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CBS Takes Kids in the Hall--Bite and All : Television: The network attempts to have its own ‘Saturday Night Live’ with the Canadian comedy troupe, whose show premieres tonight.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Canoeing through an office building, French-Canadian trappers bop yuppies over the head and bring their fresh “kill,” including Perry Ellis suits and “many, many Armani,” to a clothing-store owner.... A group of secretaries (actually men dressed as secretaries) try to guess whether their new colleague is gay.... The Chicken Lady, a pullet-surprise, goes crazy for a G-string-wearing, Chippendale’s-style male stripper named Rooster Boy.... A young father has a nervous breakdown at breakfast, reciting the name of the rock group “Bell Biv DeVoe” like an incantation.... Buddy Cole, a flamboyantly gay nightclub owner, coaches a women’s softball team in his spangled vest, urging his players to “hit that round, white leathery thing all the way to the Great White Way.”

For fans who have worried that CBS would have to take the bite out of Kids in the Hall, a Canadian comedy troupe, to bring them to American broadcast TV, these sketches, included in the group’s premiere show tonight on CBS, may provide some reassurance.

“It’s hard to trust TV executives, but the CBS executives assured us that they wanted Buddy Cole and the other characters we do,” said Scott Thompson, who plays Buddy and many other characters, straight and gay, in the Kids’ comedy sketches.

“To me, TV is like an old person who put his teeth in a glass and forgot where to find them,” said Thompson, whose Buddy Cole is a popular character in the gay community. " . . . We’re not dirty, but, I think, in a way, we’re subversive, partly because we explore gender-bending, which can be threatening to some people. But the CBS executives seem to want to push the envelope of late-night TV. Hopefully, we’ll be writing some stuff that will make them lose some sleep.”

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The Kids in the Hall, five men in their late 20s and early 30s, create comedy sketches that explore a number of not-safe topics in a not-safe world: AIDS, suburban tensions and, frequently, the nature of male and female identity and the difficulties of relationships across that great sexual divide.

In the tradition of Monty Python and the British music hall, the all-male group frequently dresses in women’s clothing to play women’s roles.

“It felt funny at first putting on women’s clothing,” said Dave Foley. “But we’re actors playing characters, and we try to play them sympathetically. I was very happy that a women’s media-watch group in Canada gave us an award for portrayal of women.”

The Kids, who have a hit series on Canadian television, have earned a cult following among young viewers in this country through the airing of their Canadian shows on Home Box Office and the Comedy Central cable channel. For CBS, the Kids in the Hall represents the network’s attempt to attract young viewers and get into the late-night comedy game. The CBS show, which begins tonight with a special airing at 11:30, will move to a regular 12:30-1:30 a.m. time slot next week.

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“As long as I’ve been in this job, I’ve been trying to find a show that would work for us the way ‘Saturday Night Live’ works for NBC,” said Rod Perth, the CBS executive in charge of late-night programming. “The Kids in the Hall are absolutely brilliant in terms of the quality of their writing and their performances. My teen-agers think they’re killer-funny, and people in their 30s and 40s also relate to what they do. It’s a little hard to explain the Chicken Lady if you haven’t seen it, but their stuff is just terribly funny. I think Kids in the Hall has the potential to become a show that people stay home to watch, the way they stay home to watch ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ”

In an unusual arrangement for an American broadcast network, CBS will begin its Kids series by airing repeats of shows produced for Canadian television. Beginning in January, CBS will start to air new episodes that the Kids will create for CBS and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the state-owned national network that airs the Kids in Canada. Home Box Office, which has been running its own versions of the Kids sketches for the CBC, will continue to air Kids shows throughout the fall. Then, beginning in January, Comedy Central will start airing reruns of the CBC-CBS versions. In other words, this fall, the Kids will be in more reruns than Lucy Ricardo.

In making its own edit of the current CBC shows, Perth said, the network will adhere to late-night standards. “This is an adult time period where we can obviously push the guidelines beyond what’s agreed upon for prime time--and we’d have to do that if we’re going to be able to attract Kids in the Hall,” Perth said. “You have to look at it in the context of the work--I’d say that we’ve already accepted 95% of what they’ve sent us without making any changes.”

Some swearwords--some of which aired on HBO but were edited into lesser-wattage substitutes for the CBC--also are likely to be edited in the CBS versions, Perth said.

Interestingly, it is religion--and not sexual content--that the Kids say has presented them the most trouble on Canadian TV. And the same seems to apply to CBS.

“We had a sketch called Dr. Seuss’ Bible, which showed the Crucifixion of Jesus as told by Dr. Seuss,” Kids member Foley said. “The CBC refused to air it, but it did appear on HBO, although HBO made us take out a shot where a nail goes into Jesus’ hand. I heard HBO got a bunch of angry letters about it. The whole point of the sketch was raising the issue of some religious groups who were using regular children’s stuff--like Archie’s comic books--to suddenly present kids with some hidden religious message. It’s surprising to me that you can get away with almost anything on TV except anything that deals with religion.”


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