The nightly news has begun and anchor Victoria Sinclair is reporting. Her tone is serious and clipped. As she reads the latest breaking story, the camera pans back.
Enemy warplanes, claims of military hits and government denials.
Without warning, her skirt falls.
She continues: "President Bush has taken a hard line . . ."
She unzips her jacket.
Her face seems unaware of what her hands are doing.
With the seriousness of Walter Cronkite, she continues to broadcast: School violence . . . Borneo . . . The president of Paraguay may be driving a stolen car . . .
Her hands reach behind her head and unpin her hair. It falls over her shoulders. Ethnic Albanians targeting Serbs.
Down comes one bra strap. Then the other.
A space station launch. She slowly slides out of her underwear. Until she is completely bare.
"Welcome to the network worth watching," Sinclair intones.
NakedNews.com has become an Internet phenomenon, spreading like a virus throughout the world. "NakedNews is news done in the nude," says spokeswoman Kathy Pinckert, businesslike, as if she's describing the manufacture of sod.
No need to sensationalize the headlines when newsreaders are standing before you buck-naked, forecasting the weather, talking about stock market fluctuations.
There is Diane Foster, weather girl, dressed (or rather undressed) in only stockings and earmuffs standing at a weather map and reporting about Canada's cold -- it's 18 below zero in Regina, Saskatchewan. "Brrrr," she says. (It might not be as cold if she put on a coat.)
Then there is Holly Weston, sports reporter, wearing only a microphone while recapping game highlights.
As you watch for the first time, the mind has trouble processing. It hears the news as the news is usually read, but the sound doesn't register with what the eye is seeing. The eye never really gets over what it learned in the girls' locker room in junior high: that it stays at chin level and above, no matter what.
"At first I felt a little uncomfortable, because I am not in the habit of watching naked women, but I am there for business reasons," says Pinckert. "And somewhere in the process of watching I forgot I was looking at a naked person and I started to listen to what was being said. It made me laugh -- it got serious. It was a good news show."
Is this what news has become: entertainment? Because otherwise we are bored? Our minds dulled by the massive amounts of information heaped on day after day: school shootings, politics, more politics, international wars, endless attempts at peace accords, and blah, blah, blah and didn't we hear that yesterday? We listen until we stop watching it altogether.
Then a show like NakedNews comes along. Launched a year ago, the show has grown from 6,000 viewers a month to 5.7 million, many of them women -- "an impeccable example of viral marketing," Pinckert says. "Originally designed to target young adult males, this group began telling their friends by e-mail and word of mouth about the program. Today NakedNews draws an audience that includes men and women ranging in ages from 18 to 99 and from all walks of life."
The site is free; the only requirement is that users leave behind e-mail addresses, so the site can track their demographics. Users can pay $9.95 per month to become members and see full-screen images and viewing uninterrupted by ads; show officials say it makes a profit from ads and memberships.
So many women have expressed interest, Pinckert says, that the show just held auditions to find nude male newsreaders.
"NakedNews applies to more than just flesh," says Elliott Shulman, the producer. "We knew we had to have more than just nudity. You can get nudity anywhere." The content of the show had to have quality, Shulman says.
Mark Kingwell, a philosophy professor and cultural critic at the University of Toronto who recently published the book "The World We Want: Virtue, Vice and the Good Citizen," says the show plays on the inner freak in news viewers. "NakedNews acts out one of those absurdist impulses we all have where we imagine Dan Rather or Peter Jennings not wearing clothes."
This is something that can happen only in a parallel universe like the Internet, says Kingwell, where the acceptable, like watching the evening news, is somehow mixed with what we think of in private. "It rides as a kind of undercurrent of mockery and sarcasm to the mainstream culture."
The idea for NakedNews came in the summer of 1998 when two friends -- Fernando Pereira and Kirby Stasyna, both Canadians -- were watching the news together one night. "Hey, what if the news were read naked?" one of them remarked. They decided they were onto something. Stasyna was a Web artist and Pereira was a Web developer.
They called Shulman, who was a production manager for the Canadian media company Astral Films, to come up with a demo tape. Shulman looked no further than his significant other, Victoria Sinclair, to become the anchor. "I figured if I didn't ask the woman I love, I would be single," he says.
Sinclair, who describes herself as a celebrant of nudity, had spent 10 years working in marketing and waiting for the right job. The job that would excite. Her first audition was in May 1999. Immediately they could see she had a talent for reading the news while undressing -- after all, she's not tossing salad here. "It is deliberately choreographed. I can't have death, tragedy and mayhem all together. When I'm talking about the tragic school shooting, I'm not whipping things off," she explains with no hint of sarcasm. "It is a simple melting away."
Shulman, 42, presents his newsreaders to a reporter in the boardroom of a company in Toronto's fashion district. None of the women has a journalism background. Next to him is Sinclair in a black business suit and pumps. Next to Sinclair is Foster, in a conservative black suit and pumps. Foster is sitting near Weston, who is now six months pregnant and wearing lavender. She rubs her belly, which has become part of the show because the producers have agreed that pregnancy is sexy.
"We report the news," says Weston, the 30-year-old sports reporter, who used to be an actress. "We've just decided to do it naked." She, too, says this with no hint of irony.
Shulman says the show has attracted thousands of women viewers because the newsreaders are "real women with real bodies" -- no explosive mango chests.
"The show promotes fit and healthy bodies without adhering to Hollywood standards," says Sinclair, 34. "We are not 20 to 26. We are in our thirties, not the model age. But we feel fantastic."
This is a new version of liberation. There is no burning of the bra, only the falling of the bra. And with it lofty ideas of what feminism used to be.
Foster, 31, who worked 10 years as a ophthalmic technician before becoming the nude weather reporter, came to the show after reading a want ad in the local underground paper. "I thought it was very elegant. It was simple nudity and news together."
And so people tune in and they write:
"Your show has brought joy and happiness in my life, which was nonexistent before I discovered your wonderful news program."
"Even my WIFE loves your news."
"Nothing better than a cup of coffee and the NakedNews in the morning."