Mike Ballaban is Jalopnik’s Deputy Editor. Raphael Orlove is Jalopnik’s Features Editor. Each owns a decrepit European car and has driven a Dakar race truck. Together, they star in Car vs. America—Jalopnik’s first real-deal television program. It premieres on Fusion TV on Oct. 18.
[Typically when a new car show is about to debut, we’ll interview the strangely nervous hosts. Unfortunately, the hosts this time are us, which makes every single other person who works here a biased hack. Thus we went to Road & Track’s Sam Smith, a Jalopnik alumnus, who is also a better writer than all of us anyway. - M. B.]
We asked Sam to talk to Raph and Mike about why the hell they’re going on TV, mostly because no one else actually seemed interested in asking them. The interview was conducted over Google chat because, as Sam put it, if they talked on the phone, “Then I have to listen to the whole thing later and painstakingly transcribe it, and transcription sucks. I like you guys, but only so much.”
Shameless plug for our show: That’s Car vs. America, Oct. 18, on Fusion TV! Try it! You might like it!
Michael Ballaban: Sam. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR DOING THIS.
Sam Smith: Man, I owe this site entirely too much. Least I can do is be obnoxious over IM for a few minutes and learn about your TV show. Also, Raph, why does your Gchat avatar make you look like the star from a Mexican soap opera?
Raphael Orlove: You can see my avatar?
Sam Smith: Telenovela. (Raphenovela?)
Raphael: It’s the black-and-white one, yeah?
Sam Smith: You’re giving me a come-hither look, and I am both aroused and disappointed.
Raphael: I get that more often than is probably helpful.
Ballaban: It’s very seductive.
Sam Smith: Anyway. Interview? Want to talk about your show?
Ballaban: Raph, are you ready?
[Silence from Raph for at least 20 seconds.]
Sam Smith: I’ll take that as a no.
Ballaban: RAPH GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER
Raphael: OK, yes. I just finished a story.
Sam Smith: LET’S GO, GENTLEMEN, I HAVE AT LEAST SIX OTHER TV SHOWS BEING BASED AROUND WEBSITES I NO LONGER WORK FOR TO INTERVIEW TODAY.
Raphael: Antique Car Quarterly’s Explosion Hour is gonna be great.
Ballaban: I’d watch that.
Sam Smith: Who was dumb enough to give you guys a TV show?
Ballaban: Fusion! It’s all Fusion’s fault. But the idea was originally from a very nice person named Fritzie Andrade, who used to run Gawker’s video department. She now runs video at New York magazine.
We’re not entirely sure what they saw in us. BUT, they did see a sizzle for a pilot that we shot using Jalopnik’s in-house video resources.
Sam Smith: The word “sizzle” sounds professional. As if you have now been co-opted by a giant corporation.
Ballaban: A pilot that will probably never see the light of day, mostly because of music-rights issues.
Sam Smith: Unrelated follow-up question: Have you now been co-opted by a giant corporation?
Ballaban: You know, you would think we’d have been co-opted, but I stay clean with the help of BORAX BRAND SOAP.
Sam Smith: I once saw you on Jalopnik YouTube TV Cars Show Name I Forget. It was entertaining. Ballaban was in an Alfa at Lime Rock and moderately terrified.
Ballaban: I always use BORAX. BORAX, for when you need soap™!
Raphael: Oh, God. If you’re curious, Mike has only become a worse driver since then.
Sam Smith: Mike has a driver’s license?
Ballaban: In some jurisdictions, somewhat!
Raphael Orlove: I would have thought that automatically got revoked any time the government found out you were trying to buy a Yugo.
Ballaban: In the course of this show, I’ve actually had my first crash.
Sam Smith: I call bullshit. How have you not crashed before? You’re you.
Ballaban: Raph was there! He saw my big crash!
Raphael: I am surprised as well. I crashed a car on my own time days before shooting even began.
Sam Smith: Let’s back up. This television show that they have given you, for reasons you do not understand, reasons that are undoubtedly nebulous and draped in a hundred kinds of liability: What is this show about?
Sam Smith: Is it going to be like the Great British Baking Show? My wife likes that. Or Top Gear? By law, every car-TV-show pitch deck has to mention Top Gear.
Ballaban: Well, the whole thing is rather a James Maysian argument, in that it’s rather long-winded and makes sense to no one.
Sam Smith: You have no idea what the show’s about.
Ballaban: No, not really. I’ve been told it’s premised off the idea that “young people don’t like cars” is extremely dumb. And we’ve set out to prove otherwise—that young people do like cars—by going hither and yon to do car things.
Sam Smith: What kind of car things?
Raphael: We go across the country driving dangerous cars to prove a point. Certainly not for personal gratification.
Sam Smith: I will acknowledge that obviously true point about gratification and move on, because it is obviously true and not at all steeped in doubt or misdirection.
Raphael: Not at all.
Sam Smith: Give me the elevator pitch: You know, like, “It’s The Avengers meets Community, but in a Nissan S14.”
Raphael: What was the show with the football guy, Mike? It’s like that, but with cars.
Ballaban: We went skid-plate racing in North Carolina, raced my Yugo and Raph’s Beetle across New York City, attempted to beat a 109-year old record and failed, lived with the mole people, did military-style driving in New Hampshire, went off-roading in a bunch of Jeeps, drag racing, drifting, and a bunch of other stuff in between.
Ballaban: Raph, the show with the football guy? What?
Raphael: The one with the football guy who does the sports. The different sports.
Sam Smith: Oh, that one.
Ballaban: The elevator pitch was virtually identical to every supremely annoying car TV-show pitch, though ours had a caveat. “It’s like Top Gear meets Anthony Bourdain, though supremely worse and in fact nothing like either of those things at all.”
Ballaban: Oh! Raph! You mean Dhani Tackles The Globe! That show was the best. It’s like Dhani Tackles the Globe, except Dhani Jones is way more talented in every single way.
Sam Smith: Lightning round! Quick questions. We’re going to see Ballaban’s Yugo and Raph’s CrapBeetle. How?
Raphael: They will battle on the partially radioactive streets of New York City!
Sam Smith: How long is each episode?
Raphael: They are 22 minutes long. Half-hour eps. God, I talk like a TV person now.
Sam Smith: TV people are incapable of thinking outside tropes, so let’s reference tropes. Are you “buddies” in this? Or is the dynamic more Oscar/Felix Odd Couple?
Raphael Orlove: I’m gazing wistfully into Mike’s eyes right now.
Ballaban: Raph. I’m not even sitting next to you.
Raphael Orlove: Shh.
Sam Smith: LIES
Sam Smith: I KNEW IT. TELEVISION IS BUILT ON LIES
Raphael: I am with you, always.
Ballaban: Raph. I’m sitting in my apartment.
Raphael: In ur heart.
Sam Smith: Since you’re ignoring the last question, I’m going to go with, “Two assholes being assholes around the nation, assholing equally.”
Ballaban: Yeah, that’s probably fair.
Raphael: One of our production meetings was derailed when we got into an extended argument over whether or not state fairs are bullshit.
Sam Smith: Does this mean you have sold out? Are you currently in the process of selling out? Will you sell out at any point in the future?
Sam Smith: Jesus, you animals. State fairs are not bullshit, that’s like arguing whether or not the Internet is purple.
Ballaban: My services, naturally, have always been for sale, which is why I entered the financially lucrative world of blogging. But we actually have lines in our contracts saying we can’t be forced to participate in product placement.
Raphael: County fairs are wonderful. State fairs remain questionable.
Ballaban: Wait, can we talk about our contracts here? I don’t remember. Probably not.
Sam Smith: Mike, you seem to be bad at this. I approve of that. Also, JESUS RAPH STATE FAIRS ARE THE BACKBONE OF THIS NATION YOU HEATHEN.
Raphael: Much of what we cover precludes us from selling out; nobody’s throwing big money in skidplate racing. There’s no one to sell out to.
Sam Smith: You say that now, but wait until you meet the guys from Big Skidplate.
Ballaban: We’ve met Jason Torchinsky before. He and his Big Skidplate goons are only slightly terrifying.
Sam Smith: Is Jalop done with you two? You haven’t been posting much recently. Will we ever see you on the site again?
Ballaban: Oh God, no—we’re done filming October 31st, at which point we return to our normal bloglives.
Raphael Orlove: Correct. We’ve tried to write as much as we can from the road, but haven’t been able to publish much. Troublingly, Jalopnik’s readership is at record highs.
Sam Smith: Then our long national nightmare has only begun.
Sam Smith: Do you write this stuff? Is it scripted? Or is it just, like, the two of you being yourselves for 22 minutes?
Raphael Orlove: It’s pretty much all shit that we come up with on the fly. Even the beach scene. You’ll know it.
Sam Smith: Sounds ominous. Reminds me: What was your favorite moment, shooting this thing?
Ballaban: I liked the beach scene.
Sam Smith: I cannot help but picture that scene in From Here to Eternity. With the waves. Crashing on the beach. One desperate moment and . . . a lot of smooches.
Raphael: I have two favorite moments.
Raphael: The first one was when we finished the first skidplate race, our car in shambles, and our North Carolina guide runs up in full drawl, and proudly, vocally recounted the fight he had just gotten into with one of the other out-of-towners who had come to Bowman Gray.
Sam Smith: This whole thing sounds like it’s more about the people than dry, boring sheet metal. Or trumped-up “challenges” and wooden acting with British tropes applied to Americans and maybe also a ported-in British journalist for some reason. (AHEM COUGH AHEM.)
Raphael: The dark one was in New Hampshire. We had just done tactical shooting training with a former Navy SEAL, and he recounted some very vivid stories from a country he might not want me to name. Mike and I are total novices with guns. We were in the van, after it was all over, and we were all extremely glad that nobody got shot. We drank a lot that night.
Sam Smith: I might watch that.
Raphael: One of the things about TV is shooting takes a humongous amount of time and people, so a lot of what we shot that revolves around us trying a car activity, like drifting, is done in cars wildly beyond our abilities in about ten minutes of real time. We basically are a walking tome of How Not To Car.
Sam Smith: (Raph: It just hit me: Ballaban is a 65-year-old man in the body of a 30-year-old librarian. How did I not get this until right now?)
Raphael: Oh man, wait until you see him try drifting. It’s amazing.
Ballaban: Wait... I thought everyone knew this.
Sam Smith: That’s like saying, “I have this puppy, wait until you see him try differential equations.”
Raphael: Mike has a sweater on his soul. There’s a bit where we go to a stance car show, also, and Mike is just wandering around not making sense of anything.
Ballaban: A window into senility. Really fascinating stuff.
Raphael: Also, man, the thing that used to piss me off the most about Top Gear is how they’d do the thing at the start of every season previewing all the cool stuff to come, and then you’d never see half of it again, all cut. AND NOW I UNDERSTAND AND IT SUCKS.
Ballaban: Yeah the segment itself was awesome, truly.
Sam Smith: Okay! WRAPPING UP LIGHTNING ROUND. I kind of lost my train of thought imagining Ballaban more senile than he is now. But! THE ONE THING YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM BEING IN TELEVISION, IN A SENTENCE, GO. YELLING.
Raphael: MAKING TELEVISION INVOLVES SO MANY MEETINGS.
Ballaban: I THOUGHT I HAD BAD HAIR BUT NOW I TRULY UNDERSTAND THE DEPTHS TO WHICH IT IS AWFUL.
Sam Smith: Good note. I’ll run that by the showrunner and then run it back to you with notes for the first run of episodes.
Sam Smith: Next-to-last-question: Should we be excited for this television program?
Ballaban: YEAH GET HYPE IT’S THE FIRST AMERICAN CAR TV SHOW FOR ACTUAL PEOPLE. (SORRY, VICTORY BY DESIGN, BUT YOU WERE TOO GOOD TO BE FOR ANYONE BUT ALIENS.)
Raphael: Yes, in that we don’t spend half of every episode “trying to get this build done,” and then the rest of the time arguing about how to moisturize our beards.
Sam Smith: Okay, final thing: How does this help make Jalopnik a better Jalopnik? How does television make good Internet?
Raphael: It turns out that a lot of people open their doors and let you do fun stuff because you say you’re with a TV show. So we’re making lots of inroads with people we always wanted to have connections with, setting up stuff that will also live on the site. Is that boring? It sounds boring. It’s not boring.
Sam Smith: That’s something like an adult answer.
Ballaban: BECAUSE IT’S A SHOW FOR YOU, A SHOW FOR THE NORMALS, WHO WANT TO WATCH THE GOOD CAR THINGS DURING LUNCH OR LIKE IF YOU NEED A NEW SHOW TO BINGE BECAUSE GAME OF THRONES IS DONE FOR A WHILE AND THERE’S NO PEAKY BLINDERS EITHER AND THE JOHN OLIVER SHOW IS ONLY ON LIKE, ONCE A WEEK OR WHATEVER, SO MAYBE TRY THIS SHOW? IT’S SOMETHING TO WATCH, AT LEAST, YA KNOW?
Sam Smith: Mike, good yell. Gentlemen, this has been enlightening. Thank you for your time. Also, I now feel slightly dirty. I’m going to go scrub my hands with antibacterial soap for 20 minutes.
Raphael: Fast Orange is recommended.
Sam Smith: Anything else you want me to put in the post?
Raphael: I’m Features Editor. Mike is Deputy Editor. We both own decrepit European people’s cars, we’ve both driven Dakar-winning race trucks, and we can’t agree about anything.
Sam Smith: That’s a ridiculous and barely useful bio. It also makes you sound like you both live in an MTV house show, and then, in, like, episode two, you’re caught making out over the bidet.
Sam Smith: So I’m totally going to use it.
Shameless plug for our show, one more time: That’s Car vs. America, Oct. 18, on Fusion TV! Try it! You might like it!
Sam Smith is a Road & Track editor-at-large and Jalopnik alum. Sam spent a year here as features editor, back when the Internet was made entirely out of old Edison bulbs and pixellated dreams, before going on to write for places like The New York Times, Wired, and Esquire. You may remember him for this story or possibly this one, with the donuts. (You may also remember that he introduced the world to Bill Caswell. Applaud or boo as necessary.)
Because we like Sam, we’re going plug him even more: That’s Sam Smith, Road & Track, cars and neat writing and adventure stories and fun stuff, plus a monthly column in the magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @thatsamsmith