Tommy Habeeb calls it "dramatic relationship television." Anyone who has seen his work on the syndicated series Cheaters (he's the tall, wavy-haired gent in the ill-fitting black leather jacket) might find some other adjectives to describe the reality genre.
Whatever it's called, definitions can't explain the most glaring question regarding Habeeb's latest television effort, STAG: A Test of Love at 10:30 p.m. Saturdays on WADL-TV (Channel 38): Why would any man in his right mind allow his bachelor party to be videotaped — especially so his fiancee can view the highlights the next day?
"It's funny, because one of the adages men have always lived by is, 'You never bring cameras to a stag party,'" says Habeeb, host and producer of the series, in Detroit recently to hype the arrival of his four-year-old project in our market. "That's what made this so interesting to do.
"I have no idea why these guys sign up, and they all do it for different reasons," he continues. "There are so many Cheaters fans, that's always a big draw. There's the idea of their 15 minutes of fame, and they're thinking, 'Hey, I'm not actually going to do anything.' And many of the fiancees call and want us to document it. They want to see what their man is doing. So many people these days know more about their car than they do about the guy or girl they're marrying."
STAG is essentially pre-Cheaters: the introduction of female flesh and whipped cream to the last-night-of-freedom proceedings always makes for a lively confrontation with the bride-to-be the next day. And while the show often seems more like an infomercial for its "Too Hot for TV" version being peddled on DVD, it does have the lurid voyeuristic appeal that has made Cheaters an outrageous syndicated favorite.
Habeeb, who often shares the results of his STAG clashes on the daytime Maury show, says he'll soon be looking to recruit engaged couples from the Detroit area. (Watch the show or visit the website, stagonline.com, for details.)
"We're excited to be in Detroit," he says. "Detroit's always been a great market for Cheaters, and I'm sure STAG will do very well here. As I've gone around the city, even at the airport, so many people have come up and said, 'You're the Cheaters guy!' And I go, 'Yeah, that's me.' And everybody's got a story."
The Cheaters guy: How's that for a legacy? "I'll tell you, I've been an actor for about 30 years," Habeeb says. "I did shows like WKRP in Cincinnati and one Lou Grant, but nobody really cares. All they remember is Cheaters.
"I was in L.A. about three weeks ago and I ran into (notorious hip-hop mogul) Suge Knight. He's priceless. He goes, 'Tommy, you just don't understand. You got me through prison. All we watched was Cheaters.'"
Channel 4 is 'Marla'-vous: A shift of seismic proportions took place in local TV last week, and I'll betcha half a nickel you've heard little if anything about it. Marla Drutz, the programming mastermind who has directed the on-air fortunes of WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) for nearly two decades, has switched signals to become vice president and general manager of rival NBC affiliate WDIV-TV (Channel 4).
In Detroit TV terms, this is akin to Billy Bonds in his prime deciding to jump anchor chairs and unseat Mort Crim. Understand, there is no one in this video biz whom I hold in higher esteem than Marla Drutz. She's simply the best at what she does, and has been since way back in the last century. She is the reason The Oprah Winfrey Show landed, and continues to air, on Channel 7, helping boost the station's early newscasts to lofty ratings for years. She's responsible for Martha, Entertainment Tonight and Live With Regis and Whoever finding permanent homes on WXYZ. There's not a program syndicator in America who doesn't have her number on speed dial.
But for the longest time I suspected the only letters of the alphabet she knew by heart were the last four. Drutz lived, breathed and exalted WXYZ, which is why you could have knocked me over with a dust bunny when I learned she had changed channels. When last we chatted, after she had been passed over for the vacant GM job at Channel 7 in favor of Bob Silva, Drutz said all the right things, but missing out on the top job there had to be a blow to her loyalty.
She could be a valued station manager anywhere in the country, but her husband, Ronnie, is a successful attorney here and she likes the area. She likes us. Now watch and see which station lands the big syndicated prize this fall, the daytime version of Deal or No Deal. Watch Channel 4's renewed dedication to local programming as Drutz tries to overthrow the kingdom she helped to build. The next year or so should be fascinating around here.Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org