Pseudo mixes chat with gonzo and wacko

By Sam Allis, Globe Staff, 8/2/2000

HILADELPHIA - It may go down in history with Kitty Hawk and Marconi's first trans-Atlantic message. Then again, it may be remembered for its distinctive blend of Wayne's World and Animal House in a skybox the size of Elizabeth Taylor's bathroom. Either way, Day One of at the Republican National Convention was the best show in this undazzling spectacle.

All day Monday, print and network reporters wandered into the cramped space to witness history or, at the very least, hide from their editors. No one was quite sure what was happening except that, for the first time, they could peek at any part of the hall on a computer screen while following the live video interplay between chat room addicts and talking heads.

This was not controlled chaos; it was the real thing. Pseudo was playing without a net. Guests either appeared or they didn't. ''We have no idea who will show up from those we asked,'' said pseudo's editorial director Gersh Kuntzman, who rather liked the arrangement. ''Then there are others here we didn't ask.''

Just who invited Philadelphia City Comptroller Jonathan Seidel, for example, remains unclear. But there he was, with the look of a man who had just made a huge mistake, waiting next to the stale crackers and grape stems to be an online guest in the pseudo skybox. He proved to be game, though, and declared the experience ''amazing'' as he left.

The on-air talent was an eclectic bunch. Some appeared on pseudo, while others were guests on's hourlong show that runs in the pseudo skybox each evening of the convention.

Among the talking heads during a two-hour stretch were 90 year-old CBS legend Robert Trout; the formidable arriviste and Shadow Convention doyenne Arianna Huffington; New York Democratic congressman Jerry Nadler; Log Cabin Republicans head Rich Tafel; and Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz, who favored a Jimmy Buffett look in a Hawaiian shirt with a beer in his hand.

The atmosphere was decidedly Margaritaville. ''Rock on, gentlemen,'' producer Sam Hollander exhorted the group. He was kind enough to add, ''You can bring the beer with you,'' as Wilentz prepared to join the online fray. During the breaks, pseudo piped ''Green Onions'' by Booker T and the MGs through its speakers.

At one point, pseudo CEO David Bohrman, who reigns as skybox impresario, gazed at the dead food littering the floor and said, ''I'm going to get the garbage out of here before we do anything else. The Internet should be neat.''

On a good day, the pseudo experience works something like this: an EJ, pseudo's electronic version of a DJ, monitors a chat room whose members receive a live audio feed from the skybox discussion. Monday's EJ, a woman with the online moniker Jaxx, took questions from the chat room from her computer screen and gleefully interrupted the on-air guests with them.

''My job is to be obnoxious,'' she said. ''If people in the chat rooms don't believe what they're hearing, I'll let the online people know about it.'' Jaxx gives new meaning to the talk show dictum, ''Feel free to jump in at any time.''

Pseudo's fanciest gizmos are its five 360-degree Web cameras that continually pan the convention hall, day and night. A user of its Web site can control the view with a computer mouse and stop the camera at any point to focus on interesting turf.

It's not much as voyeurism goes. Republican delegates, after all, don't provide many steamy scenes. And the visuals are worthless until the technology improves. For now, they occupy a small piece of real estate on a computer screen and are all but impossible to decipher without 3-D glasses and a microscope. Pseudo spokeswoman Jeanne Meyer conceded as much when she called the look ''chunky pointillism.''

''It's not there yet,'' admits Bohrman, a former CBS producer. ''But from these feeble beginnings we see a glimpse of things to come. The technology is too early now and it will be too late four years from now.''

Kuntzman adds that the pseudo package poses no threat to reporting. ''We will never affect serious journalism,'' he said. ''We're the window dressing around it. Fortunately for us, there is so little real reporting going on here that the question for us is, did we book good guests?''

One thing is clear: Interactive explorations of Medicare are just as deadly as similar exercises on cable or at the Shadow Convention, which continues to lose altitude daily. Pseudo's best chance for survival is its mix of spontaneity and rudeness. If it ever gets polite, it's in real trouble.