NY Mirror

TV appearances are my crack cocaine—point a camera and I'll sparkle—but I've been craving a return to more reliable television gigs, particularly the kind that actually send some coinage afterward. I'll still do absolutely anything, mind you, but I'm a little weary of the piecemeal jobs, the ones that bump your scheduled segment because there's a late-breaking story about a seven-year-old midwife. (That actually happened to me once, and I still want to take that freakin' kid and . . . no, she's a doll.)

So for years I've been pitching my wares to the big guys by doing more pilots than a horny flight attendant. I've auditioned, begged, prostituted, and performed a soft-shoe routine on my knees. As you can imagine, that can be even more dispiriting than the piecemeal lifestyle.

My sad saga? Well, about four years ago I shot my very first pilot—a house party kind of show hosted by a wan model who asked the guests for the meaning of life before cutting to various card tricks and music videos. I was there to spice things up by reciting blind items to a pretend socialite who'd feign drunkenness and keel over when I whispered the answers in her ear. She wasn't picked up. Neither was the pilot.

Then a lovebug over at AL ROKER's production company decided I was the shit and pitched a show with me leading a sort of titillating yet civilized dinner party conversation. Alas, at the same time, another channel picked up a show with JON FAVREAU leading a sort of titillating yet civilized etc., etc. My hopes for a regular meal ticket were suddenly flushed into the Gowanus. (And it turned out neither of those channels was exactly begging for me anyway.)

But five minutes later some hope nouveau came ringin' on my wind chimes. Al Roker himself—a genuinely nice guy—had me and IFC's ALISON BAILES join him in a pilot for a movie show, a sort of cinephile's E.T. as hosted by the Mod Squad. Having just met, we had to summon more instant chemistry than a LIONEL RICHIEtour band, but the world failed to reward us for it. I was crushed that the show wasn't picked up, even as I ran around crowing, "I worked with Al Roker!"

But I wasn't ready for the glue factory just yet. I dusted off and auditioned for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, finding the idea for the show such a stereotype that I simply had to be part of it. Gay TV is where I belonged—or so I tragically thought as I practiced my carefully tousled hair and dangerous wrists. At the audition, we were shown a video of a straight person who supposedly needed a makeover, complete with his friends' rudely dismissive comments. So when it came time for me to impress the producers, I came on like gay gangbusters, screeching, "That guy needs more work than Asbury Park! What a hideous, orange-alert mess!" I bombed bigger than a suicidal terrorist, and I never even got to backtrack, since one of the other auditioners in my group dominated the whole session with pre-rehearsed, windy speeches and boring platitudes. He hadn't listened when they said they were looking for team players. I hadn't listened when they described the show as "Extreme Makeover with heart." Both of us were sent back to the Meat Rack.

But there were other op'nin's and other shows, and next time I would surely try to listen a little. I seized the offer to meet a top tube exec and truly heard him when he assured me, "Doing this channel without you would be like MTV without MADONNA." (I.e., you're really old but indispensable.) Well, he's not in the same position there anymore, and now I guess they are doing the channel without me (though, interestingly, MTV still uses Madonna).


'HO SPRINGS ETERNAL

I was ready to shoot my agent, but I was suddenly thrown a brand-new chance at superficial wholeness. A producer I'd once worked with wanted me to co-host a showbiz-related program he was excitedly winding his arm to pitch. It was more than a pitch, actually—this was the surest bet since TORI SPELLING auditioned for her father. See, he had already schmoozed the intended channel's development guy, so we had the kind of in that people sell their fetuses for. And we had an actual meeting set up! Reeking of gift-bag scents, we swaggered into the big man's sanctum, determined to play tough and not sign any old contract on the spot. But as it turned out, devastation was on the menu once again, with stale croutons. In fact, we deflated like fake titties in a car accident when we noticed that Mr. Man was avoiding any mention whatsoever of our proposed show, going on instead about his messy personal problems! WTF? Either he was ingeniously testing our chat skills or he was the most self-absorbed little kook in Christendom. A possible third scenario was that we sucked big-time, as witnessed by the fact that after the meeting he never returned my producer friend's calls, even to say, "Thanks for the therapy"! I was back to doing Canadian public-access satellite Internet dinner theater!

Stumbling back onto my feet, I did a fun pilot for a RICHARD BELZER–hosted show about conspiracies, which had me debating with JOHNNY ROTTEN and G. GORDON LIDDY about whether or not Princess Di was murdered. It aired and I even got paid, but somehow—everybody now—the series wasn't picked up. (Killed by paparazzi or by the royal family?) Regrouping, I did a satirical segment for a Smoking Gun TV special, which ran and got a good review from the Post's LINDA STASI. Again, I actually got some dough, and what's more, Smoking Gun TV was renewed as a series. But I was replaced by bobble-head dolls! I am not shitting you! I now hate them more than that freakin' seven-year-old!


I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME WHORE

But just as the gun was edging toward my ownmouth, that thing called hope repositioned its li'l head through my half-opened door. A high-level producer decided to assemble a syndicated talk show for women starring gay men—sort of The View meets Queer Eye. Well, The View didn't want me (except maybe as a prospective husband), and Queer Eye had already shown me the window, but this little baby craved me, with fringe on. Here was my chance to finally cash in on the Latin boom, I mean gay boom, that had taken over every industry believer who'd drunk the pink Kool-Aid. I'd been a one-man gay boom for years, but now instead of bristling against shrieks of "Tone it down!" I was suddenly trying to keep up with the frantic calls of "Flame it up!"

"Gays are hot right now!" one of the show's creators exclaimed, luring me aboard as I glossed my lips and danced the Bump. The program's premise was that gay men are a lot like women—don't look at me—but a production assistant assured, "Of course, it won't be all mammograms and mascara." Too bad—I'd love to star in a show just about mammograms and mascara. Anyway, we went on to make a pilot, for which we obediently acted as "gay" as possible as we did everything from group-singing a DIANA ROSS hit to somberly discussing children's car safety. It got tons of press, the people were swell, and more importantly, I got paid, but guess what, girl? The show hasn't become any more airborne than ARETHA FRANKLIN (though if you believe in fairies, please applaud and it will live). Suddenly I was thinking of turning straight.

But I canceled the electroshock—I was still in the game, honey. That same producer now wanted to pitch a reality show about my fabulous life to the one channel I actually hadn't bothered yet. This seemed maybe sorta wildly promising—until it turned out they already had enough reality shows, thank you. And so Growing Up Musto stayed as grounded as the dodo bird.

There were other doomed pilots that were less nibbled-on than an OLSEN TWINS breakfast buffet, but finally I hit gaydirt this year when along came a gay game show that actually wanted me! At last, a real job. In a professional setting. Which would make me part of the gay boom. Tons of people craved gigs like this. And I always wanted to be on a game show. I came alive at the run-through. I adored the people. I felt at home. I turned it down.

See, it required being in L.A. more than I'd hoped, and when push came to shove, I nervously stayed put. Could there be anything sadder or more irony-drenched? My life is hell. Still, I'm willing to sparkle again for a camera, any camera. Here I am, world. Anyone want to do a pilot about mammograms and mascara? With bobble heads?


WEB EXTRA

Wait a minute! Here's an item on someone who actually has a TV show—the ubiquitous and willing PARIS HILTON. I hear she'll be topless on the cover of the next Vanity Fair, but she'll be tastefully covering her tatas with her hands. Thank God—no one wants to see those again.


musto@villagevoice.com

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