When it comes to rock & roll theatrics, makeup madmen Kiss are the undisputed kings of the stage. So it should come as no surprise that the band’s most enterprising member, Gene Simmons, would find other ways to explore his dramatic talents both in front of and behind the camera. Of course, he played a major role in the making of the Kiss-inspired film Detroit Rock City and he’s made appearances in various flicks over the years, but the fire-spewing bassist has also been developing ideas for small-screen films and series. He recently started production on the pilot for his most promising concept, a situation comedy called Smash.
“It’s like the HBO show Arliss, only it’s set in the record industry,” explained Simmons on the set last week. Filming took place at the Hollywood hotspot the Gate, the site of the fictional after-party for the My VH1 Music Awards. The real awards show held at the Shrine Auditorium on Thursday was also part of the show, with main characters Smash Records owner Phat Boy (played by Christopher Birt) and his A&R head Charley (Pauley Perrette, who in real life sings for all-girl rockers Lo-Ball) attempting to woo attendees like Metallica and Christina Aguilera away from their labels while they walked the red carpet before the ceremony.
According to Simmons, the show’s “catch” — other than guest stars like Tommy Lee, Mark McGrath, Sebastian Bach and Pat Boone (all playing themselves in the pilot) — is that “Phat Boy is trying to be a cool ghetto guy,” but he’s actually a Harvard-educated smartie who had a couple of novelty hit songs, a la MC Hammer. He starts Smash with the money made from those fifteen minutes, garnering “contributions” from old high school buddy Craig Dennis (John Heffron) and attempts to play with the big boys, all the while capitalizing on his phony “keep it real” street-smart style. “He only says ‘Whassup’ when it’s necessary,” said Simmons.
“It’s great how the show has all these cameos,” observed Monique Powell, the singer of Southern California ska band Save Ferris, one of the artists Phat Boy sweet talks at the awards ceremony and party scenes. “A lot of it mirrors what really happens. We’ve actually been getting offers from different labels in real life.”
“I’d do anything for Gene,” said Sugar Ray frontman McGrath during a break from his scene, which involved some attractive women and a VIP room. “Gene’s the man! . . . I’m playing myself, but I don’t think I’m doing a very good job.”
Also making appearances are Simmons himself and McGrath’s “boss” Lava Records head Jason Flom, who vies for Powell against Phat Boy.
Simmons and co-creator/producer Leslie Grief intend the show, which is being made in association with VH1, to be funny, but they are hesitant to use the use the p-word. “We aren’t parodying the music business,” Simmons said. “[This Is] Spinal Tap is a parody, and this is nothing like Spinal Tap.”
When asked how he conjures up his many film and TV concepts (other shows, including a movie about groupies for MTV, are in the works), Simmons replied, “I don’t know. Where did I come up with putting on black and white makeup and sticking my tongue out on stage? I really don’t know.”