As the new movie hits screens, PW offers a non-Burgundy salute to our favorite anchormen (and such)
Fake News from a Real Man?
Scrapple TV’s anchor, AP Ticker, is no Will Ferrell. He’s so much more.
The first thing Frank Baker explains about anchorman AP Ticker is that he began his long, circuitous career as a male model. “A failed male model,” clarifies Baker, a white-haired, bearded Santa Claus-looking figure who’s holding court this morning in the back office of a Northern Liberties art studio. “He went under the name of Layered Dresser, because he wore several layers of clothing—he actually started that trend.”
Sounds like Ticker is quite the unsung pioneer of television news. “He actually coined the phrase, ‘We’ll be right back,’” continues Baker. “Until then, it had been very awkward for anchormen. Because they would say, ‘We’re going to be here, but we’re going to a commercial now, but we’re not actually going to leave.’ It was very long. And I just came on one day and said, ‘We’ll be right back,’ and boy, it caught on.”
Frank Baker, you see, is AP Ticker. And as he sits chatting here in the Woodshop Films studio on Green Street with its owner, Marc Brodzik, and writer Brendan Skwire, it quickly becomes hard to separate fantasy from reality.
Here’s what’s certain: These guys all help run the online network Scrapple TV, which is based in this studio. On the network, there’s a show called Scrapple News, anchored by a 70-year-old character named AP Ticker who takes great pleasure in shredding the news into a million pieces about once a week.
The studio itself is a giant open space laid out on the first and basement floors of a rowhouse. The walls are scattered with gigantic painted portraits of the many people Brodzik has known and, in his own words, “fetishized” over the years. Those include numerous photos and paintings of AP Ticker—including a 10-foot tall one Brodzik shows me that looks complete, but he assures me there’s still some work to do.
Why the fetishization of Ticker—or is it Baker? Probably because the voice-actor-turned-Colbert-esque-local-Internet-star has now spent six years uttering lines like this one from 2011 when he named Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey the show’s “Piggy of the Week”: “Casey voted to allow the military to indefinitely detain you without charges if you are accused of terrorism—ta da! Your front yard is now your battlefield ... So don’t go doing anything scary around Bob. He might go pee-pee in his Depends. And the next thing you know, you’re wearing an orange jumpsuit, strapped to the waterboard.”
That’s AP Ticker: a twisted fun-house mirror image of the typical news anchor—more esoterically random than Comedy Central’s crew, more serious than Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, and boasting a giddy coarseness that suits his Philly audience so very well.
Woodshop Films, Scrapple News’ producer, is an independent multimedia company that makes a variety of short films and documentaries. In its multi-floored studio, weird stuff happens—beginning with the shows Brodzik, a noted artistic eccentric, produces himself. There are about 30 Internet-based television shows filmed at Woodshop. Many share the news format of Scrapple News, though they take different viewpoints. There’s Open Resource, a news show about organic food and related news; there’s Brittany Lynn’s Celebrity Shit Show, in which the local drag queen sort of just shits on celebrity news; and there’s We The People, an InfoWars-ish show hosted by activist/comedy troupe The Panic Hour’s N.A. Poe.
Many of the shows are independently created, with hosts bringing in their own scripts and using Woodshop for the studio space and production. AP Ticker’s shows Scrapple News and Life Lessons, on the other hand, are a group effort headed by Brodzik; Baker claims he doesn’t have anything to do with the content until he reads it on camera.
Brodzik, whose video-based artwork is “obsessed” with the tools of advertising and marketing, usually holds tryouts for performers—but that wasn’t necessary with Baker. The two say they fell in love right away. “The first time I met Frank was when I was doing an art project called Cube,” Brodzik recalls. “It was basically about an acrylic polymer placebo. [In the project], I ‘invented’ this clear plastic cube that would make your tits big, would make your dick hard, would make your hair grow, and Frank did all the voiceover work.”
Before reinventing himself as a fake newscaster, Baker—who, for a living, runs a Delaware documentary production company with his wife—was already something of a regional vocal celebrity. A drama teacher, voiceover actor and disc jockey, the Wilmington resident had hosted a show on Philly’s first country station in the ’70s, WNWR 1540 AM, whose studio was known as the Rittenhouse Ranch on Locust Street. “I was into old country,” he says. “Merle Haggard, George Jones, the old guys.” In the ’90s, he co-starred in a made-for-VHS episode of Barney & Friends, in which he played—not surprisingly—Santa Claus.
When Baker tells me all this, it’s hard not to see him as AP Ticker, the sarcastic, no-bullshit anchor who cuts his subjects like a hot knife through butter, an angry smile always on his face. But is Frank Baker actually like Ticker? He says he isn’t. He can summon Ticker whenever he pleases, and Ticker’s backstory is something Skwire and Brodzik say they haven’t heard much of until Baker tells me in the back office. “He’s a swinger, kind of,” Brodzik knows.
“He’s a tired swinger, though,” explains Baker. “He’s lazy.”
Brodzik catches on: “He has swung.”
“One of his catch phrases is, ‘If you’re like me, and I know I am, then you’ll enjoy…’” Baker says. “And he doesn’t realize that he’s just sounding foolish. He has no idea.”
Ticker is also sort of an amalgamation of the people who write his scripts. Brendan Skwire, Steve Galley, Johnny Zito and Scott Colan are the main writers for the show, which usually runs about five or six minutes. And perhaps Baker’s personality truly comes out on unseen blooper reels, in which the grandfather begins reading, but does not finish, jokes he can’t bring himself to utter out loud.
It happened once in particular, in which a pedophilia joke was written into a segment. (“What’s the best thing about fucking twenty-nine-year-olds? There are twenty of them.”) “That was the only time Frank was like, ‘No,’” says Brodzik.
In another segment, Ticker tells a fantastic story in which he claims to have gone down the shore, run into Philly anchors Lisa Thomas Laury and Jim Gardner, and had a threesome. “That was when we knew we went too far,” says Skwire.