With cameras banned from the corruption trial of former commissioner Jimmy Dimora in Akron, channel 19 WOIO came up with an offbeat work-around: it commissioned a troupe of 25 puppets, designed by local puppeteer Kirk Maynard, to re-enact scenes from the trial. It features a Dimora puppet with a detachable beard in order to move between scenes from the politician’s hirsute, hooker-scoring past and his clean-shaven present as a defendant.
It’s proven a ratings boon for the station. It’s also garnered them some national press, including a long article this week in the august Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ describes the theatrical news presentation as “a cross between The Sopranos and The Muppet Show that has elicited some complaints from viewers and hand-wringing from journalism professors.”
At the center of his cast is Nutty the Squirrel, a fast-talking puppet that sounds like Mr. Maynard on caffeine and helium. The Nutty character anchors a one-minute review of the day’s testimony after the human reporters have had their say. The segment is introduced with its own “Puppet’s Court” graphic and theme music along with the tag: “The testimony is real, the puppets are not.” …
Conversations pulled from wiretaps and acted out by puppets are punctuated with bleeps to cover profanity. When the camera cuts back to the real anchors after each sketch, they often are laughing or shaking their heads.
According to the article, WOIO news director Dan Salamone says the puppet show has created a 55% increase in viewers ages 25 to 54 and “he sales guys are doing cartwheels.”
This quote from county executive Ed FitzGerald sums it up pretty well:
It’s really theater of the absurd. I don’t know what’s more ridiculous, the puppets or the people they are supposed to be.