Joel McHale

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "The Soup" is one of television's hidden gems. A definite diamond in the rough, it's a low-budget, hilarious show that mocks celebrities and reality TV.

And "mocks" might be too mild a term. Sometimes the show can get pretty vicious.

"Most of the celebrities or reality shows we make fun of — they hang themselves," said host Joel McHale. "They're doing something inappropriate that is easy to make fun of. And most of the time, it involves Flavor Flav, because he is a national treasure."

And yet the folks at "The Soup" aren't particularly worried about incurring the wrath of those they mock.

"I don't think we can get in a ton of trouble for talking about people," said executive producer K.P. Anderson, "because we tend not to talk about people who don't want themselves out there and talked about in some way, shape or form. ... We've been very lucky that the publicity whores that we make fun of are truly publicity whores and really like it."

Executive producer Ed Boyd said a lot of reality-TV stars "almost consider it an honor that we show their clip on the show." And many "want to come on the show."

"The Soup," which debuts episodes Fridays at 11 p.m. on E! and repeats them throughout the week, has become more than a bit promotional for the network it calls home. If E! did not exist, McHale (jokingly) estimated "The Soup" would have 40 percent less material to work with.

"I don't know what we would have done without 'The Girls Next Door' or 'Denise Richards: It's Boring' — um, 'Complicated.' Excuse me," he said. "Ryan (Seacrest) alone is responsible for 75 percent of our material. I love that little hobbit."

Even the stars of E!'s "Meet the Kardashians" are apparently not offended by McHale's many jokes about them.

"I ran into the Kardashians, and I thought they were going to jump me," McHale said. "And they said they love the show. And I was, like, 'I've called you dead behind the eyes, like, 300 times."'

"The Soup" is produced by an almost unimaginably small staff — 12-14 people who are "chained to their televisions, their TiVos and they're all assigned a certain number of hours of programming," Boyd said. "And we feel sorry for the guy who has to spend four (to) eight hours watching the morning programs every day."

"There's only so much Willard Scott you can watch and then you just have to take a sabbatical." McHale said.

It's all about catching what's hot as well as what's unknown but outrageous.

"Ed sleeps with some kind of firewire plugged into his head that he knows everything that's being talked about on the blogs as soon as we show up in the morning," Anderson said.

Some things are obvious; others considerably less so.

"Anything that Flavor Flav does," McHale said. "We cover all the big reality shows. We cover all the shows that people watch, like 'American Idol,' 'The Bachelor.' This summer we've got 'America's Got Talent' and stuff like that.

"But it's when we find shows like 'Dutch Oven"' and "really great little shows like 'Pants Off Dance Off' ... or like 'Groomer Has It.' I mean, an entire show about washing dogs!"

They're not worried about running out of material.

"Unless the power grids fail, then there will never be a shortage," McHale said.

"So far history and the World Wide Web are on our side," Anderson said.

There's so much to make fun of in television these days, isn't there enough to do the show more than once a week? Why not strip it five nights a week?

"We're phenomenally lazy people," Anderson said.

"Once a week is hard enough," McHale added.

Actually, the idea of expanding the show to five nights a week has been bandied about, but it's never gone anywhere.

"There's a leave-them-wanting-more element to what we do right now that we're comfortable with," Anderson said.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com