Mobilian Rusty Sarhan’s love of comedy and skill with impressions has taken him from the local airwaves to a spot on a national game show.

Sarhan tells us he will be part of a new reality TV game show called “First Impressions” hosted by comedian Dana Carvey and actor Freddie Prinze Jr. Six episodes of the show have already been filmed and it will begin airing May 10 on the USA Network. The show’s contestants start by doing impressions for the hosts and audience, and then are assigned impressions as well. Overall there are five different rounds of doing celebrity impressions, including one where contestants must do impressions of celebrities in various professions.

“After five rounds, the audience will vote based on original material, creativity and overall entertainment value. And the host will announce the winner after that. The contestants are competing for a grand prize of $10,000,” Sarhan said.

Sarhan attended Murphy High School and the University of South Alabama before deciding to pick up and head to Los Angeles to chase his dream of making it in show business.

“I watched a lot of cartoons when I was younger and was amazed to know the voices were coming from another person. So I owe everything to my parents for allowing me to watch that much TV. Eventually I started practicing those voices to make them laugh. It was always a fun household,” he explained. “I started to get better in high school when I did impressions of other students, teachers and coaches. So at lunchtime I had people asking me to do an impression of certain faculty members.”

In college he was able to take that talent to the airwaves, appearing on WKSJ-FM’s “Dan and Shelby” show, as well as “The Uncle Henry Show” on WNTM-AM.

“I grew up listening to them on my way to school or practice, next thing I knew I was in the same room as them performing different voices. I felt like it was something I needed to take advantage of. I thought about it, and the more I thought about it the more I knew I should go for it. I saved up my money, moved to Los Angeles and within two years I was able to share a stage with people like Dana Carvey and Freddie Prinze Jr.”

Sarhan said film star Jim Carrey’s quote is one that exemplifies his decision to take a risk and head to Hollywood:

“I mostly did it to prove that it’s possible. There are many people who are too afraid to reach out for something they really want. They think it’s unattainable. Jim Carrey said, ‘You could fail at what you don’t want. So you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.’ I also had very close friends back home who supported me and gave encouragement every step of the way.”

Print still dominates web
A new study by a University of Texas at Austin professor shows that despite the efforts of most of the nation’s largest daily newspapers to “go digital” over the past decade, readership and revenue continue to be far stronger for those publications’ print versions versus their web efforts.

Hsiang Iris Chyi, Ph.D., an associate professor at UT Austin’s school of journalism, along with doctoral student Ori Tenenboim recently published their study of 51 U.S. daily newspapers with circulation above 120,000. What they found is that while print readership has continued to decline, it is still by far the more dominant generator of readership and revenue for those newspapers. Perhaps more surprising is that the print versions of these newspapers also dominate readership across all age groups — even “Millennials,” ages 18-24. Among that age group, print readership was 19.9 percent versus 7.8 percent for those news organizations.

“Despite all the efforts to make digital work, the business prospect of newspapers’ online editions remains underwhelming. In terms of advertising revenue, analysts estimated that it would take several dozen or even more online readers to substitute for the loss of a single reader of the print edition,” Chyi and Tenenboim wrote. “In reality, U.S. newspapers’ print advertising revenue dropped from $22.8 billion to $16.4 billion from 2010 to 2014; digital ad revenue increased from $3 billion to $3.5 billion in the same period. Despite substantial declines on the print side — the dead-tree edition remains the cash cow, generating 82 percent of total ad revenue.”

While print readership for these newspapers went from 42.4 percent of their markets to 28.8 percent from 2007 to 2015 — a precipitous decline to be sure — during that same time from the average reach of those newspapers’ websites within their markets barely grew, from 9.8 percent to 10 percent. Despite daily print journalism’s decline, their print versions still reach almost three times the readers as do their online efforts.

“It’s totally unsurprising that print readership has been shrinking, but it is extremely surprising that in-market online readership hasn’t been growing,” Chyi said in an article about her research published in MediaLife Magazine.

If all of that isn’t shocking enough for the dailies that have gone “all in” on the web, Chyi’s study actually found more than half of the newspaper websites studied actually saw declines from 2011 to 2015.
Chyi concluded the trends she found may have some newspaper publishers rethinking their digital strategies.

Slow News Day?
I have to admit to being a bit slow on the uptake here, but apparently Alabama Media Group launched its own comedy video channel late last year called “Slow News Day.”

The YouTube channel appears to be mostly a series of video comedy vignettes. Video producer Adam Schwartz appears in many of them, and while they poke fun at national news and trends, some satire of Alabama politics makes its way into the mix.

I tried writing Schwartz to find out more about the channel, but got no response. But it appears al.com is firmly in the comedy business now.