Vol. 21 No. 9 • March 5 - 11, 2015 In Our 20th Year Serving Greater Hamilton

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Flying under the radar...for now

by View
February 5 -11, 2004
Wikipedia.com defines JR Digs as “…a Canadian television series which airs on Global and CH without actually having a network deal. The show follows JR Digs as he talks to people on the street, plays jokes on unsuspecting people and pursues a network deal. Although it airs nationally and is branded as a television show, it is really a paid program that is supported by sponsors. The show has had excellent ratings since its fourth week on the air, yet inexplicably has received little attention from network executives.” UrbanDictionary.com received a submission touting the show as being “…a television show that is going for an amateurish ‘Wayne’s World’ sort of comedy. Of course it fails on every level. It’s just one of those shows that is so humourless that it makes you squirm in your chair. People who think Adam Sandler is a comedic genius will likely respond with blurts of fake laughter while watching this crap.” Just so we’re clear, JR Digs is in fact a self-titled TV show broadcasted through paid programming. As Digs himself says, he could “sell knives and carpet cleaners and it wouldn’t matter.” The air-time is self-financed. The show currently does not hold any network deal, and the struggle to get one has turned into a makeshift documentary unto itself. Once upon a time in a nearby land called Burlington, Digs owned a skate shop and successful clothing line. In the fall of 1999 when the likes of Jackass and Tom Green’s butt crack were on every television screen, Digs realized that the stunts and stupid behaviour were the kind of stuff he and his friends did all the time. A year later, Digs had a pilot episode shot and produced for $4,000. For eight months he shopped his pilot to all the major networks as well as the local cable access station, Cogeco, to no avail. A happily–ever–after ending was looking grim, but Digs had alternate options up his sleeve. On June 20, 2000, Digs purchased a block of air-time on Global using money from his skate shop as well as every credit card he could sign his name to. By the fourth week the show was one of the highest rated late–night programs, soon doubling the viewing audience of Saturday Night Live. In the fall of 2002 the show was plucked off the air due to more than $100,000 outstanding paid-programming fees. While the show continued to be aired in order to pay off the debt, Digs collected sponsors. Soon Pizza Pizza and Labatt’s were on board, as well as several others. “The glamour of being on television is gone,” sighs Digs, spreading jam onto his rye–bread toast. “I just want to make a good show now. I spent the first year wasting all my finances to do the show I wanted. Then I spent the following seasons doing a very grassroots–type of production. I know now what it is exactly that is going to make this show work. That’s the thing. I have found what works and what keeps my audience happy and I know how to do it. I just need someone to want to run my show.” It’s not like everyone is completely disinterested. William Shatner’s production company was keen at one time and Digs has since pinched the ear lobes of the Kids in the Hall crew as well as Lorne Michaels. Even Conan O’Brien’s people have spotted Digs on the radar, which could see him making a guest spot during O’Brien’s Toronto tapings next week. Digs is an enthusiastic late–night show host, which is understandable since he drinks coffee like water and the waitress had to refill the sugar bowl—though I can’t recall if it was directly because of him. He tapes every phone call he receives, incorporates fans into segments and favours hitting the pavement, talking to people on their merry way. “I don’t like to be mean to people or make fun of them for something that they can’t entirely control, if that makes any sense,” explains Digs. “I won’t physically hurt someone and it’s okay to kind of point out someone’s oddities but if it’s something like a handicap, it could be funny, but it’s still not funny enough to use on television. I just don’t want to get viewers that way.” It’s around this time that the kitchen staff are peeking out the small window on the swinging door, and the waitress is on hand to pour coffee suspiciously faster than would normally be expected. Two teens nursing hangovers at a nearby table also start to point. Is it? Could it be? They finally collectively agree. “My son watches your show all the time,” states one of the waitresses. “It’s funny. He’s only seven so I have to tape it for him but we watch it together. You’re good.” The others shift nervously but smile big, watching Digs intently. “I see you got the cheque already,” continues the waitress. “I wish we had figured it out sooner. We’re brave to have given you a bill.” Still, a star with such clout at a local all-day breakfast spot can’t swing a deal. “I’m saving my best footage for when [the deal] comes,” laughs Digs. “I’ve got this 45–minute spot with Stephen Baldwin at the film festival in Toronto where he’s just talking on a cell phone. The things that he’s saying are hilarious. I mean, you can’t even begin to write stuff like that into a script. That’s what I love. Just pointing out the obvious because you can’t script the really funny stuff. People do it for you without even trying.” A Juno could be in the forecast as well. Digs is hoping to recruit some of his music–industry buds, like Sloan, Not By Choice and Brother Bill formerly of The Edge 102.1 to record a comedy album and submit it to the annual music awards ceremony. Since the last winners were Bob & Doug MacKenzie for Strange Brew in 1984, he hopes to be the sole submission for a locked win. One skill Digs is proud to have, despite the fact that it’s not exactly resume–worthy, is that he is a master of being in a public washroom without directly touching anything with his skin. “If I’m going to contract something, I want a fun Friday night to be attached with it and not because I was in some bathroom,” says Digs. “I should teach it to people. That’s what I’m all about, saving humanity from germs. For part of the week I’m all about getting a couple of laughs, but for the rest of it, I’m out saving humanity. “That’s sad that being a germ–master is the only thing I have to fall back on. People can tune in and then flip to something else when the show is done, but I have no back–up plan here. I’m totally working without a net. I get raised eyebrows and questions all the time as to when I’m going to give up but the truth is that I can’t. First of all, I understand why it seems like I should give up, after three years and a lot of debt and all. But then when I look at how high my ratings are and that I actually do have fans, I still am hopeful that this works. I also don’t really know what else I’d do. Be a rock star maybe.” V [TAMARA HOLMES]
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