Talk Shows: Sleaze Or Journalism?
Talk shows. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. they pollute the airwaves with such subjects as "I'm Sleeping With Your Cousin's Neighbor's Cat"... well actually I just made that up, but I wouldn't be surprised if I saw it on the air one of these days. "Oh come now Mr. Newman, you're being too hard on these shows," you might be saying. Are they nothing but sleaze and tabloid TV or do they have some redeeming qualities to them? Well, one week last month I decided to find out, and set my VCR to tape one show each day of the week. Some shows listed what the subject that day would be, but others were completely random. Here's what I saw.
Monday - Jenny Jones - "My Husband Wants To Bring Another Woman Into Our Marriage"
The Jenny Jones show holds the distinct title of being the only talk show to actually cause someone's death. A couple of years ago, Jenny had a show where a man revealed his secret crush on another man, live on stage. Well, the other man was so humiliated, the next day he murdered the guy who had the crush on him. Needless to say, I wasn't expecting the classiest show on television, but the show that I got from Jenny was even beyond what I had expected.
The show began with a couple named Jennifer and Jose. Jose was having an affair with Amber, and ended up actually asking Jennifer if Amber could move in with them. The amazing thing is that Jennifer said yes. Because the apartment was so small, all three of them slept in the same bed. Supposedly, they weren't all having sex, but when asked, Jose said he would like to sleep with both women, obviously setting a great example for the two kids he and Jennifer have. "Who do I love?" Jose responded when asked that question, "I love both." Great.
Also appearing on the Jenny Jones carnival was Greg and Crystal, who are married with three kids. Greg's mistress, Lisa, was living with them, moved out, but then came back at Crystal's request when she was kicked out of her house. But that's not all... these three had been on the show twice before! To deal with these problems, Jenny Jones brought the "expert" testimony of Dr. Anne-Renee Testa, who basically just told the people that they were screwed up. Phew... what a day. At least the next two shows I watched were a bit better.
Tuesday - Geraldo Rivera - "Homeless Teens"
This show at least had the redeeming quality of trying to get runaway teens off of the streets, but even this show was tainted with talk show sleaze. After Geraldo showed an elderly woman video footage from the streets of her teenage drug-using granddaughter, April, who she hadn't seen in ten years, he asks her "She's living on the street, she's a prostitute, she's shooting methamphetamine, your reaction Grandma?" Also, when April is brought in for a joyous reunion, Geraldo asks questions like, "When was the last time you shot up with speed?" "When was the last trick you turned?" and, "Grandma, you don't trust her, do you?"
The therapists Geraldo brought in did seem genuinely concerned, and one made a good point when he said, "These kids need a whole lot more than a talk show reunion; I understand that, we understand that." Amen, brother.
Wednesday - Ricki Lake - "Feuding Sisters"
The increasingly-plump Ricki Lake devoted her hour on Wednesday to patching up the relationships of sisters whose sibling rivalry had gotten out of hand. First, they came out on stage and generally complained about how mean the other sister was. Then Ricki sent them all off to a "slumber party" with Dr. Linda Veto, a family therapist, where (it's a miracle!) they tearfully made up. Ricki even interrupted the estrogen-fest to bring them some pizzas, which she then promptly ate herself (no, just kidding). At the end, they all promised to put the past behind them, and as one of the sisters said to Ricki, "Y'all really made it happen."
All in all, like the Geraldo Rivera show, Ricki Lake did actually address a real problem and tried to solve it, although one wonders if it was just a quick fix that will disappear once the sisters are away from the cameras. In any case, it sure had more integrity than what came next.
Thursday - Jerry Springer - "It's Not Over Yet"
This was the show I'd been looking forward to all week. Jerry Springer, who was the mayor of Cincinnati until he bounced a check to a prostitute, doesn't list in advance what the subjects of his show are going to be, but from the Internet I saw that last week his shows covered topics such as "I'm Pregnant & I Have To Strip," and "I Love Two Women!" I was trembling with anticipation for Thursday's show, and Jerry sure didn't disappoint me, with a show about "people [who] want to have a monogamous relationship, but a third party is tempting them." After the dust cleared, I counted a whopping 94 words that they had to bleep out, plus two fights.
One of the highlights of this show was after Shanine, a lesbian, revealed that she cheated on Khadijah, her girlfriend, with Kenny, Khadijah's brother's best friend (got all that?). When Khadijah's brother came on stage, the first thing he said to his sister was "I don't like the fact that you gay." Obviously a loving brother.
Later in the show, they brought out Vicki, who is five months pregnant, whose boyfriend Jeff is cheating on her with 16-year old Crystal. When Crystal comes on and explains that she thought Vicki and Jeff had broken up, Vicki denies it in her face, saying "Was you there? . . . Was you there? Bitch!" and then punches Crystal in the face, to a standing ovation by the crowd. Crystal runs off the stage after being beaten up, only to be led back to the stage and left there not even 30 seconds later! This would prove to be trouble, as Vicki's sister Charity comes on, immediately runs to Crystal and punches her again, saying "You a nasty-ass ho!" The funniest thing of all though is when Jeff comes out onto the stage. The crowd actually laughs at him because he does not look like somebody that anyone should be fighting over.
Oh boy. After this circus I needed a little escape from reality, a little fun. Luckily on Friday, Maury Povich provided it for me.
Friday - Maury Povich - "Oz Munchkin Reunion"
Now they're not "munchkins," they prefer to be called "little people," and they're the last living characters from The Wizard of Oz. Not much in the way of bleeped-out words went on in this show, as they basically just reminisced about the movie. I'm tellin' ya though, you haven't truly lived until you've seen six over-70 year old little people sing "We're Off To See The Wizard." The show was perfectly clean, albeit a little freaky. Maybe I'm just munchkinphobic or something. They ended the show and my five-hour talk show ordeal with a guest appearance from the new Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz Broadway show, and then went off down the yellow brick road.
So what's the verdict, Newman? Well, sometimes we all need a little reminder that, although our lives might be a little dull, at least we're not as messed up as the people on those talk shows. So watch the shows, buy your lottery tickets, and tell Darlene from the Psychic Friends Network that I say hi; Politically Incorrect's coming on soon.
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