Where celebrities dish -- relaxed, uncensored -- for hours
Kevin Pollak's online talk show is free of broadcast TV's constraints. It has a rock-bottom budget and brings in top stars such as Jon Hamm, and ratings are no big deal.
Kevin Pollak interviews comedian Dana Carvey during the 10th episode of Kevin Pollak's Chat Show, filmed in Santa Monica. (William Marc Salsberry)
Between sips of beer, former "Saturday Night Live" star Dana Carvey ranges through a series of strange and revealing anecdotes as Pollak nods from across a round wooden table.
With a glint in his eye, Carvey brings to life an evening two decades ago when he was at a small get-together at the home of "SNL" producer Lorne Michaels. There was a knock on the door and Carvey answered. It was Paul McCartney -- the first person Carvey had taught himself to imitate, when he was 9.
"Your face has gone a bit funny," Carvey, mimicking McCartney's Liverpudlian accent, recalls the singer saying.
Carvey goes on, uninterrupted: Several days later, after he and McCartney listen to an unpublished track the music legend had recently recorded, McCartney leans over to Carvey and confides, "Sometimes, when you're writing, you try to live up to whatever . . . and you end up ruining the [expletive]."
Pollak snorts in disbelief.
"Kevin Pollak's Chat Show" is streamed on the Internet, and there's no reason to stop a good interview -- not for time slots, not for commercials and certainly not for censors. The long-format interview show is unlike anything else on the Web or certainly, with its unfiltered conversations, on broadcast television.
The likes of James Lipton and Charlie Rose have been hosting lengthy conversations with celebrities for years. But that was conventional television -- a high-stakes enterprise. Pollak is playing the same game with some big names, but with far fewer rules.
Online -- where Hollywood's efforts at original programming have floundered and amateur videos have flourished without advertisers -- the pressures of television are blissfully remote. Pollak's show doesn't even have salaries to pay.
Indeed, removing TV's constraints is like taking the conversation out of a corset: Everyone breathes easier and lets a little more hang out. And viewers get a glimpse of what celebrities sound like uninhibited.
In a conversation spiked with cursing, drug references and R-rated banter, Carvey has taken Pollak and the online audience from his childhood through his television and movie career, his 1997 struggle with cardiac problems and a bungled bypass surgery. The finale is Carvey reprising a heart-to-heart chat last October with his onetime satirical target and current friend George H.W. Bush.
In his famous Bush accent, Carvey mimics what the former president confided about the end of his son's administration: "For us, it's all about getting our boy back."
"Oh man," Pollak says. "Oh man."
Near the end, Carvey asks Pollak, an old friend from their stand-up comedy days: "How do you do this? It's like 2 1/2 hours of television. Who does this?"
"Nobody," Pollak says.
In commercial or critical terms, original Internet television has produced few successes. For most efforts, scoring even a thousand viewers is a coup. Only a few shows have been able to win regular audiences of a million or more -- usually qualified.
"Lonelygirl15," for example, was a Web hit in 2006, but interest waned when viewers realized the thriller's ingenue was fictional. Last year's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," starring Neil Patrick Harris, was widely lauded but had only three episodes. A current hit is "Fred," an amateur show about the life of a hyperactive 6-year-old, which was created by a Nebraska teenager but is largely unknown to adults.
Hollywood has been even less effective online than those independent productions. Web production studios such as Disney's Stage 9 Digital and Turner Entertainment's SuperDeluxe were shut down with little fanfare.
Pollak tapes his show from a corner studio -- with exposed ceiling joists -- inside a cavernous, stone-floor Santa Monica factory that is home to Web search company Mahalo.com, his production partner. The makeup and dressing room is a white-tiled industrial shower area. The night Carvey appeared, a few friends of Pollak -- seated in plastic chairs against the wall -- made up the studio audience.