WHITE BEAR LAKE -- As cheesy organ music blares, two contestants prepare to settle their grudge match on the bowling lanes. On cue, the crowd in the bleachers cheers.
Two women in tiaras and sequined red dresses -- the Queen Pins -- rotate a giant bowling pin to reveal the competitors. The bowlers square off to settle their beef and win a chance at the grand prize -- a 1973 Dodge Charger or a used snowmobile.
Yes, it's time again to play "Let's Bowl," the Twin Cities-produced television show that looks for laughs among the spares, strikes and gutter balls.
After six years of bouncing around local TV stations, "Let's Bowl" made its national debut Sunday on Comedy Central. The half-hour show has a prime slot at 9:30 p.m. between "The Man Show" and "South Park."
"We want like real Minnesota people. We'd love like two car mechanics in their 60s to bowl. But what we're finding is, we're getting all these total hipsters with tattoos." -- Rich Kronfeld, co-producer
The show features Steve Sedahl, a 1975 Brainerd High School graduate and the son of Georgia and Loran Sedahl. The Sedahl Center at the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center is named for his mother, a longtime community relations director at the state facility.
The television actor attended Central Lakes College before a stint in the U.S. Army and returned to the area in late 1980s to open a video data service company. His daughters, Staci, 18, and Lauren, 14, still live in the Brainerd area with their mother.
Bowling shows have been a staple of television programming, going back to the late 1940s and including ABC's popular Saturday afternoon coverage of the pro tour in the 1970s. "Let's Bowl" is an affectionate spoof of such shows as "Bowling for Dollars," and it doesn't matter if the bowlers are good or not.
"It works both ways," says co-producer Rich Kronfeld, who appears as play-by-play announcer Wally Hotvedt. "If they're good bowlers, you're watching it because, wow, these guys are good. If they're bad bowlers, I, as the commentator, get to laugh at them when they get a gutter ball. I laugh at them and call them names."
Thanks to its retro cool, bowling also is having a resurgence in popularity. "Ed," the NBC comedy-drama, is set in a small-town bowling alley where a former New York City lawyer has set up his law practice. And bowling shoes are a hot fashion item.
But "Let's Bowl" isn't looking to attract trendy fans. When the show's casting director put out a call for local people to attend tapings, she said she was looking for "Middle America, like people from Blaine or typical Old Country Buffet (restaurant) diners."
"We want like real Minnesota people. We'd love like two car mechanics in their 60s to bowl," Kronfeld says. "But what we're finding is, we're getting all these total hipsters with tattoos."
On camera, Kronfeld is paired with Sedahl, who as "Chopper" plays straight man to Kronfeld's neurotic commentator. The two wear powder-blue polyester suits, bright yellow ties adorned with designs of bowling balls and pins, and oversized headsets.
Sedahl, who has experience as a home shopping TV host, plays it smooth while Kronfeld jeers the contestants and gripes throughout the broadcast.
"His mission is to just get through the show," Kronfeld says of Sedahl. "And my mission is to derail it. ... We have great chemistry."
"Let's Bowl" features a regular 10-frame game with the action in some frames condensed to a recap. When a polka-dotted kingpin appears in a "polka frame," the bowler who rolls a strike wins 500 pounds of Polish sausage or a quarter cow. And once a game, a bowler can use the "distraction option" and blow an air horn to rattle the other contestant. Comedy sketches, such as "How to Dispose of an Old Bowling Ball," break up the action.
At White Bear Bowl, bowlers Tim Carnahan and Gregg Mau settle their dispute on "Let's Bowl." Mau had loaned Carnahan a station wagon so he could get to the child-care center where they both work, but the battery died and the tickets started piling up. Carnahan insisted he shouldn't have to pay the tickets. But Mau won the game and the dispute.
"The best thing about this show is that we don't have to talk about this anymore," Carnahan says.
The Queen Pins stand on either side of the lane and cheer on the bowlers. Local bands such as Ruth Adams and the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band join keyboard player Drew Jansen (as "Ernie Jensen") in providing the music.
Tim Scott, 36, created "Let's Bowl" and co-produces the show with Kronfeld. Scott had previous TV experience as a technical supervisor on "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the defunct Twin Cities-based series formerly carried by Comedy Central.
Scott says his experience at "MST3K" put "the fire in my belly to have my own show." About six years ago he started "Let's Bowl" and got the show on a St. Cloud UHF station, the Twin Cities' WB station and eventually on NBC affiliate KARE-TV in Minneapolis and in syndication.
Comedy Central picked up "Let's Bowl" for 10 episodes. The show has about 20 people on staff at its Bloomington office and tapes all of its shows in the Twin Cities.
Scott says bowling has an everyman appeal.
"Anybody can bowl," he says. "Knocking stuff over, it's just inherently fun."
On the Net:
Let's Bowl http://www.letsbowl.com
Comedy Central http://www.comedycentral.com
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.