Channeling Mike Douglas’ ghost (what I really want to do for a career)

I wouldn't wear a suit or sing "The Men in My Little Girl's Life," but I think I could cover most of the rest of the bases,

I wouldn’t wear a suit or sing “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life,” but I think I could cover most of the rest of the bases,

Time to cast myself out to the universe at large again. Maybe this time, finally, I won’t be shot down.

As I write this, It’s been nearly four months since I moved home to Connecticut. And, as was the case in California, I have absolutely no job prospects. I’ve just been told for the 350somethingth time, after dangling in the wind for two months (and for the second time this fall), that I’m not worth hiring and I don’t deserve to make a living, don’t deserve to be here. And being jobless and worthless at Christmas — and told by my family not to worry about buying gifts for them — absolutely, unequivocally sucks. And, after three and a half years of this humiliation, it’s beyond embarrassing.

So, not knowing what’s gonna happen — and feeling more and more useless and worthless and desperate as the days stretch on — what’s left of the positive side of me sits here, trying to plot out what the hell to do with my life.

And there’s been one thing that’s been kicking around for a while that seems to make more sense than most. From the outside, it seems outlandish. But I’m just the woman to pull it off.

I’m talking about a talk show. Yes, this TG is serious about taking her talents to TV.

But not just any talk show. I’m talking about the type of talk show I used to watch in my Wonder Years. A show the likes of which hasn’t been seen on the small screen since 1980 — when, in one of the biggest bonehead moves in the history of television, the host was unceremoniously dumped from the show in favor of … drumroll, please … John Davidson.

I’m talking a show inspired by Mike Douglas.

And again, l’m just the one to do it. And if you know someone who works in television and knows how to make this work, well, step right up!

*****

Mike Douglas (who died on his 81st birthday in 2006) was a well-rounded entertainer. He wasn’t as erudite as Dick Cavett or Jack Paar, wasn’t a comedian like Johnny Carson, but he was a singer and — much more importantly — a highly skilled interviewer who knew a lot, covered a lot of ground socially, culturally and politically, and, with his pleasant personality, had a knack for putting most of his guests at ease.

I remember a smattering of the many people who came through his studio in Philadelphia (after originating the show in Cleveland). I remember when John and Yoko co-hosted for a week; when Moe Howard of The Three Stooges, in his final years, came on the show and demonstrated his pie-throwing technique on his wife, who then returned the favor.

I remember Martha Mitchell coming on to talk about Watergate. He had most of Monty Python on to talk up Monty Python and the Holy Grail; having just had the film ruined for me at the time by CBS, which butchered it when it showed it on late-night TV, this was the first time I saw the Black Knight scene.

I saw him bowling on the street outside the studio with Dick Weber and vaguely remember the 3-year-old golfer who appeared on the show (with Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart, no less) and grew up to be Tiger Woods. And the first time I saw Little Richard was on Mike’s show, when I was about 9 or 10 — wild-looking black man with a shock of long hair, a loud white dashiki with dark print, a

Little Richard, as he pretty much looked the first time I saw him, on The Mike Douglas Show.

Little Richard, as he pretty much looked the first time I saw him, on The Mike Douglas Show. Photo via Miriam Linna.

pencil mustache, and eyeliner and pancake makeup. That was a pretty huge eye-opener for a white kid in a good Catholic home in suburbia.

And there were the usual suspects from the talk-show circuit at the time: Liberace, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, George Jessel, David Brenner, Rodney Dangerfield, Steve Allen, Alan King, Kate Smith (especially after she became the hometown Philadelphia Flyers’ good-luck charm with her renditions of “God Bless America”).

And the musical acts? Chuck Berry with John and Yoko, James Brown, The Beach Boys, Kiss,  The Stones, The Jacksons, Buddy Rich, Tom Waits, The Raspberries, Ray Charles, Pearl Bailey, Aretha Franklin, The Blues Magoos, Frank Zappa and Donna Summer, among many. And unlike every single talk show on the air now — all of which marginalize their musical guests and shunt them to the final five minutes — the musical guests were active participants in the show. Can you imagine someone as genius-intelligent as Zappa being relegated to the end of a modern-day talk show?

But Mike also embraced controversial newsmakers. He had Martin Luther King Jr. on the show when MLK was urging black men to stay home and not go to Vietnam. At one time or another, he also interviewed Malcolm X,  James Meredith, Muhammad Ali and Angela Davis. (And think about that in the context of the times — affable, vanilla white talk show host bringing polarizing black figures into the living rooms of mostly mainstream white American audiences.) And throw in Dr. Sam Sheppard, Ralph Nader, Jerry Rubin, Madelyn Murray O’Hair, even Mother Teresa.

And back then, guest hosts stayed for a week and daily guests stayed around for the entire show. There used to be a real reason for sofas on talk-show sets. Mike was one part news show, one part daily parlor session.

I also watched my share of Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore through the ’70s (and I watched when Dinah had David Bowie and Iggy Pop on together, and note Rosemary Clooney was also on the couch at the same time), but for me, it was Mike. He was where it was at as far as diversity and eclecticism. He was light and heavy, reverent and funny, and his show’s diversity and eclecticism are things that have always stuck with me.

I mean, I can’t watch talk shows now. They’re slavishly formulaic, their “product” narrowcasted almost always to target demographics at the exclusion of anyone who doesn’t fit. Almost always, the guests are on solely to promote a movie or a TV show, the conversation is for the most part extremely shallow, and very few of the guests stick around for the whole show. Puzzlingly, comics are very rarely part of the shows now. And, as mentioned, unless it’s a Springsteen or a Neil Young, all the musical guests are stuffed into the final five minutes. They might be the most interesting people on the show on a given night, but they’ve been muzzled — neutralized, neutered, as you will. And as a music fan and recovering music journalist, this pisses me off.

It’s time for something different.

*****

So here’s why I’d make a great talk show hostess:

I have over 20 years of experience interviewing the rich and famous and creative. I was a sportswriter, music writer and general entertainment writer in my past lives. If I showed you a list of the people I interviewed (and I do have actual list that I compiled for resume purposes), you’d accuse me of being a shameless namedropper. But I always did my homework, looked for questions the subjects might not have been asked before, and came prepared for my interviews, and all but a handful of them went well to excellent.

I’m voracious when it comes to current events. In addition to writing and socializing, I constantly use this here laptop to keep up on the news. I would have no trouble sitting down with newsmakers on my show to discuss issues and not just doing fluff.

An eclectic background. Well, having lived in both the male and female worlds is only a fraction of it. I like, or am least aware of, a lot of different things. As I told my mom when I came out to the folks three years ago, now I can talk about shoes and football. Even if I don’t know everything about everything — which I don’t — I could talk intelligently about music, movies, TV, politics, fashion, cars, comedy, sports, history, the struggles both males and females face in the world (body image, depression, etc.) and, of course, social issues (especially living in the vanguard of the last frontier of civil rights).

Plenty of experience and comfort in front of audiences and microphones. I’ve been talking in front of audiences since high school (and no, I’m not talking about playing a sailor in the chorus of South Pacific my senior year) and have been in front of a radio mic on and off for more than 20 years. And that includes before and after coming out. And if anything, coming out and living in the everyday world has made me much more comfortable on a public stage.

There’s no one like me on TV. That’s a given. Look, I realize the obvious angle — the first trans host of a national talk show — would be a great hook at the beginning, but that it wouldn’t last, as the novelty would invariably wear off. And without substance, the facade tarnishes pretty quickly.

But I have substance. I have a way of making people quickly see me as nothing else besides Fran. I can keep up an intelligent conversation. I know how to keep an interview subject engaged. I like (and dislike) a lot of things. I live in the everyday world. And did I tell — she has a lovely personality? I’m both funny as hell and deadly serious. I can keep it light and crack wise, but be empathetic or passionate or angry when things arise. I’m good-looking — striking a blow for big, beautiful women (and I can style). I’m discrete, diplomatic and blunt when I need be. And I’m fearless — after all, what the hell are you gonna find in my closet at this point? That I was born a man?

The TV-watching world is waiting for the return of talk shows with substance, a rebound from the lowest common denominator. A breaking of the cookie cutter. Of episodes that are memorable for something off-color jokes or wardrobe malfunctions and nutjobs jumping up and down on sofas. Where the better musical minds are treated with the same level of accord as performers from other media.

The only thing missing in this puzzle is someone in my life who knows the television world. I know a lot of people, but none who work in TV. If you know someone who knows someone in TV who could make this happen, I’m all eyes and ears.

I know deep down, despite these three and a half years of unemployment and underemployment, that I’m not a total failure — just a misfit toy who hasn’t found her niche yet and needs to get off the island. And what better time than Christmas? I have talents somewhere in there and I want to put them to good use. I can host a show that would’ve made Mike Douglas proud.

Does anyone take chances anymore? Operators are standing by … or at least sitting impatiently …

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