"How's your nose?"
"Better, thanks."Since my nose was broken by a flying chair during the notorious skinhead brawl on my nationally syndicated talk show, I've been through that polite exchange a thousand times. In addition to focusing intense attention on my injured proboscis, that segment also attracted the attention of every "expert" in and on the TV industry. The video clip has been broadcast over and over - ad nauseum - by programs pretending to analyze my type of journalism.
The critical response to my program has been everything I am accused of being: overblown, subjective, one-sided. Perhaps it is an overreaction to an undeniable trend. Television is changing dramatically. The people who write about it have singled me out as the industry's future.
In their glory days, ABC, NBC and CBS enjoyed a virtual monopoly on televised news and issues. That started to change in 1977, when David Frost interviewed former President Richard M. Nixon. Mr. Nixon's first big interview since his resignation was broadcast nationally by a group of local stations put together for just that purpose. Millions watched and ABC, NBC and CBS were bent out of shape.
The next and probably fatal blow to the networks' news monopoly was dealt by Al Capone. My special covering the opening of the Chicago mobster's long-hidden vaults didn't come up with much, but just about everybody with a set watched it. That extraordinary success helped spawn a new news industry: the non-network syndicated special.
Since that disappointing date with Scarface Al in 1986, my company has produced sex, the Mafia, kids in crisis, murder with Charles Manson, and satanism with other lesser known devils. They have have been so successful that they've help create a bandwagon bursting at the seams.
The reporter Jack Anderson and others are now successfully producing live syndicated specials. Add to this mix "USA Today, The Television Show," "Unsolved Mysteries," "Tabloid," "Crimes of Violence" and "Crimes of Passion." Then throw in the increasingly hard-edged "Oprah," "Donahue," "Sally Jesse Raphael" and the indomitable "Morton Downey Jr." Remember, these are all programs bringing information to the people about real life topics, and they are done outside network news divisions.
Face it, the old-style network news documentaries had become boring. Yes, they were critical darlings, but the television audience got tired of being lectured down to by reporters sitting up on a journalistic Mount Olympus.
At some point, even the ivory tower elite will recognize that an audience numbering in the tens of millions is not a lunatic fringe nor a gullible cult. It is America, and it is watching.
(Geraldo Rivera is host of the syndicated talk show, "Geraldo.")