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A ‘Schmo’ Is Born

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Executives of nearly every network told the producers of “The Joe Schmo Show” that they loved their pitch. Then nearly every one turned them down.
The faux reality series-where producers and actors trick an average schlub into believing he’s participating in a reality show-seemed too risky. What, for example, if the deception was unsuccessful or viewers didn’t warm to the concept?
“It was truly virgin territory,” said Rhett Reese, a co-creator, co-writer and executive producer on the show. “There was this fine line between making the show funny enough for a wide audience yet still convincing enough to deceive an audience of one.”
Luckily for recently rebranded Spike TV, disasters were avoided and the network got a boost in the Nielsens. “Schmo’s” audience grew from 800,000 viewers for the premiere to the second-to-final episode’s 1.2 million. “Joe Schmo’s” success is due, however, to a factor the producers did not predict: The behavior of the schmo himself-law-school-dropout-turned-pizza-delivery-man Matt Kennedy Gould.
Initially, critics and fans were mixed. Some called Mr. Gould dull and bashed the show as cruel and tasteless. But as the series progressed a sea change followed Mr. Gould’s refusal to succumb to ethical temptations. He protected the flamboyant “gay guy” from a bully, gave a vacation package he won to an injured cast member and wept when an actor was “voted” out.
Viewers, the producers and cast members stopped laughing at Mr. Gould and began rooting for him. Planned story lines were altered at the last minute to accommodate Mr. Gould-even though it meant steering the show away from the dramatic satire. Producers said such decisions were made because they were growing unavoidably fond of the guy.
“Everybody worried about the emotional impact on Matt, but nobody thought about the emotional impact on the rest of us,” said co-creator and executive producer Paul Wernick. “Usually, the moment a producer sees tears, he gets excited. But here when that happened we tried to figure out how to dial it back.”
The Joe Schmo Show
Network: Spike TV
Premiere date: Sept. 2, 2003
Studio: Stone Stanley Entertainment
Time slot: Tuesday, 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ET); repeats throughout the week
Main cast: Matt Kennedy Gould
Key credits: Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, creators and executive producers; David Stanley, Scott Stone and Anthony Ross, executive producers