"Best reality TV is faking it on 'Searchlight'"
Sacramento Bee
August 27, 2002
by Rick Kushman


The deliciously twisted saga continues for this summer's most genuinely clever, original TV show -- which copies the bejesus out of another series and plays its stars for hall-of-fame fools.

We're talking about Comedy Central's "Contest Searchlight," a semi-rip-off of HBO's "Project Greenlight" and one of the funniest, smartest fake looks behind Hollywood's fake-anyway curtain since "The Larry Sanders Show."

The thing is, they're not admitting it's fake, and given what we know about TV, the general chaos and behind-the-scenes idiocy could well be real.

In theory, "Contest Searchlight" (at 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays) is a show about comics Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke giving a young comedy writer a chance to produce a TV sitcom. "Project Greenlight" had Matt Damon and Ben Affleck giving a young director a chance to make a movie.

But after two episodes, Leary and Clarke appear to be losing interest in their project fast -- Leary, for instance, is off in rehab after hiring an attractive contest applicant as his "assistant."

Last week, attempts to shoot the sitcom's opening credits resulted in a car crash, a bike theft, two brawls, a horrible (fake) injury to Peter Gallagher playing Peter Gallagher, a ticked-off Colin Quinn playing a ticked-off Colin Quinn, lost money, lost time, a director in tears, and zero usable film. In other words, like a day on many sets.

The highlight may have come when a writhing-in-pain Gallagher was lying on a blanket in the street, and the young director tried to stage a picnic next to him.

"That's when he really showed me something," Clarke said into the camera.

But the best part is the "feud" between Leary and Comedy Central's biggest star, Jon Stewart. In the first episode, we saw Leary talking on the phone with Stewart, trying to get him to co-produce the show. Stewart tells him yes, then later backs out.

As funny, and semi-realistic, as this is, it clearly is not real. Anyone watching the show for two minutes would figure that out. Anyone, that is, except the good folks at "Access Hollywood."

They sent out a breathless news release for a recent show saying Leary "seems quite serious" about being "disappointed by a 'famous ex-friend' of his who dropped out of the project after it was under way." The news release goes on to say it was revealed on "Comedy Searchlight" (their mistake) that Jon Stewart was the guy.

So last week, Leary showed up on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" to do his pretend angry thing, and he ranted about how they had talked about the show and Stewart had promised and everything.

"But, but ..." Stewart said, "you were drunk and if I believed everything you said when you were drunk, I'd be Mrs. Denis Leary by now."

Then Stewart leaned over and stage-whispered, "You told me to think of something."

Not only is "Contest Searchlight" as original and funny as anything on TV right now, but Leary and company are doing what might be described as free-form comedy wherever someone lets them. It's too bad one of those places is not a major TV network.


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