Aiming at the Stars
Recently, on an obscure cable-TV channel, dedicated amateur Tonja Roi--the co-host of Cineview--took her best shot:
After a clip from the action yarn The Long Kiss Goodnight, in which Geena Davis plays a CIA assassin, a "robber" burst onto the set of the public-access TV show and snatched Roi's purse. She promptly pulled out a gun and shot the poor bastard, while co-host Suzette Dederich poutily declaimed, "Somebody get that guy off the floor--he's bleeding."
Denver's only public-access movie-review show--sort of a nutso version of Siskel and Ebert's shtick--is on the air from beautiful downtown Wheat Ridge. It airs on Channel 57 in Denver, but if Roi has her way, she'll be doing her thing in the mainstream.
The two friends--with practically no prior TV experience between them--have contrasting styles. Roi dominates the show with her gleaming white teeth, aggressive persona and explosive, obnoxious laughter. She sometimes refers to it as "Chicks on Flicks." Dederich is the quiet sidekick, verging between shyness and aloofness.
"She kind of tones me down--maybe just a little," says the 36-year-old Roi. "I wouldn't want it any other way. I have to know what's going on and push, push, push. She's more relaxed. It's a good balance."
Roi's please-like-my-show intensity provides the propulsion. She believes in TV. In fact, Maury Povich turned her world upside down.
It was seven years ago, and housewife Roi had just gotten home from picking up one of her children from school. Tired, she went downstairs to catch a few minutes of talk-show TV.
"Maury Povich had these three women on telling about this television show they had on in Chicago," Roi recalls. "And I said, 'Oh, my God! I want a television show!' Honest to God, I saw that and it was like my calling--going downstairs to turn on the television. It changed my life."
Today Roi is co-hosting her second show on a cable public-access channel. And Cineview--as well as anyone can tell, since nobody keeps ratings in the public-access world--may be a local hit. New episodes have aired every three to four weeks since its premiere last summer, and the show's audience has grown steadily. Roi and Dederich receive upwards of forty fan letters a month--even if viewers are as interested in getting free movie passes as they are in watching the reviews.
The two are trying to make a name for themselves around town, doling out the passes and hosting sneak previews. They plan to have a column in one of the daily papers' weekly bilingual inserts. They even have plans to go online next month.
Stan Li, program coordinator for Denver's DCTV cable-access operation, picked up the Wheat Ridge show at the end of last year. "Every time, their production values have improved," Li approvingly says. "They have a new director and they do chroma key, which is kind of like a blue screen. It's a step above what people normally do. They do something a little bit different."
The show airs in Denver at 5 p.m. Tuesday and 7 p.m. Saturday; it airs other times of the week on cable systems in Wheat Ridge, Northglenn, Thornton and Boulder. Though the odds seem slim that Cineview will rise above the minor league of public access and be picked up by the networks or cable, that's what the show's two scrappy hosts are shooting for.
"Siskel and Ebert are boring," says Roi. "They need to get off the air. We've seen enough movies to where we know what's going to keep you interested and not."
They also know to throw in enough sight gags to keep their viewers interested in them as well. Many jokes play off the show's tone of heroic women. "It kind of started out that way," says Dederich, 35. "We really do want to promote women as far as being part of any profession they want to be."
Ironically, Dederich says they get more positive feedback from men than women. Men take a lot of abuse on the show: In one episode, cameraman Greg Allan is tied up and asked to give his opinion about a film, but before he can utter two words, Roi tapes his mouth shut. On another show, two men in togas stand behind the hosts, fanning them as they read a fan letter.
The letter, which is from a man, reads: "Sometimes I tend to think you two lean toward reviewing too many chick flicks. And is it just my imagination, or do you kind of portray men as being on a lower level?" At that moment, one of the toga boys drops to his knee to feed Roi a peanut.
Don't expect Roi and Dederich to take serious movies too seriously, either. A grim revenge drama such as Sleepers is graded down because the "subject matter is a big downer," while Whoopi Goldberg's dubious gender-switch comedy, The Associate, rates very well (other than the opening, which Dederich complains was "heavy into stock-market information") because it "just felt good--we need more of those movies."
Bad movies warrant the "Goober Dance," in which the hosts toss the chocolate-raisin snacks onto the floor and stomp on them. Good movies receive five movie concession "stars": Goobers, a Coke, nachos, popcorn and a hot dog.
The Preacher's Wife is a yawner, while The Rock is a crowd-pleasing instant classic. Jerry Maguire is better than that. And any movie with Kevin Costner or Val Kilmer is hot. Pictures of the two stars adorn the set--Roi pulls a cell phone out of her blouse in one episode, expecting a call from one of them.
Off-air, Roi describes herself as the only Valley Girl with a New York accent. She moved to Denver twelve years ago with her husband so he could take a job in an auto-glass shop. They divorced three years ago. She has three children and works as a merchandiser for Anderson News, a distributor of books and magazines.
After her Povich epiphany, she called the local stations wondering how to get on the air and was soon referred to the cable-access station in Wheat Ridge. After taking a mandatory video-production class, Roi hooked up with a girlfriend to produce The Yakmasters, a half-hour variety show featuring yak about divorce, carseat safety, movies and cooking.
"It's only when we were doing it that we found out that 'yak' meant barf," she says.
Roi temporarily dropped off the cable-access scene following her divorce. But last summer she was ready to give it another go. She called on Dederich, whom she had met a few years earlier. "We're pals; we're pretty inseparable," Dederich says. "She asked me to do it last summer. I like to keep myself open for growth. I didn't expect it to blossom."
Dederich also came to Colorado in the early Eighties with a husband, but from Racine, Wisconsin. Rather than following a job, however, they just picked a spot on the map. "We quit our jobs, sold our cars and bought a van," she says. "We ended up in Boulder, and I was in awe."
Dederich and her husband divorced in 1987. Now she works as a surgical technician at Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital and is a full-time nursing student. She expects to graduate at the end of the year, but she says she won't choose between the show and medicine. "I love 'em both," she says. "I don't believe in planning for the future. You can't live in the future or the past."
Dederich's busy schedule limits her commitment, but for Roi, the show is no part-time hobby. She works a nearly forty-hour week conceiving scripts and gags with Dederich, rehearsing and courting movie studios for passes and film clips. "I know in my heart, 100 percent, it will make it," Roi says. "I don't accept any challenge I can't get over."
She and Dederich recently sent a videotape to Jerry Seinfeld's handlers outlining an idea for an episode in which Jerry and his pals place a bet to see who can pick up somebody in a grocery store.
Elaine hangs out by the magazine rack and Jerry loiters at the fruit stand ("He's gonna try and talk somebody into squeezing the fruits," says Roi). She stations George near the bakery, she says, "but he can't resist this chocolate cupcake staring in front of him the whole episode, and as soon as he takes a huge bite, this beautiful woman comes by." Kramer wins, having staked himself out near the condom aisle.
Roi says she sent the tape a few months ago and has yet to hear back. But her optimism is boundless. "I'll push it, somehow, some way," she says. "I knew just as much as your average person in a gas station when I started."
Visit www.westword.com to view an episode of Cineview.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.