Taking on TV credibility: It’s Fran-tastic

FRAN DRESCHER MAY star on “The Nanny,” but the woman’s no au pair. Let’s get that straight. To anyone’s knowledge, she has never shaken a baby in frustration.

For all we know, Drescher has never even cut a finger.

And that’s the problem.

Drescher got herself into a spot of trouble last week when it was learned that a long-winded tale she had shared with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” on Nov. 4 — a story that involved a cut finger and a trip to the hospital on Halloween night — was a fabrication.

Turns out the accident had actually happened to a friend of Drescher’s, and it hadn’t occurred on Halloween. Oops.

Drescher has achieved a certain popularity on the talkshow circuit. When Leno or Letterman has a hole in his show, the Franmeister can be counted on to jump into the breech and spin an amusing yarn.

Now here is Drescher, unwittingly exposing the latenight gabfests as purveyors of a kind of awkward deception.

But what’s intriguing about this saga was Drescher’s reaction after being called on it. She kind of shrugged and wondered what the big deal was. Yeah, she had made the story up. You got a problem with that? It was funny, wasn’t it? Get outta here, ya knucklehead.

More telling still was the response of “The Tonight Show.” There was no anger at Drescher, no embarrassment. It was just like, hey, we don’t understand the dilemma here. You see a fibber, we see a comedian. Let’s move on to real issues, shall we?

THE LAISSEZ-FAIRE ATTITUDE is easily explained. “The Tonight Show” is now said to be so completely scripted that it harangues its guests to concoct comical, mirthful stories during pre-interviews. And if someone doesn’t have a great story to tell, he or she had better be able to make one up at the drop of a noun.

“Late Show With David Letterman” is said to embody a similar strategy, and daytime chatfests have been known to place actors in the parts of those strange people with the weird problems. And many times guests are schooled in the fine art of on-camera emoting.

Even news programs are not immune from this drive to contrive. Witness the “Dateline NBC” rigged-explosion debacle of a few years back. And so, back to Drescher, a relative pee-wee in the world of contrivance. One can make a strong case that poor, misunderstood Frannie’s just a victim of the system, a mere pawn manipulated by producers who hold a vested interest in making the Hollywood glitterati appear far more interesting than they actually are.

It’s all evidence of the everyday cynicism of a talkshow culture so contemptuous of viewers that it will routinely feed it no-truths, half-truths and embellishment in the guise of entertainment. The idea is to take a page from the Don King Book of Honesty and concoct something convincing.

“Guests are supposed to put on an amusing performance of sorts,” says Larry Winokur, whose PR firm Baker Winokur Ryder handles publicity for several entertainers, including Drescher.

WINOKUR BELIEVES MANY stories shared by guests on “Tonight” are indeed true, but admits, “Sometimes you stretch to be amusing, and at the end of the day, amusing is everything.”

And so little Fran Drescher stands accused of a crime that’s not entirely her fault. She was simply doing what she was supposed to. She needed an anecdote, and, ever the dutiful guest, she manufactured one. “The Tonight Show” keeps getting ratings. Drescher continues to muster national kudos as a dopey dame. The system churns on.

Meanwhile, America is left to contemplate whether it wants its Hollywood heroes to be honest and dull or deceitful and semi-provocative. And of course, that’s really no choice at all. When it comes to innocuous conversation, BS beats PC every time.

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