify with political labels like "liberal," despite support for traditionally liberal causes. An older audience might describe both the show and its sister website as left-leaning. However, when it comes to people under 30, Shapiro explains, "global warming, abortion and gay rights are not divisive issues."
Hence Pivot's involvement with Meghan McCain, a Republican who is socially liberal and openly critical of the GOP.
The main part of her interview with Soboroff involved a challenge to see if one of her 244,237 Twitter followers could correctly identify what kind of lizards were sitting in glass cages in front of her, live on TV.
McCain recognized the first kind of lizard herself, but she wasn't sure on the second one, so she tweeted:
A few moments later, McCain magically read the correct answer off of her phone. But it was not Othesaurus Opodus. Nor was it "a cold blooded dick cheney in cabinet number 1."
"I can't believe that worked," Soboroff said, before they cut to commercial.
Yeah. We can't believe it, either.
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