At first, the "Perry Mason" script infuriated Geraldo Rivera. The plot: Self-aggrandizing talk show host is murdered for revealing his sexual conquests in a tell-all autobiography.
Just more "Geraldo bashing," Mr. Rivera thought.
"They sent me the script. I said, 'Hell no.' My lawyer suggested we sue them. We were going to get real nasty and aggressive."
What a difference a second reading makes.
The author of the best-selling "Exposing Myself" decided he was overreacting to NBC's "Perry Mason: The Case of the Reckless Romeo," which will be broadcast 8-10 p.m. tonight (WMAR, Channel 2). His brief role as sleazy TV host Ted Mayne is thoroughly convincing.
"There is a satisfying irony to this, a symbolism I can turn to my advantage," Mr. Rivera said in a phone interview. "What's more symbolic of saying 'I'm sorry' than being stabbed in the chest by one of the people I've embarrassed?"
Only Bette Midler, Margaret Trudeau, Liza Minnelli and all the other women Mr. Rivera mentioned can say.
Mr. Rivera, 48, didn't want to overstate his regret.
"There are other things that I've done in my life that I'm far more remorseful for than writing 'Exposing Myself,'" he said. "It's an honest book, and I stand by the book precisely as I wrote it."
But then he turned contrite. He now agrees it was "not gentlemanly" to name the women. He said the book arrived 10 to 20 years prematurely, embarrassed his wife and caused turmoil in his personal life.
Despite the "hugely negative" reception, the book raised $300,000 for his foundation, which will put 22 inner-city students through college.
It didn't hurt him professionally, either. Ratings for his talk show "Geraldo," Monday through Friday, rose 30 percent over last year.
He expects his other syndicated show, "Now It Can Be Told," to be renewed.
Working with Raymond Burr evidently bolstered Mr Rivera's desire to defend himself. The man who opened Al Capone's empty vault pleaded that he misjudged the public's reaction to his book. His reminiscing about working at ABC News was "far more original than who I slept with."