NEW YORK — The music-based Fuse network is branching out into comedy with a game show filmed on New York City sidewalks. Think "Cash Cab" without the cab, and with some New York attitude.
"Funny or Die's Billy on the Street" features comic Billy Eichner, who has made a popular series of videos with sassy street encounters. The series, which premieres Dec. 22 at 11 p.m. ET, is the third television production launched by the comic website Funny or Die.
Eichner stalks the sidewalks to find people willing to answer music and celebrity-based questions for money. Not a lot of money, mind you. One woman was insulted when Eichner counted out single dollar bills as part of her winnings.
The questions aren't typical, either. Eichner had a particularly ribald way of probing how well contestants kept up on John Mayer's love life, for example.
The idea for him is to give celebrity gossip the same weight as issues of war and peace and see how people react, he said.
"I'm bringing this urgency to what is really a ridiculous topic," he said.
Eichner studied tapes of Discovery Network's "Cash Cab" before hitting the streets. The three-time Daytime Emmy winner turns a New York cab into a game show set for unsuspecting passengers.
"I watched it and started to think what my version of it would be," he said. "'Cash Cab' is considered a funny show, but I've never laughed at it."
His own show is "crazy and raw," he said, without much preparation beyond taking a camera, microphone and stack of questions with him on the street.
Most of the people he encounters are good sports. "It's fascinating to me how even jaded New Yorkers who you think wouldn't want to be on television are really very excited to be on television," he said.
With the new series, Fuse walks the delicate line between expanding its music programming while not appearing to stray from it.
"We're a music network, first and foremost," said David Clark, Fuse's general manager. "The music world takes itself very seriously, so we thought we needed something to lighten things up."
Within the 12 initial episodes that Fuse has ordered is one well-placed celebrity cameo. One stumped contestant is asked if she wants some celebrity help, and from a car parked nearby, Joan Rivers popped out.
The street encounter happened on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, near where a line of people — mostly older women, the sweet spot of Rivers' audience — gathered for a taping of "Live! With Regis & Kelly."
"They started freaking out like Joan is Lady Gaga," Eichner said.