Iowans See Through Spike Hoax

It turns out that cable channel Spike TV had to wrap its fake film/reality series a couple of days early when the residents of Riverside, Iowa, started getting too suspicious.

But just who was fooling whom. Turns out middle America may have been a bit more sophisticated than Spike thought.

William Shatner, accompanied by actors playing a host of stereotypes, had traveled to Riverside, Iowa, the week of Sept. 18 purportedly to film a sci-fi flick, Invasion Iowa, starring, written and directed by Shatner. A dozen or so locals were hired as crew and actors on the film. The AP was fooled, reporting in a Sept. 22 item about the auditions and Shatner's 30-year commitment to the film.

In reality, it was all a set-up for an eight-episode reality show about the reaction of middle America to an over-the-top lampoon of Hollywood.

That reaction was pretty sophisticated. Linda Lemke, the 23-year-old pharmacy technician from Cedar Rapids who was cast as Shatner's love interest, started suspecting "from the very first day,"

the future non-starlet told B&C. "We all kind of had a weird feeling. I was looking from the legal standpoint because we received no contract, no talk of consideration. Everything that goes into any business deal. I didn't know exactly what to think of it. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I was 'like, you know, they've come all this way let's have fun with it.' "

The news of the hoax was broken at a dinner for the cast and crew, says Shatner's Cue card holder and Riverside homemaker Diana Schultz, but she concedes it was only "kind of a shock." Schultz agrees they were "starting to pick up on small things that made us think this wasn't totally a real movie, but we were having so much fun that we just went with the flow."

What small things? "Who uses cue cards anymore? Mostly, they use Telemprompters," says Schultz. "And where were the contracts? They didn't make us sign any contracts." And then there were the costuming tip-offs that were "not quite what I would think of as Mr. Shatner's science-fiction style," she says, citing "tinfoil on his shoes."

Still, the town appeared glad to be had. "We've all fallen in love with the cast and crew," she says, "they've been so absolutely wonderful." She also points out that the cast and crew donated money to the local library and to the town (a $100,000 contribution).

Desi Lydic, an improv actress who played dumb, ditzy and difficult leading actress Gryffyn Greene playing cyborg villainess The Disintegratrix 3000, has a theory of why the actors didn't seem disappointed. "They all knew how bad the movie was," she says. "They were happy and relieved to hear they were going to be in a really good TV show rather than a really bad movie."

Lydic says she never thought she would feel guilty about the hoax, "but it was really difficult to look someone in the eye and tell them you are someone else. But in the end, everyone was really happy with the outcome."

FYI: In the fake movie, William Shatner plays Shane, who comes back (get it?) from the future to prevent Linda from being impregnated by the Gerclon Emperor. "Basically, I spend the movie trying to convince Shane to impregnate me before the Emperor does," said Lemke, breaking into hysterics, while the Disintegratrix 3000 is trying to stop Shatner from impregnating Linda.

So how did Lemke like playing Shatner's paramour. Turns out she was more of a "hug-interest" than a love interest despite the impregnation-heavy storyline. There were no loves scenes she says. We did some hugging." There was a wedding scene, but no kissing there either, "since everybody ends up dying," says Lemke. "Besides, he is as old as my Grampa."

The eight-hour series is slated for a winter 2005 airing, according to Cue Card-holder Schultz. A spokesman for the real producers, Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese, Gary Benz and Shatner, could not confirm.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.