Shatner's 'Invasion Iowa' debuts for April Fool's

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

It's appropriate that the final episode will air on April Fools Day, since all of Iowa has been Punk'd, and Punk'd but good.

By a 73-year-old guy who's main claim to fame was the incredibly pregnant pause, bordering on speech impediment.

Starting on March 29, Spike TV will run its first-ever mini-series, "Invasion Iowa," starring William Shatner - Captain James T. Kirk, for the Trekkies among us.

Or as the editorial page editor at the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper later termed him, "Captain Jerk," as it tersely demanded an apology for "undermining the credibility" of the news world.

As most of Iowa knows, Shatner descended on little Riverside, Iowa, population 930, last year. (Riverside cast itself as the "future birthplace" of Kirk to get a piece of the campy sci-fi cult action and holds Trek Fests each June to honor that dubious status.)

Shatner pretended to be filming his own independedent production movie about Kirk's humble origins in the little town, even casting locals for minor roles. The Associated Press was fooled by a faked news conference, and ran the story as fact statewide.

Then the Shatner hit the fan. It was revealed that the actor and his "film crew" were faking the whole thing, actually taping a reality TV show about how the gullible Iowans were hoodwinked.

A preview of the show features a Green-Acres-esque song with Shatner gloating that he had played "a big ol' hoax on these good folks," and calling then "pawns in my wicked plot."

At some points, the cast and crew engage in bitter pretend bickering, to the alarm of the unwitting community.

And in one scene, Shatner plays catch with his illegitimate nephew, who asks, "Is this heaven?" Even with such a blatant spoof of Iowa claim-to-fame movie "Field of Dreams," apparently no one was the wiser.

The network crows that is "the greatest hoax in U.S. history." It's producer compares it to the terror-inspiring Orson Welles radio legend, "War of the Worlds."

More likely, it's just a big fat goof.

To make amends, Shatner, who has for years resisted the Iowa community's invitations to visit, coughed up $100,000 for the town to spend as it wishes, payment for being the unwitting stars of his show. The cast and crew also donated $12,000 for the elementary school's book fund.

That's not a bad day's pay for serving as the butt of a joke. Shatner himself has done that for years for free. And the town gets to host a "world premier" of the show at a screening in the school building tonight, for whatever that's worth.

In the show, Shatner plays an egotistical, twisted, demanding washed-up oddball of a semi-star - in other words, himself.

As the "movie filming" goes on, he gets more and more over-the-top. His entourage includes a neurotic assistant, his spiritual advisor who is known as "The Bill Whisperer," his airheaded and promiscuous leading actress who likes to shoplift from the local stores, the stylish but evil Hollywood studio female executive who is the one person Shatner fears, and his wild supposed nephew and body double sired of a wardrobe lady working on the first season of Star Trek, "Tiny."

Thne we all get to see what happens when dysfunctional Hollywood crashes into "small town America."

Many in Iowa aren't taking kindly to the prank, or the presumption that rural Iowans are being portrayed as hayseed dupes. The Press Citizen called for the show to be killed before it is aired, and neither AP or the Iowa Film Office are saying a word. The Riverside folks seem to be taking it all in better humor.

For goodness sakes, we're talking Bill Shatner here, the guy who has pimped himself from that horrific recording of "Rocket Man" all the way to ceaseless commercials. How much credibility did we really thing he had to lose?

It should be pretty entertaining to see the eccentric Shatner unscripted and unhinged out in the real world. If the townsfolk look a tad foolish, well, isn't that what reality TV is all about? And they are admittedly Trek-addled to begin with.

"I fell in love with the people of Riverside," Shatner said. "The hardest part of this whole experience was containing my empathy for the individuals who listened to and identified with the Hollywood dysfunction that we played in front of them."

He claims the show is intended to lampoon Holywood, not Iowa.

"We went to pull one over on the people of Riverside, and the joke ultimately ended up being on us," says Kevin Kay, EVP of Programming and Production for Spike TV. 'We were amazed by not only the kindness and openness of the townspeople, but their understanding of the complexity and comedy of this project."

Producer Rhett Reese, also of the "Joe Schmo" reality shows, reveals that a complete fake production company was created in order to keep the secret of the project, even from industry competitors. It was code-named, "Project Liftoff." A fake website was launched to promote the "movie." The production area in Riverside was cordoned off and protected by hired guards and a sound-proofed meeting room was created.

"We knew all the subterfuge had worked when, one day after our arrival in Iowa, we found ourselves reading about William Shatner's new movie in newspapers from all over the country. I can't begin to tell you how exhilarating - and frightening that was," Reese said. "We were sitting on top of a pretty big secret."

Stay tuned, fearless readers. Iowa is about to be invaded by creatures from another planet - the strangest one of all...


* Spike TV's "Invasion Iowa" debuts Tuesday, March at 8 p.m. (unless Shatner is scamming us about that too) and will be shown in episodes at 8 p.m. for the following four nights, culminating on April Fool's Day, Friday, April 1.