Hooked on Phoenix

Carlton Enoch, executive producer and creative force behind the locally filmed cable variety show Off the Hook, is a man of big dreams and stalwart confidence.

"A whole lot of faith," he laughs, is what motivates a visionary with grand plans for his entertainment product to launch from of all places Phoenix.

Enoch says it's a challenge to make locals believe that a Phoenix-born television show is bound for the big time. "The hard part's not finding the people the talented people exist here in Arizona, and they're hungry. The hard part is getting Phoenix to actually visualize it."

Visualizing the show won't be so difficult once its debut episode, to be filmed this Thursday night at Scottsdale's Cajun House, hits the airwaves on the clean-cut PAX Network six weeks from now. Enoch has years of experience directing commercials and comes from a screenwriting background, but he says, "I always had this vision about doing a variety show. Then I started meeting cool people, and there we were."

Off the Hook is an urban amalgamation of American Idol, Soul Train, The Dating Game, and In Living Color. Regular segments include "Peep This," which involves Candid Camera-esque street comedy; "Give Me the Hook Up," an audience-involved dating competition; "Star Six Nine," wherein unknown talents expose their wares and the audience decides which act returns; and a regular rap battle for the Golden Mic Award.

Add to this combination the opportunity for locals to show up, show off, and reach a national audience, and Enoch just might have a winner if only he can get his audience as enthused as the 30-some volunteers who've been helping him realize his dream over the last seven months.

Rehearsal shows prior to this Thursday's debut have yielded some attractive results: Enoch's attention-grabbing, C-walking "Granny" character, who's bound to show up onstage anytime Enoch's not front and center, tickles without going over the top. The rap battle, in which Enoch gives contestants a subject to expound on (Filiberto's, for example), has attracted some stellar rhyme-spitters. And the dating segment is necessarily cheesy but bound to find voyeuristic fans.

Off the Hook's best assets will show up later in its development. Currently, Enoch is purchasing airtime from the local Pax affiliate and will sell ads himself to keep afloat. In the future, he plans to shop the PAX-broadcast samples to cable networks. Both Sony Records and Def Jam Records have signed on to promote their recording artists by having them guest on Off the Hook when they're in the area.

"Anyone from the Dixie Chicks to LL Cool J," Enoch says, enumerating his commitment to diversity. "We don't want to see an all-hip-hop show or an all-country show. We want to be enjoyed by everyone from teenagers to baby boomers."