'Mark & Brian': NBC's fodder for '60 Minutes' cannon

September 09, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

NBC calls "The Adventures of Mark & Brian" reality television. If this is reality, I'm dropping out. Anyone got a ticket for the next Grateful Dead concert?

The new show, which previews at 8:30 tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2) before taking up its regular Sunday berth, is mainly TV on the cheap. It deals with two real-life Los Angeles disc jockeys who live out a different fantasy every week. It's on the schedule because NBC didn't have anything cheaper to put on in its 7 p.m time slot to be slaughtered by CBS' "60 Minutes." The reality is that networks can no longer afford big budgets for shows that can't win time periods.

All you need for this half-hour show are two disc jockeys named Brian Phelps and Mark Thompson, a couple of hand-held cameras and a half-baked notion of a fantasy some Hollywood producer thinks people all over America share.

In fairness, tonight's fantasy is not a bad one -- singing with the Temptations. We see Mark and Brian practicing with the Motown group, messing up their dance steps, trying to sing in near-falsetto voices, getting fitted for their tuxedos and suffering through backstage sweats and jitters before joining the Temps on stage in concert.

The problem, though, is one of identification. It's not enough that audience members share the fantasy, they must also identify with the people getting to live out the fantasy for such a show to work.

Mark and Brian are very popular on Los Angeles radio where they do a hip and irreverent form of radio. Here, they are toned down -- the way prime-time TV often takes the edge off other strains of pop culture when adapting them.

The result is that Mark and Brian come off as two guys who make silly faces and almost never say anything interesting. They are not The Great American Amateur the way, say, George Plimpton was. They do not have the innocence of children fantasizing about what they'll do when they grow up.

The fantasies -- and the series -- promise to get worse. One week, they swim with sharks. Another week, they perform with circus trapeze artists.

That's assuming they are still around after a couple of weeks and not a victim of early cancellation: another reality for this kind of two-bit entertainment.

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