E!'s gleefully irreverent clip show “The Soup” celebrates its 500th episode tonight by going live twice: once for the east coast, once for the west. And though the milestone episode has host Joel McHale and EP/head writer K.P. Anderson feeling nostalgic, it won't be a bundle of old clips. “I think we, as a show, do better when the material is fresh and we have new jokes," Anderson says.
They underplay the risky nature of a live broadcast — as McHale puts it, “‘We're doing it live; isn't that so exciting?’ Yeah, like how they did television for years before tape was invented?" — but it will likely not be easy. McHale started shooting Season 5 of his NBC sitcom “Community” on Monday, “so that shouldn't be a problem at all,” he says. “I'll be shooting 14 or 15 hours a day, then coming in on Wednesday and, like [in a punchy, slurry voice], 'Alright, let's knock this thing out!'” Also, McHale is dyslexic: “So it should be a really interesting live taping.”
The "Soup" crew is used to high-pressure, minimal-rehearsal situations. They've been shuttling back and forth between L.A. and Atlanta because McHale has been shooting films in New York while on hiatus from “Community," often taping in Rachael Ray's studio.
Though the show's tone is biting, they've rarely felt any blowback. "Without exception, every single reality star I have ever met has said, 'Please put me on your show,' or 'Thank you for putting me on your show, and may I come back on?' No one has gone, 'How dare you?'” McHale recalls. “Years ago, Tyra Banks did not want clips of her show on our show and we said, 'Well, uh... tough.' And I have met her and she was very, very nice to me."
Instead, they've been surprised by who they've managed to get on. Anderson says, “Sometimes we're bowled over by who agrees to do the show. Like when [NBC news anchor] Brian Williams said he'd come on. It just seemed like such an odd thing that he'd say yes to that, and he came and he was just fantastic, which you'd expect.” McHale agrees with customary dryness, “He could have been, if he wanted to, a comedian. A stand-up. He could've been an actor. He could've done anything. The jerk.”
Of course, they're still hoping for Sir Paul McCartney. Or Prince. “Prince! Open invitation!” shouts McHale. “It'd be great to have Beyonce and Jay-Z on every week. We'd love Bieber. He, apparently, has a fan base.” The policy is, “We're open for anything,” citing the surprisingly willing and game WWE superstars who are also responsible for their highest-rated episode to date.
The TV landscape has changed in the ten years since “The Soup” debuted, and the show has changed with it. Reflecting on the time, Anderson says, “When we started, Kelly Osbourne was a teenager. Now E! pays her more than Joel,” drawing cries of mock outrage from the host.
In terms of favorite or seminal moments for the show, Anderson cites Whitney Houston's “Kiss My Ass” clip “was the one that kind of turned a bunch of lamps on,” and McHale fondly recalls “Spaghetti Cat” as one that “became iconic for us.”
Watch the classic "Spaghetti Cat" clip from "The Soup" right here:
When asked about reality shows they miss, McHale says, "There were shows that put us on the map, like with the way we'd make fun of Tila Tequila, 'A Shot at Love'." Anderson adds, "'Showdog Moms & Dads.'" "'Pants-Off Dance-Off,'” McHale continues. “And, God rest her soul, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown was earth-shatteringly good for us. It's just like anything — we've moved on.”
Their current obsession? ABC's “Whodunnit?” “Whodunnit's' clips aren't necessarily the most provocative,” explains McHale, “But the show has been driving the staff out of its mind all summer. It's not like it's this huge show — it's not like we're showing “America's Got Talent” or anything like that. We're showing this show as the first clip because tt's driving everyone batty. It's such a great, frustrating show. There are zero stakes. There's no tension and we love it."
Nobody expected "The Soup" to go this long, despite McHale's claims that “we have a 50-year plan. This is phase one.” When they began, Anderson thought, “Okay, we're going to know each other for 13 weeks, because that's how long they told us we have. We just decided collectively to make the show as dumb as we possibly could and keep going as long as they let us. It turned out that we were just so incredibly cheap that they wouldn't drop us."
[Related: E! Orders Spinoff 'The Soup Investigates']
That bare-bones ethic, combined with a sense that “that no one was watching, kind of like public access where you just do anything,” according to McHale, is the key to the show's success.
Though mocking reality shows is the core of their show, McHale doesn't paint them all with a broad brush. “There are some great shows, and I think people don't give some of them enough credit. Something like 'Survivor' is a really good show, and it's always been good. I think 'Dirty Jobs' and 'Deadliest Catch' and a lot of the documentary ones... 'Hard Knocks' is probably the best on television. But the ones that are inventing drama really suck."
“And 'Big Brother' drives me out of my mind. I think if I go to hell — excuse me, when I go to hell — it'll be like, 'Welcome to the 'Big Brother' house. Enjoy conspiring and whispering forever.”
The live 500th episode of "The Soup" airs Wednesday, 8/21 at 10 PM on E!.
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- Joel McHale