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Huh?
By Erik Hage
photos by chris shields

Atmospheric music, expressionless women in black dresses, a bald host in shades and headphones exuding playful irony— welcome to the late-night oddity known as The Glenn Slingerland Situation

Early on in my conversation with Glenn Slingerland, I tell him that his local TV program, The Glenn Slingerland Situation (on the Capital Region’s UPN), “is one of those things I started watching . . . and I didn’t know what I was watching.”

Slingerland, sitting with me and his show’s producer-engineer J.J. Faulkner at Morette’s Steak House in Schenectady (one of the show’s sponsors), seems downright pleased by the assessment.

“We get that comment a lot,” he responds in a sort of toned-down, conversational version of the suggestive, is-he-putting-us-on lilt that he adopts for his self-titled program. “People will say, ‘I was watching it. . . . I didn’t really get it, but I liked it.’ We like that. We like things with ‘huh?’ value.”

“Huh value?” I ask, spelling out, “H-u-h?”

“Exactly.”

Slingerland, who lives in Albany, is tall and friendly and sports a healthy tanned sheen on his bald pate. Predictably, he showed up in a black T-shirt and black designer jeans, with his trademark sunglasses wrapped around his head. But for the absence of headphones, he is instantly recognizable from his show. (He doesn’t always dress in his TV garb; he’s shooting an episode of his show later that day near the Green Island Bridge.)

In conversation, he is more articulate and earnest—and not as ironic or strange—as one might think from his show. He can animatedly hold the floor on his own, even starting off our meeting by directing a bunch of inquisitive interview questions toward me.

Faulkner, from Niskayuna and also healthily tanned, with a neatly trimmed gray beard and bright Hawaiian print shirt, hides behind a pair of round shades the entire time. Even though he doesn’t say as much, he exudes an almost Zen brand of benevolence and calmness. When he does speak, it is often to unfurl long streams of data about TV and video technology in a clipped (but not unpleasant) monotone.

The longtime close friends are, to put it mildly, an interesting pair, each a sort of yin to the other’s yang. And everything—the backroom atmosphere at Morette’s, the bright-shirted presence of Faulkner, Slingerland’s interview questions toward me—makes me feel as if I have suddenly dissolved into the program. (In a startling turn of events post-interview, Slingerland asks me if I want to make a cameo in an episode: Is the pope German?)

But if there’s one thing that the Glenn Slingerland Situation has, it is the aforementioned “huh?” value. Undoubtedly many Capital Region residents have uttered at least an inward “huh?” as they chanced upon Slingerland’s world while surfing their cable channels late at night.

The half-hour program features numerous women in black dresses (some scanty), with dark sunglasses and expressionless faces, moving in slow motion (to and from where is anyone’s guess) and engaging in cryptic, seemingly meaningless activities while mysteriously obsessing over everyday objects. (Items such as a pair of binoculars or a toaster or a miniature barrel suddenly assume a wordless, grail-like significance.) It’s as if a Robert Palmer video served as the seed for someone’s idea of a Utopian society.

All the while, songs are being spun, usually tunes of a jazzy, experimental or even electronica bent. The music spans genres, but it’s usually off-the-mainstream-grid kind of fare with an atmospheric quality. Slingerland refuses to put a genre tag on the stuff he plays—he believes people should just listen and explore less-recognized music from numerous categories—but he does admit to liking stuff that “gives me a little hint that it’s the 21st century.” (The current episode features ethereal tracks by indie-poppers Death Cab for Cutie, electronica act Delerium and Brazilian pop chanteuse Bebel Gilberto.)

In between the video pieces, Slingerland, in shades and DJ earphones, talks to the viewers in a suggestive, “nudge-nudge” manner, either doing some bizarrely ironic shtick (for example, a food recipe involving heaping quantities of strange elements that clearly should never go together) or talking about the music at hand.

The Glenn Slingerland Situation actually emerged almost five years ago as an outcrop of Slingerland’s former longtime local radio show (which was on the Skidmore College station for a time). It debuted on TV as a seven-minute program on Albany’s Time Warner Cable, occupying a locally blacked-out slab of time on the New York station WPIX. Currently it is a 30-minute program on Capital Region UPN, airing each Sunday night at 10, with rebroadcasts Thursday at 11 PM and Friday at 12:30 AM.

But, Glenn, what exactly is it?

“We never really describe what it is. We just call it ‘the Situation.’ That’s on purpose,” Slingerland offers, inscrutably.

“It looks like a lot of fun,” I suggest.

“It is fun,” agrees Slingerland, but quickly adds, “Someone else was doing an interview with us about a month or so ago, and she was sort of getting at that maybe we’re not taking this seriously. She was sort of missing my point—I kept talking about how much fun we have and that the idea for the viewer is we’re your pals who stop by each week. [But] we’re very serious about the show—working at it, honing it and improving it . . . all that. We just don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Slingerland and Faulkner, who have been friends for 20-plus years, initially came up with the idea for the program over a beer. Slingerland was looking to step up his radio show and Faulkner was toying with the idea for starting his own digital company. So the radio jock and the tech guy pooled their creative energy and the Situation was born. “Without J.J., we’re still on radio,” notes Slingerland.

He also suggests, “We really think of ourselves as broadcasters, not filmmakers. We think of it as a radio broadcast.” He points out that this is not an unusual or new idea. “There’s a little bit of a precedent for radio shows that are simulcast. Imus comes to mind. . . . It’s a radio show that you’re watching. Howard Stern [on E!] is almost the same.”

But Slingerland and Faulkner didn’t want to simply shoot footage of Slingerland in a radio studio (“boring”), and they didn’t want to make music videos. So, claims Slingerland, they tried to find a halfway point, deciding that “maybe we’ll do stuff that kind of accompanies the music, but doesn’t overpower it.”

And to those who consider his program titillating or erotic, Slingerland suggests, “It’s meant to have a sensual touch to it, but the action is never sexually suggestive . . . I don’t think. Our fine Situation stars might dress in a sort of sensual way, but the action is kind of mundane and nonsexual.” (To be fair, there are sequences in the program that might dispute this, for example, a carefully angled—yet FCC-legal—breast shot in the Death Cab for Cutie piece involving a young woman in a dark suit jacket with nothing underneath.)

The program does also seem to empower its female players. The one unfortunate stalwart male regular, “Dangerous” Dan Mahoney, always seems to be at the business end of the leash or enduring other such indignities during his appearances.

Slingerland also points out, “We have quite an age range [of women], and that’s actually important to us. We have 18 [year-olds] all the way into their 40s. We didn’t want it to be all about 18- or 20-year-olds. The idea was that it’s kind of the girl or the woman next door. I mean, we think [our stars] are attractive and great . . . but it’s more real.” He adds that they’re even “looking to find someone in their 50s.”

The “stars” of the show originally came together through a network of friends; in fact, one regular, Cathy Faulkner, is J.J.’s wife. (She is the frequently featured blonde; the other longtime regular, a brunette, is Paula Laime.) Slingerland’s idea was that it would be “like watching a TV show where you get to know the players. . . . So I wanted to have a core group and then add new people in and out as we go.”

To accomplish this, they have even undertaken a perhaps not-so-tongue-in-cheek campaign on the show’s Web site called “Become America’s Next Top Situation Star.” Slingerland says it’s a way of “having fun” while using the site as a potential recruiting tool. “We’ll see what happens,” he says.

But there are some other idiosyncrasies about this Capital Region cable oddity that bear explanation. So here’s a quick-and-dirty viewer’s guide for the late-night local-cable watcher:

First, the show always starts and ends in a certain alleyway. (Huh?) Slingerland thinks of the alley as the “broadcast studio” and as a “portal to other places. It always begins and ends in the alley.” (In the early, seven-minute days, they filmed entirely in the alleyway. As Faulkner pragmatically notes, “With an alley, we sort of ran out of things that could be done.”)

In addition, there’s always a little brown barrel that appears during each video. (Huh?) Like a lot of things in the Situation, there’s no clear reason for this. “It’s always there,” notes Slingerland. “In fact, there were a couple times where I forgot, and at the last minute I was like ‘Get the barrel in there!’”

The two men also try to slip “things you shouldn’t do” into the videos. (Huh?) “We have all these snippet ideas of things we’d like to see that we store away,” Slingerland claims. Faulkner, in his inimitable way, was always looking to slip in a scene of someone running with scissors. “We finally got our chance and it came out great!” Slingerland says.

Faulkner nods contentedly in agreement behind his shades, adding that he had the women in the Death Cab for Cutie piece (filmed at Proctor’s) walk around with toilet paper trailing from their shoe soles in one scene. “We don’t try to force it, but usually it’s something that’s a little out of place or a little in-joke that you catch.”

Also, during the show’s introduction, a woman’s voice (Laime) introduces Slingerland, saying that he is merely filling in for someone else. (Huh?) That someone (old-school game-show host Bill Cullen, ’50s Today show host Dave Garroway, etc.) is always a departed broadcaster from TV’s early days. Slingerland explains, “It’s our own little subtle tribute.”

It’s also part of the show’s distinct personality, a personality that is becoming more and more recognizable to local residents, particularly as the Situation crew scours the region for sites to film. They have shot pieces in Saratoga, Albany, Schenectady—even in (yes, “in not “near” or “floating on”) a lake in Berne.

Faulkner also remembers, “We were [filming] down in front of Schenectady City Hall last Monday, and a few separate parties asked us, ‘Is this The Situation?’ One group was like City Council or aides in ties. . . . The other group was just, like, kids.”

Slingerland says he gets recognized more and more when he’s out, especially if he’s wearing his sunglasses. But he claims the biggest reward is when people approach and say that they watch the show and enjoy it—even if they aren’t sure what they’re watching.

He also claims the show has even penetrated the very bowels of Schenectady City Hall. “The mayor always watches the show.”

“We seem to do well with politicians,” muses Slingerland. Then, in a remark that could apply to much of the show, he exclaims, “Who knows what that means?”


ROUGH MIX

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