NY Mirror

Hello, my name is Michael and I've become such a TV soundbite whore that I can barely summon the energy to speak anymore unless there's a big ol' camera pointed at my face. I won't even talk to my mother because she's almost never accompanied by a crew. And when friends chat me up, I hardly respond except in prepackaged soundbites: "How am I? Well, I'm fine, but not as thriving as PARIS HILTON, who comes alive on a red carpet, which in turn comes alive with her on it! Yes, she's famous for doing nothing, but she's managed to parlay that 'it girl' notoriety into something more substantial—if you call a reality show substantial, that is. Anyway, how are you, doll?"

Not long ago—if I can get human again—I told you what a soundbite whore must do in order to become cable omnipresent (La Dolce Musto, July 18, 2003): Speak concisely and pithily, don't pause, and make sure to incorporate the question into the answer. ("JACKIE CHAN is over because . . . ") Oh, and—like an aging chorus girl on the verge of extinction—you must stay perky the entire friggin' hour they're interviewing you because otherwise, the one bite they use might be the one where you come off like Debbie Downer, and that would be death. To keep viewers locked in, cable channels strain to be continually lively, zingy, and full of natural enthusiasm, so bring on the meds, flash those molars, and keep your pupils dilated, kid! (But be mildly sardonic and, most of all, be yourself.)

Well, now that you're ready to sparkle till your head explodes, I can tell you—as pithily as possible—what you shouldn't do in your quest for pop-culture trash dominance.

illustration: Matthew Martin

1. Don't ask for money. I tell you this for one simple reason: They won't pay! You're not really a whore, it turns out, you're a slutty volunteer, serving complimentary love bites instead of $10 toothy blowjobs. Once, a producer did amazingly offer me a few bucks for an interview and I was thrilled to the point of paralysis. But it took me a full year to get the dough—and even longer to get over the arctic chill I felt from that channel afterward.

2. Don't count on any special star privileges. After doing dozens of shows for a certain channel, I asked them to put me on their highest-rated program and was greeted with polite silence. You don't tell them what to do, honey, not when they've owned your ass since you first agreed to talk about KELLI RIPA for free. Besides, stand-up comedians sitting down are the new navy blue. A journalist with some light shtick will never be as culturally valuable as a professional joke-meister with a setup, a punchline, a rim shot, and a gig at Chuckles to promote. (Fortunately, everyone forgets which shows you were on anyway, so I'm constantly told, "You were great on [highest-rated program]," and naturally I respond, "Right? Thanks!")

3. Don't expect much honesty in live TV, where priorities are constantly shifted and you get constantly shafted. CNBC once booked me to talk about JANET JACKSON's nipple, but they neglected to tell me that I'd be debating a family values harridan who felt her kids were permanently tit-scarred. (At least I got to use my big line five times: "Can I get a word in edgewise, be-yotch?") Worse, a Geraldo producer said I'd lead off a show, but I actually didn't get on until the very end, at which point I got to say one sentence. (But what a sentence! "MARTHA STEWART is very . . . ") And MSNBC booked me, but specified that they'd be spending the rest of the day looking for someone better—I mean more appropriate! Well, I guess that was honest because sure enough, they found that person and offered me a lovely rain check—as opposed to a lovely paycheck. Moral: There's no dignity in the sideshow. Once you've groveled into the fetid swamp of potential blathering heads, you've tacitly agreed to eat caca in exchange for an occasional, unpaid boost to your ego. And baby, it's worth it, oink oink!

4. Don't think your volunteer status makes you an independent agent. One channel recently bristled when I turned up on a vaguely similar show on another channel, so they're vengefully freezing me out! I wonder if the same policy applies to the real charity world. ("Sorry, we can't use you anymore here at God's Love We Deliver. We hear you were sneaking food to the homeless over the weekend!")

5. Don't kill yourself doing unrealistic amounts of research. Overeager producers send over boxes of materials, along with thousands of potential questions, clearly feeling this interview will be the central moment of your adult life. I do some professional skimming and spend the rest of the time mistily remembering my school days, when at least I was studying Homer's Odyssey, not JESSICA SIMPSON's gas problem.

6. But don't throw out the research either. A glance through it—plus a 30-second Web search—can make you an expert on just about anything, from the OLSEN TWINS to the WAYANS BROTHERS. Delete no from your vocabulary. Gladly participate in shows reveling in luxury and other ones centering on degradation. Do anything that advances your fabulous punim. The only time you should decline to speak is when they want you to gushily promote, say, TARA REID's supposed relationship with a gay *NSYNC member. It feels so refreshing to draw the line somewhere. It's called integrity, folks. Shut up.

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