Parade Magazine February 13, 1972 Page 22

Parade Magazine Cover

Parade Magazine Cover

TV Spoof Pays Off
Four high school students had a wild time of it here on a recent Saturday. Julie Raticiewicz, as a theatrical property "man," searched frantically for a live mouse. Bob Morton agonized in trying to sell a TV ad to a tightfisted merchant. Jim Skwarcan labored over a corporate report while Kim Guidi made silly faces as the hero of a soap opera.

The explanation of this strange mix is that the four youngsters and 20 other high school boys and girls are engaged in an educational project that gives them a rare combination of benefits. They're learning firsthand the working of America's free enterprise system of capitalism and at the same time having a circus of fun making a weekly halfhour TV program that spoofs the adult world around them.

Business and Art

"The whole thing is tied together," explains Jim Skwarcan, the project president. "By necessity we're both businessmen and artists. We have to raise money to pay for use of the University of Notre Dame TV studio for our show. And the only way we can make the money is by selling TV advertising spots."

Conducted under sponsorship of the national organization, junior Achievment, Inc., the project lives or dies by the profit system. "If we can't be self-supporting," says Kim Guidi, "we go out of business and them's no TV show. I used to think a businessman was a square just greedy for profit. Now we all can see that the profit is what keeps the wheels turning. It makes the jobs. It keeps you in bread. We have to keep books and whenever a deficit begins to grow, we get scared and start working harder than ever."

The Mating Game

Viewers Write In

So while they sell ads with one hand and write satire and act it out with the other, the youthful South Bend troupe has made quite an impression on the community. Quotes from letters sent to station WNDU-TV, which televises the show on Saturday afternoons:

* "An excellent program. one of the few that my friends and I never miss. You have a large following here at Notre Dame."

* "It captured my undivided attention and I must say I really enjoyed it. It was clever and well put together."

* "It's just about the freshest and most imaginative show on the tube. In case you're wondering, I'm just an old middle-aged Eeezer."

The show, called Beyond Our Control, belongs completely to the boys and girls. They dream up the ideas, write the scripts, act them out, man the cameras and other equipment, and emerge with a format that is remindful of Laugh-In. Anything is fair game for the spoof and the action is fast. A reporter interview's a dim-witted basketball player who is so tall that only his legs show' on the screen. John Cameron Slazy is shown heating a watch with a hammer and then it develops that he'sadvertising hammers-"Not a single mark on this hammer, folks." And a political "expert" confidently predicts an election outcome on the basis of one-tenth of one one-hundredth percent of the vote in one precinct.

'A Great Success'

Tom Hamilton, executive vice president of the station, tells a visitor: "We're quite proud of these kids. When the idea was first suggested, we helped them to get started when competing stations didn't want anything to do with them. Now that the show is a great success, the competition wants part of the action but we won't give it to them. The kids are very good for us in the way of community involvement. But more than that, it's great to see them step into the responsibility of making something work."

WNDU-TV charges the group $225 a week for videotape production and air time. Also, the kids pay a token film charge, sales commissions, wages to themselves of 25 cents an hour, property expenses, occasional damage charges and other business expenses.

Hamilton concedes that at first he was a bit leery of letting a teenager man a $60,0OO TV camera, but the youngsters have proved to be responsible and trustworthy and the experience they are getting is invaluable.

The project opened with a "cast call" sent out by the Notre Dame TV station at the beginning of the school year. Approximately 100 boys and girls from seven area high schools responded. They were asked to fill out forms which included questions testing them for general knowledge-for example, identify such people as Ayn Rand, Buckminster Fuller and Evel Knievel. Also, testing them for ingenuity in spoofing. For example, fill in the blanks in the following: "Your name may be - but that doesn't mean 'you can -. one kid wrote down"Zlyurgneqfrt" and "pronounce it."

100 Shares Sold

On the basis of the forms, 24 kids were selected to make up the troupe. To meet expenses before the ad money started to come in, 100 shares of stock were sold at $1 each. If there is any profit at the end of the year, it will be distributed among stockholders.

As their season progresses, the South Bend kids hold a business session every Thursday evening and put their show on videotape every Saturday morning. Their maturity is impressive. As Kim Guidi puts it: "Ordinarily a group of high school kids wouldn't worry about a business recession. But we do-a recession would make it harder to sell ads and we might lose our program and our jobs."