12:59 pm
Thu July 15, 2004

A Road Not Travelled

Two roads diverged in a T.V. studio...

Wilmington NC – [Click the Listen button to hear Paul's commentary.]

I?m sure all of us look back on our lives and wonder? ? had I taken that opportunity, or listened to that advice ? where might that road have led? What would I be today? What would I be doing today?

I think about this every so often when I happen upon a talk show on television. And I look at the host. Ah, folks, that could have been me. As Marlon Brando said so well, I could have been a contender.

Here?s how it happened.

I was touring for one of my books and after a morning talk show in Baltimore, the producer took me aside. The host was taking another job. Immediately. I seemed pretty comfortable on air. How about it?

Being recently divorced, rootless, and having no problem working on my libido but a lot of trouble concentrating on writing, I said why not? I streaked back to New York, scooped up my clothes and reported for duty.

A few days later, the red light on the camera flashed on and away I went. ?Hi, today we have a great show for you: some fabulous yogurt recipes, an interview with one of the President?s men with an insider look at the White House, I?ll show you how cucumber slices can melt those bags from under your eyes, and I?ll talk with a priest, rabbi and minister talk about their sex ? or (heh-heh)non-sex lives?and much, much, more. Stay tuned. This is the Morning Show with your host, Paul Wilkes??

It was so easy. There I was, with make up taking 10 years off my smiling puss, talking to sometimes interesting guests, in a studio with people all concentrating on making what I was doing work well. It was hard to imagine that anyone else was actually tuned in. Was I actually funny? Was I making any sense? It didn?t matter. Next commercial break, next guest. Moving right along. This was great. Writing. Shmiting. I loved it.

Women waited in the station?s lobby for my autograph, booking agents cooed to me over the phone, the producer scurried about? ?coffee?? ?touch up your forehead a bit?? And then it actually happened. A talent scout was sitting in my dressing room.

?You know, you could do this,? He said it in a tone that implied I was receiving a divine calling. I flushed. Naw. He popped in a tape of the show??Look how you handled this guest, look at this close-up, you have face anybody could trust?you could...you could go the distance.?

I had never actually seen the show. Never seen this person who was in thousands of homes every morning. He was empathetic, He was combatative?he was well?he was whatever the moment seemed to call for? His smile seemed genuine enough, his furrowed brow looked concerned enough?but only I knew that the man was a total fraud.

Television is certainly show biz. But it wasn?t hard to forecast that this guy would get more and more glib as the years went on. Until he wouldn?t know an honest emotion, if one hit him right in that smiling puss. And I knew if I had to go through life looking at that too-friendly face, hearing that too unctuous voice, I would hate myself beyond reckoning.

And so there went my television talk show career. A fork in the road that I didn?t take.

Thank goodness.