Rubin: WDIV’s Scillian makes news with Ellen DeGeneres

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Devin Scillian put together a nice special on Pope Francis a couple of months ago. Maybe you emailed him about it.

Just kidding. It might as well have aired in that forest where nobody hears the falling trees. But those funny fake news bulletins he tapes for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show?”

After those, he hears from everyone.

Friends from middle school back in Virginia. A colleague from a long-ago job in Decatur, Illinois. Jimmy Hoffa, maybe.

The documentary about the pope aired just before His Eminence arrived in the United States in September. It had a juicy 10 p.m. Thursday time slot. It was good. And ...

“Crickets,” says the evening co-anchor at WDIV-TV (Channel 4). He’s exaggerating for effect, but insert the insect of your choice instead and you’ll be close.

The last of his three appearances on “Ellen,” meanwhile, has scored about 3 million online views in a few weeks.

It makes sense. The alleged bulletins are fresh and clever. “This just in,” he intones in one of them, with full newscaster inflection. “Hiking is just walking. It’s not better than walking, it’s the exact same thing.”

Furthermore, DeGeneres is the pitch-perfect daytime talk show host.

But the contrast between real news and wildly popular fake news has made a few things evident:

1) WDIV has a good promotions department; 2) Scillian might need a better agent; and 3) he definitely needs a better story about how this all came about.

Location, location, location

Scillian can’t recall for sure. It might have been one of the times he and DeGeneres went skydiving that she asked him to contribute to the show.

Or maybe it was during their weekend in St. Bart’s — Scillian and his wife, Corey, the girl next door, with Ellen and her Australia-born wife Portia de Rossi, the girl from next door to New Zealand.

That’s what he should say, anyway. Truth is, he and DeGeneres have never met.

Possibly because Detroit is a strong market for “Ellen,” producers contacted WDIV’s promotions department awhile back and asked for an anchor to read a few silly news alerts.

The department has continued to act as liaison as the segments get stronger, draw more laughs and generate more clicks and emails.

They begin with DeGeneres, sounding either flustered or annoyed, telling her audience that she’s being interrupted for a special report. Moments later, to her continued vexation, there’s another.

“This just in,” Scillian said in the most recent spot. “Your SUV does not fit in a compact parking space. It’s a simple matter of spatial relations. Your SUV is large, and a compact space is small.”

“Once again,” he concluded, “your big-butt truck won’t fit in that tiny little parking space. We now return you to your regular program.”

Keeping it clean

DeGeneres’ writers actually wanted him to use a slightly coarse synonym for “butt.” Corey did, too.

“Everybody says it,” she points out. “Everybody’s got one.”

It’s an inarguable fact, but “these things are going to live forever on YouTube,” he says. So with the blessing of DeGeneres’ writers, whose instructions say to do whatever feels comfortable, he toned it down.

In return for his good judgment and comic timing, “Ellen” pays him exactly zero — something everyone wonders about, he says. On the other hand, “It probably takes me about 21/2 minutes to record those spots.”

Besides, the enjoyment and the response are payment enough.

“Most of the media world is trying to figure out the secret to making something viral,” he says, and maybe he and DeGeneres have figured it out.

If you can’t think of a flatulence joke and you don’t have a Roomba with a kitten willing to ride it, try being absurdist and clever. And while you’re at it, tap into a fundamental truth or two.

Yes, a mimosa is simply breakfast alcohol, as one of the spots said.

And yes, as surely as the pope is Catholic, “The Chipotle burrito bar is always in the same exact order. No one has rearranged it since you were there last week.”