Wednesday, October 8, 2003

New York, N.Y. (AP) — In a strategic move that stunned the entertainment industry Thursday, media conglomerate Viacom, Inc., announced that it had acquired Michael Ian Black in an effort to corner the market on the actor/comedian’s witty and insightful observations on a variety of topics from 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back to the 1970 breakup of mega-band The Beatles for inclusion in all of VH1’s upcoming retrospectives.

Michael Ian Black, 31, is a former member of the comedy troupe The State, and currently appears on the hit NBC series “Ed.” Beginning tomorrow, the actor, as well as all of his thoughts, comments, and actions, will become the sole property of VH1, itself a division of MTV Networks, which is a subsidiary of Viacom.

“With the addition of Mr. Black to the stable of Viacom properties, we anticipate an unparalleled opportunity,” said Viacom Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sumner Redstone. “In fact, if there’s a more studied master of American popular culture over the last 30 years, I haven’t met him.”

“I’m thrilled,” remarked the actor in a statement released by VH1’s publicity department. “Indentured servitude is something I’ve always dreamed of.” Experts are still trying to crack the thick layer of sarcastic irony to determine the sincerity factor of Mr. Black’s comments. The actor’s dry, sardonic wit has been trademarked by Viacom.

Reactions were mixed. “In the wake of the disaster that has become the AOL/Time Warner merger, you have to question the wisdom of an acquisition like this,” noted William Donaldson, chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission. “Mr. Black, while a keen observational humorist and veteran of sketch comedy shows ‘The State’ and ‘Viva Variety!,’ is in no way the kind of asset that you want to take on in such a tumultuous fiscal climate. Damned if I didn’t laugh my ass off with those Levon and Barry sketches, though.”

Senator Arlen Specter (R, PA) remarked “I don’t watch VH1. Who’s Michael Ian Black?”

The Poet Laureate of Hollywood, actor/comedian Nipsey Russell, disagrees vehemently: “VH1 airs music teevee. A greater network could hardly be. Michael Ian Black is a funny bloke. He’ll send our population up in smoke.”

Though network acquisition of a personality is a rarity, VH1’s move is not the first of its kind. The late television star Milton Berle, who sold his soul to NBC in 1950, had remarked in a 2001 interview, “You know who I would sign a long-term deal to if I were in charge of the networks? That Soupy Sales. He’ a funny kid. You see, he takes pies in the face.” When asked to elaborate, Mr. Berle declined, simply leaving the cryptic remark that he had “an 11-inch shmeckel.”

VH1 considered other options before settling on Mr. Black. “We had a bunch of people we were looking at,” said Redstone. “You know, your Soleil Moon Fryes, your Aisha Tylers, your ‘Weird Al’ Yankovics, and what have you. But in the end, no one could compare with Mr. Black.” Added Redstone, “Also, he was incredibly cheap.”

An inside source from Viacom, speaking anonymously, revealed that the network is currently hashing out details to acquire actor/comedian Hal Sparks as well. “It’s just a safety measure, a backup thing,” said the source, “just in case, you know, Michael gets hit by a car or comes down with shingles or something.”

VH1 also revealed that its campaign for 2004 will include Michael Ian Black commentary on all its programming, and will outsource the actor to its sister stations. Currently, Mr. Black is on loan to Black Entertainment Television to provide commentary for the upcoming series “BET Presents: ‘Shit, Negro, I Loved The Muthafuckin 70s’.”

In a strategic move to challenge VH1’s pop-culture hegemony, the cable channel Bravo has announced its own intentions of amassing a small arsenal of B-list celebrities, including flamboyant Italian-American comedian Mario Cantone and kitschy icon Charo. When reached for comment, both Mr. Cantone and Charo had nearly identical remarks: “Coochy coochy coo.”

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