TV talk-show host Carlos Massa ticks off his best shows: the deformed "elephant boy," the battered wife with punctured eyes, the woman whose hand was eaten by a dog.

But, truly, the pregnant man tops them all."My greatest success," says Massa, a blustery man TV viewers know as "Ratinho," Portuguese for Mouse.

Brazilians are captivated by the bizarre tales that Ratinho dishes out every weeknight, and his success has shaken up the nation's TV market. Viewers are switching away from the world's fourth-largest TV network, Globo, during prime time to catch "Ratinho Livre" ("Mouse Unbound") on the upstart Record network.

Some experts - and Ratinho - say he provides an avenue of appeal for people resigned to daily injustices. Ordinary folks, such as Claudio Conti, have their own take: "Ratinho speaks the language of the common people."

"My wife loves it," said Conti, a television technician. "I watch it, too. It's not just trash."

"Ratinho Livre" is, however, often outrageous.

One top-rated show featured a woman whose jealous husband pierced her eyes with a needle and cut off part of her tongue and ears. Another had a feuding family that began bashing each other on the set. A bemused Ratinho let them fight, then waded in and took a couple of licks himself.

Weird diseases are a favorite theme, a child with 26 tumors in his mouth and the "elephant boy," said to be so deformed that Ratinho showed him only in profile through a screen - to spare the audience from the revulsion and the boy from embarrassment.

Ratinho improvises during tapings, bantering with the audience, brandishing a billy club at the camera or urging a thrashing for a corrupt politician. The audience cheers and whistles.

Ratinho says his shtick is unlike standard talk-show fare, even the more flamboyant ones in the United States. "This is a very Brazilian show," Ratinho said in a telephone interview from his studio in Sao Paulo.

"Ratinho Livre" arises out of a need by poor Brazilians unable to get a fair shake from the system to air their grievances and maybe even get results, the host maintains.

"It won't do much good for us to take a sick child to the hospital," Ratinho explained. "I put on the parents who went to 20 hospitals and were turned away. That might get something done."

And why do people such as the man who claims his oversized belly conceals a baby appear on the show?

"He had some serious psychological problems," Ratinho conceded. "But we're taking care of his treatment."

And the woman whose hand was chewed off by a German shepherd? She went on the show to accuse her mother-in-law of siccing the dog on her. Her mother-in-law's lawyer appeared on the show to deny it.