Exclusive Interview: Mather Zickel Talks Newsreaders on Adult Swim

Mather Zickel stars as Louis La Fonda in Newsreaders a show that makes fun of the current state of “hard news” shows. TV Equals was happy to speak to Zickel about Newsreaders; during the exclusive interview, Zickel discussed not only his show, but the effects of the 24-hour newscycle. Newsreaders airs Thursdays at midnight/11c on Adult Swim.

So, I’ve watched the first episode of Newsreaders and I really like it, especially how it’s like a Bizarro World 60 Minutes. How were you approached to become a part of this project?

Mather Zickel: …The creators of this show are also the creators of the show, Childrens Hospital, and also David Wain, being one of those producers, made a film some years ago called The Ten where this Louis La Fonda character originated in. So, this reporter actually started in the movie The Ten. And then, when the Childrens Hospital show got going, David decided to bring that character back in as an entertainment reporter to do a puff piece about the Childrens Hospital show. And that seemed to go pretty well. So we did about three episodes where the Newsreaders show covers the behind-the-scenes of Childrens Hospital and that was very fun…I guess they felt good enough about it, I think–David and Rob Corddry–felt good enough about that they thought it might be a good spin-off. And then they did it; they asked me if I wanted to do it, I said, ‘Yes,’ and then they…brought in Jim Margolis, who is our showrunner. He had worked on The Daily Show as well as 60 Minutes before that. So Jim really came in and he did,really, a lot of the heavy lifting on the show; he wrote a couple of episodes, he directed a few episodes. He ran with the entire production, which is great, because he really understood the format, he’d dealt with it before, and he always had some great Ed Bradley stories to boot, which was always very fun.

That’s cool; I’d written something in my notes about the show feeling like The Daily Show, so it’s cool that there’s an actual Daily Show connection.

Mather Zickel: Yeah, well, Corddry had also been on The Daily Show, but Jim produced The Daily Show for several years and knew it very well. And one of the episodes was also written by Wyatt Cenac, who’s also from The Daily Show. So, there’s a little bit of cross-pollination there.

What do you think about comedy making fun of the news, especially since we do have The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and even “The Weekend Update” on SNL?

Mather Zickel: Right, right. It’s not a new thing to do, but I think…the “real” news, the news itself, particularly local news, keeps managing to outdo itself in how stupid it gets…It just keeps [seeming] to lower the bar for itself, in general, particularly with the 24-hour news cycle. People are desperately looking for material to talk about all the time. And also, the editorial aspect of news–it has just become so invasive, and I think that… was an aspect that I think we wanted to address with this show. Colbert does it with his ultra right-wing character…our corespondents aren’t necessarily politically motivated, but they’re always personally motivated. They sort of take an inappropriate personal relationship with the people they’re investigating, so the reporter will always put their own editorial spin on whatever the story is based on their own personal feelings. Which is completely inappropriate.

Before doing entertainment news, I did a little hard news for my college newspaper, and I was getting stories and reporting them like how I was taught. But when I watched the news on television, I was a little appalled. They tell a story so much that it just becomes ridiculous.

Mather Zickel: It’s sad, I don’t think watching watching news, particularly television news, is that great of an idea, honestly. I try to get away from it because it perpetuates itself because it [tries to] create a story which may not necessarily be that much of a story. The other news sources will pick it up and they keep pushing it. Suddenly, it becomes ‘Who’s got the latest on this story? Who’s breaking it in what way?’ and ‘What’s the spin on it? What’s the take on the story itself?’ and it just becomes this horrible echo chamber of information that might not even be that important. It’s distracting from other more important issues.

To go back to your character, what is one thing you love about playing Louis La Fonda?

Mather Zickel: (laughs)…I just love playing a character who’s so full of himself that he really…is unashamed of anything he says. He’s inappropriate, he’s arrogant. He’s not really a good journalist. It’s just fun playing such a stuffed shirt who doesn’t really care what he says…it’s just fun playing someone who just loves the sound of his own voice. He’s sort of blissfully arrogant in a way. He doesn’t recognize himself in the moment.

Do you have a favorite anchor?

Mather Zickel: (laughs) I kind of love Pat Kiernan from New York 1…On Time Warner Cable in New York, we have a local news show called New York 1 which just keeps repeating all day long with just basic local stuff, and they do it all day long. But it’s kind of lo-fi and I just love it because it’s one of the only news shows where they don’t yell at you. I feel like all the anchors on local news shows yell at you, and even the evening news ones…people are coming out with all this fake gravitas and everything and I love Pat Kiernan on New York 1 because he just…seems much more relaxed about it. He actually has a segment called, “In the Papers,” where he sits there at his desk and picks up the newspaper and reads the headlines at the camera and then just kind-of comments on it briefly, and he’s kind of dryly funny. He almost makes fun of what the papers are [doing], but also, when he reads the newspaper, it kind-of feels like Soviet news from the ’80s…It’s hilarious. There’s just something that felt a little more homegrown about it. Like, the correspondents–none of them are flashy, none of them try to be sexy…It’s just the way [other news anchors] dress and the makeup and the hair and everything, it’s crazy. This fascination with some kind of glamour with the news, which is, once again, very inappropriate (laughs).

Since Newsreaders is set up similar to 60 Minutes, would you be surprised if 60 Minutes ever did a story about Newsreaders?

Mather Zickel: Yeah, I can’t imagine that ever happening, but it would certainly be a surprise. I don’t know what they would say (laughs). It would be fun. We do have an episode that [is called] “Junior Newsreaders,” on this kind of topic. “Junior Newsreaders” is an episode where we do a puff piece on a sixth grade girl who has emulated our show at her school and it’s called Newskids. And we think she’s really cute, we love that she’s emulating Newsreaders, so we decide to do a little puff piece on her and how great she is. I decide to take her along with me on a story about a serial killer, which, once again, is completely inappropriate, and then she embarrasses Newsreaders by breaking the story, in a way, and makes us look bad. And then I spend the rest of the episode just trying to ruin her. So…that was very fun, it was a fun episode, trying to undo this 12-year-old girl.

If you could guest star on any television show, which one would it be?

Mather Zickel: Ooh, any television show…Mad Men, I guess? With the suits and the smoking, that would be great. Homeland. These are the shows I like right now.