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My Name's Nachman--and I Need Help

With all the hubbub surrounding the recent debuts of news/talk programs starring Phil Donahue and Connie Chung, has anyone been paying close attention to what's going on on Jerry Nachman's eponymous new MSNBC show? Sure, a few media critics have weighed in, most centering their observations around Nachman's non-telegenic appearance (he's morbidly obese) or his I'm-just-a-simple-city-editor set (Didn't Drudge try that gimmick already?). But no one seems to have pointed out that the real elephant in the room isn't Nachman. It's his weird penchant for turning every discussion into a leering disquisition on what is apparently his favorite topic, sex.

To give Nachman his due, he comes by his unpretentious persona honestly. Unlike, say, Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, who poses as a tribune of the working class but actually grew up an accountant's son in middle-class Levittown, Nachman really did used to be a newspaper editor. He also wrote editorials for the New York Post and toiled behind the scenes at various local newscasts in New York City. So if he wants to call himself "editor-in-chief" and put himself on TV wearing a rumpled suit and a snap brim hat, who's to say that's out of bounds?

One could quarrel with the decision to install himself in the 7 p.m. time slot, however, and not just because that's prime TV real estate. Seven o'clock used to be the family hour, and Nachman's apparently boundless lasciviousness makes him ill-suited as a lead-in to what, one presumes, MSNBC intends to be an evening of informative, enlightening discussion.

Nachman's show isn't all about sex, but that does seem to be the one topic that raises his energy level above catatonia. Sure, Nachman will discuss the news of the day, but he seems much more pumped to be chatting it up with the star of the nude off-Broadway revue Naked Boys Singing, as he did on his July 23 telecast. The banner panel on that evening also included gay Village Voice columnist Michael Musto (on hand for no discernible reason other than his sexual orientation) and an Australian contortionist who makes his living crooking his genitalia into assorted animal shapes as one half of another naked stage act called Puppetry of the Penis.

There seemed to be no journalistic basis for this booking, and Nachman's questions never rose above the puerile level one might expect from a junior high school student. He asked the genital contortionist if he had consulted with his urologist before taking to the stage, the kind of off-the-wall query one might expect from Larry King on a night when the meds haven't quite kicked in.

To their credit, Musto and the two performers gamely played along with their leering host. They were there, after all, to promote nude theater. But more often than not, Nachman's guests appear befuddled by the curiously smutty turns his interviews take. Take this exchange between Nachman and NBC entertainment reporter Dana Kennedy, who appeared on July 19th to discuss the new season of Sex and the City.

NACHMAN: I'm sorry. I want to go back to this prosthetic breast.



NACHMAN: Well, because you see a lot of real skin in that show. And they're not going to show Cynthia Nixon's real breasts? They are going to try to simulate...

KENNEDY: I believe.

NACHMAN: ... postnatal...

KENNEDY: ... lactating.

NACHMAN: ... lactating breasts?

KENNEDY: I would say so. Now we are getting into Jerry Springer territory, but I believe that's exactly correct.

NACHMAN: Well, I am just trying to plan my weekends.

The implications of that last statement are... well, to call them unsavory wouldn't begin to do them justice.

As bewildered as Kennedy appeared to be by Nachman's admission of a lactation fetish on national TV, her reaction was nothing compared to those of Stephen Colvin and Keith Blanchard, two of the editors behind Maxim, the wildly successful "beer and babes" men's magazine that's been giving Esquire and GQ a run for their money.

Of course, you never would have known that judging from Nachman's line of questioning, which repeatedly steered the conversation to the topic of hardcore porn. "Hustler, Penthouse? Guess what? They've been outdone," Nachman opened the segment, and then, for reasons known only to himself, stayed on that misguided tack over the strenuous objections of his guests. "Playboy outsells you by a million copies a year," he railed, apparently oblivious to the fact that it and Maxim do not compete in the same market segment. "They're naked. Why don't you go the full monty with your book?" Hey, you gotta love anyone who still refers to a magazine as a book, but really this was way off-base. The two Maxim-izers could only sputter about how they aren't actually a porno magazine, but Nachman plowed on nonetheless. It was probably the first time in history two "lad mag" contributors emerged from an interview looking like paragons of taste, restraint, and journalistic integrity.

All shows endure growing pains, of course, and Nachman has a right to flounder for a time like the Frankenfish he's so interested in. But the early returns are not promising. Perhaps on one of these long, lonely weekends, he'll take a break from contemplating Cynthia Nixon's lactating breasts and look at some tapes of himself in action. He may not like what he sees. His name's Nachman, and he's got a problem.


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