MTV's Kennedy returns to cable game

June 10, 2002|By Roger Catlin | Roger Catlin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

You know things are a little skewed on the new game show Friend or Foe when, after the contestants introduce themselves with a little light biographical information, the host chimes in with the real dirt on them.

We learn that one contestant avoided creditors for years. Another strung along three girlfriends at once.

It might be explained by the fact that the host is Kennedy - the long-lost single-named video jockey who routinely made similarly snide remarks about bands while working on MTV for years.

But it turns out the biographical dirt is true and plays into the dark conceit of the show - after winning prize money in partnership with another contestant, will one try to cheat the other out of the whole amount?

"Believe me, I love that part," Kennedy says of the dirt she reveals on the contestants. "You do want to give an honest depiction of who that person is. So the other person has something to base their decision on."

Kennedy, 29, chatted about the show between classes at Santa Monica College, where she is a sophomore studying philosophy and physics. "It's just what interests me the most," she says of school. "I ... started at MTV young and was always interested in going to school." Her stint on Friend or Foe on the Game Show Network marks her return to cable after leaving MTV in 1997.

"I love it," she says of the show, which matches the devious do-or-die plotting of modern reality shows with the questions-for-cash basis of most quiz shows.

So far, it's been tough to predict which of the pairs will choose to be "friend" and split the prize money - or press the "foe" button and try to take it all. If both press "foe," both walk away empty-handed.

"I've seen people come on, convinced they were going foe, and then after meeting their partner found them so great they couldn't betray them," she said.

As for pairs who both press "foe" and go away penniless, Kennedy says, "Yes, some of those people are [jerks]."

She likes to recall the winning pair of contestants on the first show taped. "This guy and this woman, they were both 22 or 24. She was a snowboarder, and he was a waiter. They were as cute as they can be. They both went `friend,' and both cried. It was so cute. It's nice to see that a lot of people are not in it just for the pure greed," she said.

Though MTV has tried its share of cutting-edge game shows, Friend or Foe is the first for Kennedy, who admits to being a growing addict to the network's other shows, mostly reruns of classic shows.

"Those shows are so funny," she says. "Those lapels! The hair! I just love it. It's brilliant to be able to watch these people. Not just the hosts, or the stars on Password or Hollywood Squares; it's the fruity contestants on the show, too, saying, `I look good and I'm going to win us some cash!'

"Of course, people are going to look back at this show in 20 years and think ... what is wrong with these people?'"

Kennedy isn't worried about a down era for game shows now that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and The Weakest Link have been axed from their prime time spots.

"I think that was the plan," she says of their demise. "They knew the attention span is not great forever. They knew a novelty is only a novelty for a little while. Then it's old hat."

Kennedy's novelty at MTV lasted longer than most VJs - five years. As the profile on her "MTV Community" posting at MTV.com explains: "Let's face it. A no-talent like me was lucky to get the 15 minutes of fame to begin with. MTV did offer to keep me on another year if I'd pull a [Jenny] McCarthy. You know: Get breast implants the size of my head. But I figured I oughta escape with my dignity."

And though she was happy to go back for the 20th anniversary festivities last summer, she hardly turns to MTV now. "I still haven't seen The Osbournes. "

She realizes her appearance on the Game Show Network is part of that network's effort to change its demographic appeal.

"I think their demo now is pretty old," Kennedy says. "They're trying to get a little bit younger - not trying to get teen-agers necessarily, but people younger than grandma."

And it's the Survivor-style cutthroat strategies that set the young game show audiences apart. "They don't need a spoonful of sugar," she says. "They got a taste of real and they're not going back."

Roger Catlin writes for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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