Imagine a public-access TV show like Wayne's World -- minus the schwing, the mullets, and the cheesy Top 10 lists-- with two hosts who have 10 times more class and style than the T-shirted early-'90s loser-chic hosts Wayne and Garth. The content is a mixture of pre-recorded local music and videos from the national circuit as opposed to the "Which babe is hotter?" fare. And there's no air guitar.
Okay, with the exception that two-men-sit-on-a-couch-while-hosting-a-local-access-music-show, appropriately called The Show, there's no real connection between the two programs. But if you can imagine Wayne's World's polar opposite, then you've got the idea.
The Show, which airs Saturday mornings at 1 a.m. on WHBQ Fox 13, features an even mix of local-music performances and interviews, popular hip-hop and R&B videos, and clips of the show's dancers, the Showgirls, who bring to mind memories of the old Flygirls from Fox's In Living Color. Co-host/co-producer Raheem Baraka describes it as "BET's 106 and Park meets Soul Train meets Carson Daly."
The brainchild of neurologist Darel Butler, the one-month-old show is currently marketed to an urban audience and most of the music acts featured thus far have been in the hip-hop, soul, and R&B genres. But Butler and Baraka, who runs a marketing company called DeepVoice Entertainment by day, have plans to beef up the 30-minute show to an hour and eventually showcase all types of music.
"Right now, we show two live acts and three videos per show, but we plan on expanding as the show goes on. As it gets warmer, we're going to start going out in the streets to do interviews and incorporate the crowd," says Baraka, whose background in music and entertainment gave him the connections to help Butler get his idea on the road.
The Show films in front of a live audience every Thursday night at the Hard Rock Cafe, a venue chosen because, as Baraka says, "The Hard Rock rocks." At one taping a few weeks back, several local artists, including the poetic-rap group Free Sol, ex-Three 6 Mafia rapper Koopsta Kniccha, the rapping duo Pitch Black, and soulful singer Tamara, entertained a packed crowd as a small crew darted from one side of the stage to another, chasing the artists down with their video cameras.
Between performances, the Showgirls, dressed in strategically ripped gray jogging suits layered over tight-fitting tank tops, performed synchronized routines to popular hip-hop songs. Several of the five Showgirls are also Memphis Redbirds dancers.
"They add a little flavor to the show, but they're not just there to be eye candy. These are very talented women who want to be professional dancers. Hopefully, this will help boost their careers," says Baraka.
Baraka and Butler are also hoping The Show can serve as a jumping-off point for local music acts looking to make it big. In a recent program, Baraka sat down with soul artist Hollywood to talk about his hopes for a major label. As they were wrapping up, Baraka pointed at the artist, turned to face the camera, and said, "To all the labels watching our show ." Then, he added, "And I know you're watching 'cause we got what's hot."
And Baraka's not just being egotistical. He and Butler claim to have very high standards, and so far all the artists featured have voices so clear they wouldn't be out of place in the finalist pool of American Idol. Baraka even mentioned that if a local advertiser's commercial wasn't up to speed, The Show crew would offer to film another one.
"If our show is going to be high-quality, then your commercials need to be high-quality too. With some of these local commercials, you'll be watching a great show, and then it goes to a commercial, and you're like, 'What was that?' We'll redo commercials if we have to," says Baraka.
Before The Show, Butler and Baraka had no television experience, but their commitment to quality makes them look like pros. Sitting on a couch at Isaac Hayes (where the first few tapings took place before they settled on the Hard Rock Cafe), Baraka and Butler took turns interviewing the musicians and introducing videos, and although their lines were generally scripted, their laid-back delivery seemed ad-libbed.
"In the beginning, we were nervous as heck. There's no question about that. I've always been behind the scenes, so I was a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera. I kept thinking about how many people were going to see this, but a couple of Jacks [Daniel's] later, we gelled. He's a smart guy for meeting me, and I'm a smart guy for meeting him," says Baraka.
Enjoying ratings that translated to 30,000 viewers for the first program, which only airs in the local Fox 13 viewing area, The Show promises to not only be a success itself but to assist in the success of some of Memphis' finest musicians and dancers. They're already booked for the next 19 weeks, and plans are in the works for expanding the show's length and possibly regionalizing the viewing market.
"Five years from now, I think we'll at least be a syndicated show throughout the Mid-South doing great things just like MTV has done," says Baraka. "If we can find those diamonds in the rough and put them out there, we can say this is who we have assisted. If they do well, we'll do well."