Fictional newscaster Louis La Fonda is incredibly invested in his work. From investigative reporting to human interest pieces, he likes to dive headfirst into the story. And, that's kind of the problem. The deeper La Fonda explores his assignments, the more of a mess they become.
“He really has no idea where the stories are going,” says Mather Zickel, who stars as La Fonda in the new Adult Swim series, Newsreaders. “He just sort of reacts in a way to cause more interest where there wouldn't necessarily be much interest. He'll go and try to make news.”
This Thursday, La Fonda marks the Adult Swim premiere of Newsreaders with an exposé on van sex that's as riveting as it is ridiculous. (You can watch the episode now on Adult Swim's website now.) Zickel describes the show as “sort of the evening news magazine format, in the vein of 60 Minutes or 20/20 or something like that, something else with a number.”
He adds, “They cover in-depth on stories that people never thought they cared about, and probably don't.”
Although it is only now beginning its first season, Newsreaders is familiar to avid Adult Swim viewers. The show is a spinoff of Childrens Hospital, the popular medical drama parody starring Rob Corddry. In three episodes of Childrens Hospital, the series' show-within-a-show is profiled by La Fonda for Newsreaders. While that's the origin of this particular series, the character of Louis La Fonda actually predates Childrens Hospital.
In 2007, David Wain, who produces, writes and directs Childrens Hospital, directed a flick called The Ten. The movie, which Wain also co-wrote, features ten short, sometimes interconnected stories based on the ten commandments. Louis La Fonda, played by Zickel, appeared in two segments of the film. Back in the days of The Ten, La Fonda was a TV reporter assigned to cover a the story of a young man whose life is completely changed after falling out of an airplane. He ends up marrying the victim's fiancé, who betrays the reporter in possibly the most disturbing scene involving a ventriloquist dummy ever.
“He was left kind of shattered,” Zickel says of the character, before filling in the missing, imaginary history between The Ten and Childrens Hospital. “Since then, he has gone on to host several entertainment news programs. There was The La Fonda List. He would do a weekly wrap-up of who's who in television and entertainment. That gave way to Newsreaders, which started getting a lot of viewership during Childrens Hospital.”
Up next: What is the show parodying?
Newsreaders isn't what you might expect from a TV news parody. “We're not really parodying real people and real situations,” Zickel explains. “We're taking absurd situations and making them worse.”
It is, however, something you might expect from Wain, who first made a name for himself as part of The State and went on to co-found the comedy trio Stella and direct cult hits like Wet Hot American Summer. Like Wain's other work, where the comedy is in the details and amplified by the fact that the actors, Zickel in particular, play their parts so straight-faced. Zickel and Wain, who knew each other from their NYU days, have worked together quite a bit over the years. Moreover, Newsreaders co-creator/writer Jonathan Stern was also a producer of The Ten. That sort of familiarity is evident in Newsreaders. “They had a sense of my voice and would try to write for that,” says Zickel. “I'm used to their absurd jokes.”
From what I've seen of Newsreaders, the show has less to do with the stories the characters are telling and more to do with the characters themselves. Zickel essentially confirms this in our interview.
“A lot of the show revolves around [La Fonda's] relationship with whoever he's interviewing,” says Zickel. “He often winds up becoming his own story, which is just fine with him.”
There's also a sense that Zickel is never really happy with who he is, that he is maybe a wee bit envious of the people he interviews. Take the premiere episode, for example, when La Fonda interviews two college students who launch a nationwide trend after uploading videos of the backseat escapades in their new van.
“I think he's pining for his youth a little bit,” says Zickel of La Fonda. “He sees these guys as the kind of cool college dudes who have sex with lots of girls in a way that he probably wasn't able to.”
Though the two episodes that were made available to press focus primarily on La Fonda, Zickel says that the rest of the Newsreaders team isn't much different from their leader. “They go into a lot of stories with a certain angle and, often, it turns out halfway through that the story is something completely different, something that they hadn't counted on and something that their involvement makes worse.”
But it's the characters' self-involvement and haphazard reporting that makes Newsreaders so entertaining and Zickel's pitch-perfect anchorman delivery that pushes this show over-the-top.