NY Mirror

I'm a huge TV star. Well, was. On local cable. Until I was let go. But still,it was fun, exhilarating, and anxiety-making—a roller coaster that no one could ever take away from me. Except the people that let me go.

In their eyes, I was dazzling, but also a little too this and not enough that, though lousy economics ultimately eclipsed any of my peccadillos. My journey into cable started last May, when I did segments for New York Central, a Metro TV magazine program put together by a top outside production company. By July, the show had doubled to an hour, and suddenly I was co-hosting it with expert talker Lori Kramer, the original hosts axed for being too bland. But a few weeks into this, I learned maybe I wasn't bland enough. The production company's head, whom I'll call Karl—an honorable gent who found himself the middleman between me and Metro—asked me, "Could you downplay your sexuality during your interview segment? Don't make a federal case out of it." I was devastated and whimpered, "Please don't make me become the kind of TV personality I hate. They wouldn't tell someone to act less 'straight' or 'black,' would they?" He respectfully backed down, saying I should do what I pleased.

Two days later, an interview subject brought up sex and I became a little confused and self-conscious. Karl later told me I'd been too tame, reminding, "We want the Michael Musto from The Village Voice." I went right back to taunting guests, outing celebs, and being myself.

Diary of a mad talk-show host: The shit hits.
illustration: Nathan Fox
Diary of a mad talk-show host: The shit hits.

8-2-01 Exuding too much confidence, I wore silk "fashion pajamas" on the show and Karl was dismayed. But the next day, the Metro people told him they loved that outfit! I need to find a middle ground that'll please Metro, Karl, and Michael Musto from The Village Voice.

8-8Karl says Metro loves me and Lori so much they want to syndicate us. Still, I'm driving everyone crazy with doubts. A producer we'll call Lily keeps saying, "Stop thinking."

8-13In September, the show will go back to a half hour. They say it'll work better this way. But it wasa half hour. Stop thinking.

10-10We took our time coming back after 9-11. The show tries its best to reflect the city's new sorrow and hope, but it's still basically fun fluff with dishy, wisecracking hosts. Metro feels Lori and I should be kinder in the daily gossip segment, which is fine—though it makes the liveliest part of the show suddenly awkward. Karl said they didn't like my remarks against Rush Limbaugh; "They feel with what's happening, shouldn't we forgive him for what he's said against gays?" I gagged and responded, "No! Now more than ever is when heshould apologize for stoking hate and dividing people. Besides, this is supposed to be a mouthing-off segment." But they won and a producer agreed, suggesting that I'm "pushing a gay platform." Still, I'm glad when they tell me we're renewed.

11-11Well, now Metro's reconsidering. The recession's hit, the show's expensive, and it can't help that promo efforts have backfired. (The ad campaign was a bust and our big PR party was a disaster, my guest list never having been sent their invites. One of the channel's publicists has been busy pushing to get himself on the show. We start doing our own press.)

11-20Here's something to write about: Someone in Scarsdale got hundreds of names on a petition saying Metro isn't fit viewing for children. They've compiled a tape of all the offending episodes from our show. Great—I can use it as a promo reel. We ran a kiddie segment, but Metro's not happy about that; they're trying to go adult and get booze ads. Now I have to please Karl, Lily, Metro, Absolut, Scarsdale, and Michael Musto from The Village Voice. But I'm still having a blast—no, really.

11-29They renewed us for three months, but there'll be budget cuts. Karl said Metro adores us. Me: "Any problems with our tone?" He: "No!"

12-5Metro wants us to only do three gossip segments a week because, hello, our tone's still too harsh. Scarily, they canceled four other shows today. When pressed, Karl told me that whatever criticism they have of me "is not specific." Less vaguely, he confirmed my 50 percent raise. I'm thrilled, but afraid the check will come with a pink slip.

12-6I wore my kitschy top with the furry seal (and coffee stains). A producer ran out of the control room, saying, "You can't wear that on TV!" She sounded specific. I changed—but the Metro VP had told me she loves my kooky clothes so much she wants to feature them on a promo. Stop thinking.

12-13Hold everything. Karl said that after March, the show will be done in-house at Metro—cheaper, I guess—and, talentwise, it's anything goes. So much for those syndication dreams. "Is there any feedback on me?" I implored, wanting to keep the job. He: "Don't change. You're magical."

12-18Jokes about "muff" and "doggie style" were written into the script. Maybe the writer wasn't told about Scarsdale? Confused am I.

12-19I hear that a commentator on another Metro show got grief for joking that Fashion Week is like "the gay Olympics." Back at New York Central, the "gay platform" argument was invoked again. But isn't our sex reporter on a straightplatform? Her beat is to cover every possible way to fuck guys. (Still, the show's the queerest thing on the air, if you just go by outfits and mannerisms.) There were six layoffs, then we went on to our Christmas party.

1-7-02A lot of old segments are being run again, to save money. It's winter, but we're airing stuff about people in tank tops. Buitoni must have stopped advertising—their posters are no longer part of the set. Still, we're on literally 26 times a day, so Metro must think we've got something.

1-8 Maybe not. They're letting us do five gossip segments a week again, but apparently it's only because they just want us to play out our fate through April 1. I'm stumbling a lot, feeling tentative and uneasy. I saw this happen to the original two hosts. I ask an agent to call Metro and determine my future. She says, "I already know that the show's being totally revamped." I get a different agent.

1-17A joke about me being a "queen" was in the script. Whose platform is this, anyway? I changed the line. Last chance to save my ass. I should be shot. But maybe they want me to sayI'm a queen, just not defend them.

1-21The shit hits. New York Centralwill have all new talent as of April and it will be an hour again! The producers are supportive and say I wasn't too anything—"Wegot fired too."

1-31Now Metro isn'treplacing us; they won't be doing the show at all. I guess they couldn't top it as easily as they thought. They'll apparently just run old fashion shows through eternity. Meanwhile, we're airing segments so ancient that, after one of them, we had to say, "Sadly, the woman you just saw later died in a car accident." We're taping a week's worth of shit a day so they can stockpile and save dough. (Not surprisingly, we won't get our full salaries until six weeks from now.) These best-of shows are generic and dated, a far cry from the earlier, fun stuff. My life's joy is now a daily dread. On the final episode, Lori has to apologize for making fun of Kelsey Grammer's wife's irritable bowel syndrome. What a way to go.

2-12Wrap party. Speech, Michael. "I'm sorry I was too gay." Cheers and laughter. Ha ha ha. Start thinking.


EXTRA ITEM: Party Monster—the all-star movie about club kid leader/killer Michael Alig—has added some more names to its roster. In addition to Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, Dylan McDermott, and Marilyn Manson, the motley cast now includes Mia Kirschner as club owner Peter Gatien's wife and John Stamos as a talk show host. Wackier and wackier.


musto@villagevoice.com

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