Miss Mazeppa was way ahead of her time. When the trumpet-blaring burlesque queen in "Gypsy" doled out motherly advice to an aspiring young stripper, she could have been addressing today's wired wannabes. It's easy to imagine the old pro as a career consultant for, say, bored investment advisers or frustrated ophthalmic-laser technicians. Her trade secret? Simple. "You gotta have a gimmick." It brings down the house, every time.
The folks at NakedNews.com know the meaning of that message. The popular site's daily streaming video show has a few things going for it: naked ladies, naked ladies and - the latest addition - a naked man. Oh, and they also throw in a little news. And a weather report, too.
The show is modeled after a typical newscast, with perfectly coifed anchors who read the headlines in a practiced, perky pitch. There's Victoria Sinclair at the top of the Webcast. She opens with a story about an Israeli offensive in the Palestinian territories; the camera pulls back, and she unbuttons her shirt to reveal a silky red bra.
Next is a piece about rebels in Colombia; off goes the shirt. By the time she wraps up with an item about the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, she has, shall we say, stripped the story down to the bone. "If they bomb us from above, we'll bomb them from below," she says, quoting a Cuban defense minister and flashing a prim smile.
And then there's Lucas Tyler, who made his debut on the new Male Edition last month. He doesn't strip, though the camera reveals his talents little by little. At the top of the show, he is seen from the waist up; the camera pans slowly out for a full-figure view. On his first day, he ended the broadcast with a story about blowing up dead cows in Austria.
The brainchild of two Canadians who never speak to the press and based at a secret location in Toronto, the show was launched in December 1999 and has developed quite a following. How big that audience is depends on whom you ask. The show's producers contend the site receives 6 million unique visitors a month; Jupiter Media Metrix, a firm that monitors Internet use, says the site received 1.6 million visitors last month. By comparison, CNN.com had 9.6 million visitors in March.
Nudity, of course, is everywhere online, in all shapes and sizes, from vanity sites to hard-core pay-to-play outfits. NakedNews.com is a quirky offering in a universe of flesh. But size is relative. For an Internet show, it's quite popular.
And it's also trendy. Last year, a similar show called "The Naked Truth" debuted on a cable channel in Moscow. According to published reports, anchor Svetlana Pesotskaya delivers the news with a straight face while stripping off her unmentionables. She interviews party bosses who steadfastly ignore her state of undress while spewing the usual cant. The show is supposed to be an ironic take on the bland sameness of state-controlled news. If you close your eyes, the deadpan delivery sounds exactly like the stuff you can hear on other channels.
But how many viewers are actually closing their eyes during either show? Probably the same number of folks who buy Playboy for the pointed prose.
Yet people involved with NakedNews.com talk enthusiastically about the show's aesthetic potential.
Tyler says he left a job as an investment banker to explore his "artsy side." Diane Foster, the show's offbeat weather forecaster, left a career as an ophthalmic-laser technician because she was "drowning creatively." And Kathy Pinkert, the show's spokeswoman, says the show succeeds because of its "artful" content.
"It's analogous to a well-written, well-acted television program - 'Frazier' comes to mind," Pinkert says. "We have a lot in common with a 'Frazier'-type program - great writing and talented people who are great at communication."
Of course, the newscast is performed tongue in cheek. Foster, in particular, invests her weather reports with frequent updates on the weather in the city of Regina, Saskatchewan, and winking references to the full moon. She pooh-poohs suggestions that the show objectifies women, insisting that it is "pro-woman and pro-humanity."
"It breaks a lot of boundaries and preconceptions," she says. "What we are trying to do is europeanize North America. We share the belief that nudity shouldn't be thought of as a bad thing."
Foster says she has always been comfortable in her skin; nor is Tyler embarrassed by nudity. "I'm more intimidated by the TelePrompTer," he says. "I'm just trying to sound conversational ... "
The people involved say NakedNews.com has attracted viewers who are alienated by mainstream news shows. But really, when you get down to it, why are people interested? "To see me naked," Tyler finally says, baring his soul. That's the gimmick, and it would do Miss Mazeppa proud.