In the anomie of the unglamorous Mid-Wilshire district, just a short jog from the gilded streets of Hollywood, the folks behind Topless Sports News are telling me how they're going to turn a beautifully simple idea into piles of cash. Right now, it's just four scruffy guys, a model, and a dream. But that dream is to give men two of their favorite things in the world at the same time: Boobs and sports. Together at last. In perfect harmony.
All photos by J. Michelangelo Stein
Christine Nguyen has Topless Sports News by the ball.
Boobs. You will have to forgive the misogynistic synecdoche. A floating pair of breasts does not deliver the sports news. The news reader is an actress-slash-model with dreams of her own. But the site's main attraction rests squarely between her chin and navel, and its unabashed name does not pretend otherwise. In a world filled with false advertising, Topless Sports News is what it says it is.
Featuring about a half-dozen two-minute video clips on major sports written by a comedian-slash-sports journalist, the site is not a hub of sports scores and analysis. Its humorous and punchy copy is intended as light-hearted infotainment. While the jokes range from benignly amusing to caustically insightful, it's not much of a stretch to say that the material's potential to captivate and entertain falls on, or below, the shoulders of its reader.
Topless Sports News is a spartan site, dressed in black and silver, the colors of a classy gentlemen's club, and a world map serves as a blue-screen backdrop for the anchor. There's no striptease, sexy music, full-frontal nudity, or sultry lighting, only the frankly exposed bosom of TSN’s perky host of the week. Shooting occurs on Sunday nights, while the weekend's results are still fresh, and the site goes live with new clips every Monday morning.
Tom Tanguay, the site's president and executive producer, is the man behind the curtain. When I ask him where funding for the site comes from, he looks at me with pointed resignation and slaps his back pocket. Having previously DJed for radio KLPX (Tucson classic rock) and sold advertising for a major magazine, Tanguay, 43, is a grizzled veteran of broadcasting who knows both sides of the industry. He's convinced that in this site he's found fertile soil in the wilds of multimedia, so he's planted his flag, and he's pursuing his idea with the kind of huckster zeal that has been both celebrated and reviled in American culture for centuries.
Tanguay envisions an empire of toplessness. "We want to be the world's No. 1 topless network," he says. He hopes to take the sports news from weekly to daily, while introducing a number of other topless ventures, ranging from topless Texas hold 'em to topless roller derby. Right now, after about a year of operation, he says, the site averages about 300,000 hits a month from 15,000 unique users, spiking whenever it receives publicity, such as a shout-out earlier this year from Stuff Magazine. Tanguay also hopes to sign a recently-retired sports celebrity to promote the site; current athletes, he says, would shy away from the R-rated business venture.
Tanguay isn't the only one who's had the idea to combine journalism and nudity. There's Naked News, which has been around for six years and commands the lion's share of the market of those seeking to combine their porn and news fixes. Available for subscription, Naked News combines mostly straight journalism with newsreaders who matter-of-factly shed their clothing throughout the broadcast.
Tanguay’s site is notably different from Naked News, if not in conceit then in execution. TSN abandons the strip-tease formatthe presenter starts and ends topless (not fully nude, unlike on Naked News)and rather than present some of the news dryly, it embraces a droll reportage style akin to that of SNL's Weekend Update. And because of its advertising model, it’s available for free, a boon to surfers too bashful or broke to give their billing info to adult sites.
As of now, one need only enter Tanguay's apartment-slash-studio to see how much work, money, media exposure and luck separate him from his competition and his goals. Three of the four walls are decorated with such bachelor-pad accoutrements as Mardi Gras beads and sports-car posters, while over the fourth wall hangs a blue felt blanket illuminated by professional lighting equipment. There is no teleprompter, only an iBook G4 and a PowerPoint presentation to assist the reader. In the bathroom, two cutouts from lad magazines hang on the wall by a toilet, which does not flush without a helpful tug in the tank. In lieu of catering, there's Tom's lasagna.
There's a reason Scott Schultz doesn't present the material he writes.
Schultz, 38, is well over six feet tall with a goofy, Dylanesque demeanor. A former editor of UCLA's Daily Bruin, he enjoys the opportunity to write edgy sports jokes, which are then leavened by a buoyant presentation. He also manages to inject his humor with wry humanism. For example, he was disgusted by the behavior of Little League coach Mark Downs, who was convicted of assault after he paid an eight-year-old $25 to bean an autistic kid on his own team so their postseason chances would not be hampered by the league rule that all players must bat (Associated Press). "Fittingly," Schultz writes, "the evil coach will have his face assaulted by balls for the next one to six years." Political humor, too, finds its way into the copy. Lampooning the selection of Jeffery Earnhardt, grandson of Dale, to GM Racing's development program, Schultz writes, "The parent company claims that nepotism has nothing to do with the surprise promotion. In a related story, George W. Bush is continuing to run our country into the ground."
Of course, when read by Christine Nguyen, this week's presenter, these jokes have a subversive flippancy that Schultz himself would never be able to pull off. Nguyen has the kind of body and face that magazine readers swear is airbrushed until they see her in person, and was a shoo-in for the role of this week's topless sports reader. Nguyen, who has appeared in such films as Bikini Girls from the Lost Planet and Ghost in a Teeny Bikini, found Tom and his company through their Craigslist ad, which proclaims: "Dependability a MUST, Sports Knowledge a Big Plus!!!"
A dress rehearsal.
I feel vaguely guilty as I sit there six feet away from a topless Nguyen, who later will ask me why I was so stone-faced. I'm not sure. Did the promise of a distant internet payday simply enable a bunch of guys to pool together cash to pay a girl to take her top off? Was the "talent" exploited even if she'd claim otherwise?
Yet, in spite of these questions, ones to which I have no good answers, there is something in this ragtag bunch which speaks to all that so many Americans love to loathe about LA, but envy nevertheless. When Shultz tells me that a “two-thousand pound gorilla of the multimedia industry” is interested in their site, I find myself wanting to believe it's true. Sure, their site is sophomoric, if not boorish, but these guys have a dream. And rather than sit in cubicles and repress reveries of an impossible entrepreneurial triumph, they are here in LA pursuing one.
J. Michelangelo Stein is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.
Related on the Web
Back in 2001, the BBC website covered the emerging phenomenon of Naked News.