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Talked to Death

Talked to Death (Tues. (25); 10:15-11:15 p.m.; HBO) Taped in various locations by Parco Prods. Producer, John Parsons Peditto; co-producers, Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Diane Rosenberg; executive producer for America Undercover, Sheila Nevins; director, Eames Yates; directors of photography, Gregory Andracks and Gary Nardilla; editor, David Greenwald; sound, Duncan Forbes, Roger Phoenix, David Pilskin, Bryan Murphy; music, Mark Barasch. With: Phil Donahue, Morton Downey Jr., Maury Povich, Geraldo Rivera. A year or so ago, "Talked to Death" would have been a fascinating look at the sordid tales of talk television, how everyone from Danny Bonaduce to Geraldo Rivera to Richard Bey was wallowing in tantalizing private lives with little concern for anything but ratings. That's old news. This hour-long docu needed its final chapter --- the 1995 murder of Scott Amedure following his appearance on "Jenny Jones" --- to be a starting point. That incident has rewritten the rules for talk television in the '90's. The fascinating world of daytime talk gets the once-over in "Talked to Death," a chronicle of isolated incidents that point to the problems of producing talkers and a behind-the-scenes glance at "Geraldo." Oddly enough, one of the first outrageous voices of talk, Morton Downey Jr., is the most succinct in explaining the appeal and ambition of so many shows: "We're in this business to make money. To make money we have to get ratings. A lot of times to get ratings we have to make you look stupid, not ourselves. And we will always make you look stupid." So off goes a grandstanding Geraldo Rivera, doing his oft-heard shtick of how bad other hosts are, how other shows' practices are deplorable and how he's out to make his guests' lives better after the show. (A shot of a schedule board loaded with contentious and sexually driven topics contradicts "Geraldo's" higher ground premise, but no matter as his participation seems to have paid off in kid-gloves treatment.) A backstage camera captures a "Geraldo" producer in action: she coaches subjects during a shoot; she shudders when Rivera heads off on a tangential issue that will only confuse the show; she gives two thumbs down at the end of the taping. Bad show, she says, because one participant didn't speak and, most importantly, if we're to believe the hype, there was no closure. Rest of docu focuses on singular incidents that have popped a black eye on talk TV: Behind the scenes manipulating between Povich and Sally Jesse Raphael to nab a guest who cut open her breasts to remove her implants; the impostor who battled with her "sister" on Charles Perez; the Montel Williams seg in which the "surprise" concerning her "old boyfriend" is that her sister is sleeping with the guy she has been seeing for 14 years; and, of course, the famous "secret crush" show in which Amedure hoped John Schmitz would also be gay and interested in a relationship. It all boils down to one truth: an awful lot of people are starving for the attention national television provides and talkshow producers are willing to play along in their quest for 15 minutes of fame no matter how hurtful or shameful that quarter-hour may be. As interesting as each segment is, it never moves beyond a rehash of old news --- there are no updates or even repudiations of any of the accounts and having Charles Perez dodging reporters' questions (was there ever a time he appeared believable?) is hardly the grilling these talkshow hosts deserve. Besides, the Schmitz trial laid out how little Jones seems to know about her guests or their situations --- why doesn't this docu get explanations from the exec producers regarding their actions, booking policies and fudging of the truth? As the final credits show us, most of these players are out of the talk game (Perez, Bey) or suggest they have moved on to acting (Williams) or have seen ratings drop (Jones, Raphael). For some bizarre reason, it notes that Donahue and Downey are retired, as if those moves had a relationship to the recent talk mayhem. Nowhere is there a mention of the friendlier --- or younger-skewing --- confines of Ricki Lake and her failed clones or Rosie O'Donnell or any sort of hint of a change in direction in the talkshow world. They violate "Geraldo's" alleged goal: closure. The quality of the interviewer is the driving force of any good talkshow --- how else do you explain the survivors such as Jerry Springer (who is highly conspicuous by his absence), Rivera in any of his guises or the long-standing champ Oprah Winfrey. There's a team behind each of these stars and that's the only way a talkshow can be dissected. "Talked to Death," as technically well-edited as any doc, doesn't go there. AU: Phil Gallo

With:
With: Phil Donahue, Morton Downey Jr., Maury Povich, Geraldo Rivera.

Talked to Death (Tues. (25); 10:15-11:15 p.m.; HBO) Taped in various locations by Parco Prods. Producer, John Parsons Peditto; co-producers, Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Diane Rosenberg; executive producer for America Undercover, Sheila Nevins; director, Eames Yates; directors of photography, Gregory Andracks and Gary Nardilla; editor, David Greenwald; sound, Duncan Forbes, Roger Phoenix, David Pilskin, Bryan Murphy; music, Mark Barasch. With: Phil Donahue, Morton Downey Jr., Maury Povich, Geraldo Rivera. A year or so ago, “Talked to Death” would have been a fascinating look at the sordid tales of talk television, how everyone from Danny Bonaduce to Geraldo Rivera to Richard Bey was wallowing in tantalizing private lives with little concern for anything but ratings. That’s old news. This hour-long docu needed its final chapter — the 1995 murder of Scott Amedure following his appearance on “Jenny Jones” — to be a starting point. That incident has rewritten the rules for talk television in the ’90’s. The fascinating world of daytime talk gets the once-over in “Talked to Death,” a chronicle of isolated incidents that point to the problems of producing talkers and a behind-the-scenes glance at “Geraldo.” Oddly enough, one of the first outrageous voices of talk, Morton Downey Jr., is the most succinct in explaining the appeal and ambition of so many shows: “We’re in this business to make money. To make money we have to get ratings. A lot of times to get ratings we have to make you look stupid, not ourselves. And we will always make you look stupid.” So off goes a grandstanding Geraldo Rivera, doing his oft-heard shtick of how bad other hosts are, how other shows’ practices are deplorable and how he’s out to make his guests’ lives better after the show. (A shot of a schedule board loaded with contentious and sexually driven topics contradicts “Geraldo’s” higher ground premise, but no matter as his participation seems to have paid off in kid-gloves treatment.) A backstage camera captures a “Geraldo” producer in action: she coaches subjects during a shoot; she shudders when Rivera heads off on a tangential issue that will only confuse the show; she gives two thumbs down at the end of the taping. Bad show, she says, because one participant didn’t speak and, most importantly, if we’re to believe the hype, there was no closure. Rest of docu focuses on singular incidents that have popped a black eye on talk TV: Behind the scenes manipulating between Povich and Sally Jesse Raphael to nab a guest who cut open her breasts to remove her implants; the impostor who battled with her “sister” on Charles Perez; the Montel Williams seg in which the “surprise” concerning her “old boyfriend” is that her sister is sleeping with the guy she has been seeing for 14 years; and, of course, the famous “secret crush” show in which Amedure hoped John Schmitz would also be gay and interested in a relationship. It all boils down to one truth: an awful lot of people are starving for the attention national television provides and talkshow producers are willing to play along in their quest for 15 minutes of fame no matter how hurtful or shameful that quarter-hour may be. As interesting as each segment is, it never moves beyond a rehash of old news — there are no updates or even repudiations of any of the accounts and having Charles Perez dodging reporters’ questions (was there ever a time he appeared believable?) is hardly the grilling these talkshow hosts deserve. Besides, the Schmitz trial laid out how little Jones seems to know about her guests or their situations — why doesn’t this docu get explanations from the exec producers regarding their actions, booking policies and fudging of the truth? As the final credits show us, most of these players are out of the talk game (Perez, Bey) or suggest they have moved on to acting (Williams) or have seen ratings drop (Jones, Raphael). For some bizarre reason, it notes that Donahue and Downey are retired, as if those moves had a relationship to the recent talk mayhem. Nowhere is there a mention of the friendlier — or younger-skewing — confines of Ricki Lake and her failed clones or Rosie O’Donnell or any sort of hint of a change in direction in the talkshow world. They violate “Geraldo’s” alleged goal: closure. The quality of the interviewer is the driving force of any good talkshow — how else do you explain the survivors such as Jerry Springer (who is highly conspicuous by his absence), Rivera in any of his guises or the long-standing champ Oprah Winfrey. There’s a team behind each of these stars and that’s the only way a talkshow can be dissected. “Talked to Death,” as technically well-edited as any doc, doesn’t go there. AU: Phil Gallo

Talked to Death

Tues. (25); 10:15-11:15 p.m.; HBO

Production: Taped in various locations by Parco Prods. Producer, John Parsons Peditto; co-producers, Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Diane Rosenberg; executive producer for America Undercover, Sheila Nevins; director, Eames Yates;

Crew: directors of photography, Gregory Andracks and Gary Nardilla; editor, David Greenwald; sound, Duncan Forbes, Roger Phoenix, David Pilskin, Bryan Murphy; music, Mark Barasch.

Cast: With: Phil Donahue, Morton Downey Jr., Maury Povich, Geraldo Rivera.

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