Regular guy's spectacular luck TV: A headbanger interviews Metallica at Merriweather and tells the world about it on MTV's "FANatic."

July 23, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Kris Dotson is less than an hour away from what might be the greatest moment in his life, and he's nervous.

Well, he thinks it's nerves, anyway. Truth be told, the 26-year-old from Eugene, Ore., is too excited to know what, exactly, he's feeling. "I'm on this high state of mind, and everything's happening so fast," he said. "The fear that I have -- well, I don't know if it's fear, but the excitement of actually being face to face with these guys "

The guys in question are James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted, a group known collectively as Metallica. They are perhaps the most popular heavy metal band on earth. They are also Dotson's favorite band, ever.

It will be just him, the band, and a camera crew from MTV. The same crew, in fact, that's taping his pre-interview jitters.

In a little while, he will be taken to a screened-in porch backstage at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. He'll sit down, ask the guys questions, show them a picture of his son and tell them how much their music means to him.

For a die-hard Metallica fan like him, that's about as good as it gets.

Setting up such situations is the whole point of "FANatic," the latest addition to MTV's roster of slice-of-life series. Shown Mondays through Thursdays at 11 p.m. (Dotson's early July date with Metallica airs tonight), "FANatic" is built around an incredibly simple concept: What would it be like to have pop-culture celebrities interviewed by young, devoted fans?

"You've seen the standard kind of celebrity talk show," said Jeremiah Bosgang, the vice president for series development at MTV who shepherded "FANatic" onto the air. What Bosgang hoped for was a different dynamic than the one viewers get from Jay, Dave and Conan, "where it's a real person being able to meet this other person who's been a real source of inspiration in their lives."

These aren't just musical celebrities, either. Each half-hour episode features two fans, with one meeting a musician while the other interviews a TV, movie or sports star. Tonight's episode pairs Dotson with a young woman who is a huge fan of Yankee Derek Jeter; other nonmusic celebrities have included actor Bruce Willis, comedian Ben Stiller and soap star Susan Lucci.

Finding fans has been easy. Once MTV has a celebrity on board, it asks -- both on air and online at http: // -- for fans to send videotapes explaining why they are that star's biggest fan.

For Dotson, making the tape was easy. "I have a video camera at my house, and I have this room that's just plastered in Metallica -- magazines, news clippings, posters, calendars, whatnot," he said. "I'm in there, and I have my guitar -- which is, I should say, also a Metallica guitar -- and I'm basically telling my story."

"Part of how we pick someone is the one who jumps out at us on the home video," said Ed Connolly, one of the show's executive producers.

Some of what they look for has to do with passion and personality, as well as the fan's ease on-camera. After all, having the fan turn wooden and unexpressive doesn't make for great television.

After narrowing the field, the production team does follow-up interviews with the fans to gather additional information, such as stories about how the celebrity has made a difference in the fan's life.

Dotson, naturally, has some good ones. For instance, he never needs to put his name on his tools at work -- he unloads trucks and prices merchandise at the University of Oregon Bookstore processing center in Eugene -- because everybody knows that his tools are the ones with Metallica stickers on them.

But the true depth of Dotson's fandom comes out when he talks about his son, Stephen James. Yes, James as in Metallica front man James Hetfield. "These guys mean so much to me," said Dotson.

Anyway, there's a lyric in the Metallica song "Battery" that begins, "Smashing through the boundaries ..." Dotson takes the song to mean that people shouldn't be afraid to try, to get the most out of their lives, and not only was he inspired by that message, but he has applied it to his role as a father.

"I grew up really shy," he said. "I missed out on a lot of things growing up. I don't want my son to miss out on anything because he's shy. I want him to be the one that's going to be first. You know, the leader of the group. As opposed to a follower."

Fortunately, there's no shyness evident when Dotson meets the band. Dotson talks to band members two at a time and seems utterly unperturbed by the proximity of his idols. He shows Hetfield and Hammett the picture of his son and shows Ulrich and Newsted an article he wrote about the time he and Newsted touched foreheads during a Metallica concert. Even though there are nearly a dozen MTV techs swarming around him, Dotson comes across so relaxed, you'd think it was just a casual conversation.

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