Television talk shows: a most unhappy medium

Mike Royko

April 17, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

They were rather bold personal questions coming from such a proper-looking young woman.

Did I have a fetish about wearing leather? And if so, did these leather garments excite me? Or maybe I had a foot fetish? TC should call her and we could chat about it.

In truth, she wasn't talking directly to me. She was on my TV set. So she was talking to all of us who happened to be watching, inviting us to share our kinkiness with her.

But that's part of the miracle of television. One moment, I was watching tons of water flooding Chicago's downtown. The next moment, a total stranger was asking me to phone her if I lust for toes.

She said her name was Jenny Jones. That didn't ring a bell, so I asked around and was told that she is hostess of a talk show that originates in Chicago.

Well, that explained it. The talk-show field is getting crowded. There's Oprah, Geraldo, Phil and Joan, all competing for the nation's weirdos.

So someone like this Jenny Jones is at a disadvantage. For one thing, many of the best weirdos have been picked over by Oprah, Phil, Geraldo and Joan.

And those who are still available would probably prefer to tell veteran kinksters like Oprah or Geraldo why they must jog naked through brambles or bark like a loon on its honeymoon.

Which explains why Ms. Jones, who is just getting started, must go on the air and ask us to call her if playing "this little piggy went to market" turns us on.

Since I am partial to the underdog (could that be some sort of fetish?), I decided to do what I could to help Ms. Jones in her fetish search.

A call to her publicist brought the disappointing news that only 25 kinkies had responded to Ms. Jones' televised plea. That isn't much in a metropolitan area of 7 million. Why, on a summer day, you can see more than 25 two-legged oddities during a five-minute downtown walk.

However, the publicist said the fetish search isn't limited to those who want to romance a foot.

As she put it: "It could be anything from feet to smelly socks to straw hats or something kinky."

The old straw hat fetish. It happens that I have a straw hat. But I only wear it when I sit in the yard on a warm day. So I doubt if Ms. Jones would want to chat about how I have this fetish about protecting my noggin from the dangerous rays of the sun.

Ah, but what if I wore the straw hat and nothing else but smelly socks while sitting in my back yard? That's something to think about, and I'm sure the neighbors would give it considerable thought.

We also asked the publicist how Ms. Jones goes about deciding which fetishes to feature on a show. Let's say you have someone whose nostrils quiver with passion at the thought of a smelly sock, and someone else who can make love only while wearing his straw hat, and someone else who swoons at the opportunity to dab a toe with red polish? On a scale of 1 to 10, who gets the nod for their moment of fame? Or do you put them together as a panel, smelly socks flying, leather undies sweating, toes wiggling, straw hat quivering.

"That's up to the producers," the publicist said. "That's their job."

What a strange job. Think about it. You raise a child, scrimp and save, put him through college, and he gets a job in television. Then he calls home and you ask: "How are you doing?"

"I am producing a TV talk show."

"What kind?"

"Well, this week I'm interviewing people who are aroused by sniffing smelly socks."

"Ah. Well, I'll tell your mom, and I'm sure she'll be as proud as I am."

And it makes you wonder: Who is weirder, the person who sniffs the socks or the person who interviews the person who sniffs the socks?

Or, for that matter, the person who writes about the person who interviews the person who sniffs the socks?

Well, I've gone this far, so there is no turning back. So if you are feeling weird and would like to share it with Ms. Jones and her audience, there is still time. The show won't be taped until next week. That means you can put on a pair of socks today and wear them until they are ripe. You could be the star of the show. The number to call is (312) 836-9458. Tell them Mike sent you.

This could be your chance to become part of a new golden age of Chicago television.

It's true. When NBC decided to produce this show in Chicago, Al Jerome, president of the NBC television stations, said:

"Chicago once had a significant role in the development of national television programming. This is a first step toward returning to what were called 'The Golden Years.' "

That's really exciting, because I remember those early "Golden Years" -- "The Dave Garroway Show," "Studs' Place" and, of course, "Kukla, Fran and Ollie."

But I don't remember, who was it in those "Golden Years" who first brought us smelly socks? Was it Kukla, Fran or Ollie?

The memory grows dim.

And so does the TV screen.

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