Pandora's Box

When it comes to television, no one's ever gone broke taking the low road. And when it comes to the Web, let's face it: Taking the low road may be the only way to make a quick buck (we'll be impressed with our Amazon stock when the company actually starts turning a profit).

So it made sense when Excite, a popular Web portal that features a plethora of chat rooms, decided to inject a dose of TV-style sleaze into its yak-a-thons. The product was a Jerry Springer-inspired chat show creatively titled Talkin' Trash. "Talkin' Trash is a cross between Jerry Springer, MTV's Loveline and a little bit of Absolutely Fabulous," says its host, Miss Lola Pandora. The surprise, however, is that since hitting the Web earlier this year, the show has managed to rise above the expected level of discourse, if only slightly--thanks to the smart, sassy Pandora.

The thirty-year-old L.A.-based actress got her start hosting celebrity cyber-chats for Excite. But unlike the hosts of the television shows she cites as inspiration, Pandora knows how to elicit coherent, intelligent responses from her guests and the online audience--all of whom meet in a virtual reality made possible by chatting software. Pandora, who's usually represented online by a red stiletto icon, interviews guests culled from the ranks of the online chatters in Excite's meeting rooms; Talkin' Trash's audience members can submit questions to the guests and talk with each other. Sparks can still fly--it's just a bit harder to catapult a chair through a 56K modem.

This summer Pandora decided to drop her shoe icon for a pair of the real things. She's hopped on a tour bus for a ten-city U.S. club tour, hosting her show in real, honest-to-God venues. She has been meeting her guests and audiences F2F (that's "face to face" in cyberspeak) and letting the rest of the world watch the show via a live Webcast.

Free of the constraints of the keyboard, Pandora strides up and down a stage like a Bette Midler for the Net set, peppering the Webcast with just enough double entendres to keep things lively. The show's topics have ranged from "I Can Be Anyone Online" to "Cyber Sex vs. Real Sex."

At Boulder's Fox Theatre on Saturday, the planned topic will be "I Can't Get My Partner Offline." (For those unable to make it to the show, Pandora suggests solving the problem with a sledgehammer firmly applied to the computer monitor.)

There's a definite advantage to meeting her guests in the flesh, Pandora says. Who except the most jaded online veterans would have predicted, for example, that her onstage guest in Boston, a mild-mannered, clean-cut guy, fancies himself as an S&M dungeon master when he jacks into a chat room?

"In a world where things get so predictable," Pandora says, "the Net always keeps you guessing. You never know what's going to be behind door number one, door number two or door number three. I've gotten everything from absolutely polite fans to a crazed fan jumping on the stage with a garbage bag on his head screaming 'I love you!'"

After the excitement of the tour concludes in San Francisco at the end of the month, Pandora plans to bring the show back to its usual Wednesday-night format on Excite. For now, that is. Though she's sketchy on the details, she says there has been interest from Hollywood-producer types about bringing her Web show to television. And Lord knows TV could use an IQ boost, however slight.

--Chris LaMorte

Talkin' Trash With Lola Pandora, August 14, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, 303-443-3399. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Show at 8 p.m. Watch online at www.excite.com/lola.

 
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