National TV talk show wants me, but worthiness may be debatable

ROGER SIMON

September 01, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

The message said: "Greg Turner. Producer of national TV talk show. Wants to have you on the show. Please call back."

Carol Chase had taken the message. "He didn't say which national TV talk show," she said. "So don't get all excited and start running around and talking out loud to the walls like you do."

I started running around and talking out loud to the walls like I do.

Letterman, I said. Gotta be Letterman. Could be Costas, but I'll bet Letterman. Or Oprah. Yeah, that's it. Oprah.

"Oprah?" Carol Chase said. "Why would Oprah have you on? She does themes, honey. What would your theme be?"

I thought about that. Newspaper Columnists Who Have Repeatedly Dated Michelle Pfeiffer? I said.

"Never happen, Cap'n," Carol Chase said. "No way, Jose."

Carol Chase really talks like that. She says if I am allowed to write the way I write, she gets to talk any way she wants.

OK, so it's not Oprah, I said. So how about Donahue?

"Get outta here," Carol Chase said.

Joan Rivers? Arsenio Hall? Ronald Reagan Jr.?

"Nuh-uh," she said.

"Maury Povich? Montel Williams? Regis and Kathy Lee?"

"Keep dreamin'," she said.

Sally Jessye Raphael? Geraldo? "Sonya Live"? "Into the Night"?

"Not there yet," she said.

"Today"? "Good Morning America"? "This Morning"? "Cross Fire"? "Firing Line"? "Hard Copy"? "A Current Affair"? "Inside Edition"? "E.D.J."? "Entertainment Tonight"? "The Love Connection"? "The Home Shopping Club"?

"I think that's all of them," Carol Chase said.

"But all of those shows would tell you their names. What you have is a national TV talk show that doesn't want to leave its name.

So I called Greg Turner back. How bad could it be? Even if it was that new show, "Studs," at least I was qualified.

"I saw a column of yours in the Los Angeles Times," Greg Turner said.

What national TV talk show are you with? I asked.

"It was the column you wrote on Pee-wee Herman," he said.

Does this show have a name? I asked.

"We'd like you to come on the show and discuss it," he said.

Can you give me the initials of the show? Or a clue? Sounds like?

"Or you could come on and discuss any other subject of your choosing," he said.

I can have this call traced, I said.

"OK, the name of the show," Turner said. "This is the 'New Morton Downey Jr. Show.' "

My blood ran cold. I felt the same way the village police inspector always feels when they tell him Dracula's tomb has been found broken into and empty.

A few years ago, Morton Downey Jr. was the hottest talk show host in America in terms of the attention he was getting.

Downey liked to have people come on the show so he could scream at them. Then they would scream back at him. Then the audience would scream at them for screaming at him. And so on. There was a lot of screaming.

I watched a number of his shows because TV Guide asked me to write an article about the Downey "phenomenon." On the first show I watched, Downey went up to one of his guests, lifted her arm, stuck his nose into her armpit and sniffed deeply.

"Not bad," he said to the camera with a grin.

Downey hated liberals (generally defined as anyone who believed in two or more of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution) and called them "Pablum pukers," "scumbuckets" and "a rat's snotball."

For each show, he assembled an audience with the IQ of a salad bar, whose job it was to scream out their support for him. If you attacked Downey or the audience -- and numerous critics did -- you were attacking the average American. You were elitist and arrogant, while Downey was a popular defender of mainstream values.

Downey got a lot of publicity at first, but then, predictably, interest in the show began to wane. In April 1989 he claimed he was attacked in an airport washroom by skinheads who painted a swastika on his face and cut off his hair. Police investigators doubted the story. And many people believed it was a publicity stunt designed to renew flagging interest in the show.

Stations canceled him. And finally the show went off the air. Now, Downey is trying again.

Who is going to syndicate this new show? I asked Turner.

"I don't know yet," Turner said. "But this show is going to be different than the old show, so you don't have to worry."

How different?

"Downey won't be in your face," Turner said. "It will be a half-hour live show. No editing. Mort is basically the moderator between two guests who debate. So you don't have to worry that he is going to attack you. He won't blow smoke in anybody's face and he won't call anybody a scumbag."

I wanted to ask if he was going to sniff any more armpits, but it was a long distance call and I wanted to keep it short.

"Here's the deal," Turner said. "You pick any topic you want. Pee-wee Herman, anything, as long as it leads to lively debate. Something the audience can feed off of. Then you pick a person to debate you. We fly you both to Los Angeles. We pay for the plane, the hotel, we get you to and from the studio, the whole thing."

I thought about it. A free trip to Los Angeles was nothing to sneeze at. After all, right now I am trapped in the body of a surfer, but have no place to surf.

And I thought it might make a good stunt. I could invite my readers to write and tell me why they'd like to go on national TV and debate me. Then I could pick the best reply and we'd both fly off to Los Angeles for free. Maybe Michelle Pfeiffer would have us over for spritzers. Stranger things have happened in Hollywood.

"All you need to find is someone who could really make the sparks fly," Turner said. "Someone who opposes you. Someone who believes you're really, really wrong about everything. Someone who could go on TV and make sense."

I thought about it and thought about it and then told Turner to forget it.

Sure, I could find someone around here who opposes me. Sure, I could find someone who believes I'm really, really wrong about everything.

But someone who thinks that way and also makes sense?

Never happen, Cap'n. No way, Jose.

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