Pre-show warmup: Coffee and donuts
Times I was late to the show and had to return the next day for a different taping: 1
Quality of the pre-show Q&A: So good, it filled the entirety of this post. I'll post more Montel Saturday.
This is an exciting time to be Montel Williams. This is his last season on the air. I'd always written him off as talk show trash, a compatriot of Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake. My loss. A few days after I started this project, I caught this clip from his appearance on Fox News.
He didn't return after that moment. I love how someone in the editing room keeps shifting away to pictures and footage of Heath Ledger when Montel is talking. Brilliant.
Anyway, after we filed in to see the show, we were treated to a brief Q&A with the man. I, emboldened after watching him act so bravely on Fox, asked him if the show was ending because someone at Fox didn't like him speaking truth to power. I paraphrase his response, addressed not just to me but to the whole audience:
"Many of you probably don't know the incident this gentleman is referring to. I was recently on a news show to promote my new book. My publicist told them before booking my appearance that I would only come on to promote my new book. Before I came on the air they asked if we could talk about Heath Ledger. I said, 'No. I'm here to talk about my new book.' They said ok. Then we go live, and the first thing they do is ask me about Heath Ledger. Well, nobody pushes me around like that. I fight back."
His story didn't even hint at how he brought up Iraq. Maybe he was putting on a self-aggrandizing facade in order to actually be modest, I thought. The next twenty minutes gave me a good impression of the extent of his modesty.
"Some people say this is why I'm ending my show this season," he continued. "That my show's canceled because some bigwig didn't like me refusing to play nice. That's not true. This is the year my contract ends, and I chose not to renew it. I spent seventeen years in service with the military, then seventeen years in service with television. It's time to move on to the next seventeen years. Something big is happening."
People moved on with their questions, but it was obvious his allusion to "something big" piqued a lot of interest.
One person: "Is the next big thing for you movies?"
Montel: "Hollywood would love to have me. They've been trying to get me for seventeen years. But people don't know it; I'm already in movies. You can go to the video store right now and pick up a movie called... it's called..." He paused for a moment. "War, Inc. [editor's note: it's since been released, and wasn't reviewed much or well]. It stars John Cusack. I play the voice of his car's navigational system. I give him advice. It's funny stuff. Next question."
Someone asked, "Montel, what are you reading?"
"I am a voracious reader. I've read sixty-three books in the past three months, all about the same subject." He held his gaze with the crowd. "Poker. I am a fanatic poker player. Next question."
Someone asked, "Montel, what kind of music do you listen to?"
"I love all kinds of music. People say their music tastes are diverse? I really do listen to all kinds of music. In the past few days I've listened to everything from Led Zeppelin, to Dr. Dre, to the Beatles, to DeBussy, to Dr. Dre, to... Led Zeppelin. Everything. I love music. Next question."
Someone asked, "Montel, who do you support for president?"
His tone changed slightly. "I don't want to put you on the spot," he replied, "but this is something that really bugs me. Why are celebrities supposed to tell normal people who to vote for? What gives them the right? Because you know they're not looking out for the interests of normal people like you and me. They're picking a candidate they know, and you'd better believe they're trying to get a job with that candidacy if they win. Next question."
Someone asked, "Montel, would you ever run for office?"
Ding ding! That's the million dollar question.
Montel was quiet for a moment. "You know what this country really needs? There are decisions that are unpopular but need to be made, that are good for the country. I'm talking about the kind of tough decisions that might get one shot. That's the kind of thing that gets somebody assassinated. But that's something I'd be willing to do. What's one life compared to all of America? Next question."
Someone stood and said, "Montel, one thing politicians need to realize is that we want to keep jobs in America."
"This is something else that bugs me. We have all these people who are so concerned about illegal immigrants. 'Oh, illegals take our jobs! Illegals are ruining this country! I tell you what. They're doing what nobody else wants to do in America. I promise you this. I can walk into any high school--into the high school down the street. I can offer to the kids there a big sum-- $20 an hour--to come into an orchard with me and pick oranges. And they won't do it. They won't do it! I tell you this: farmers in America have fruit that is literally falling off trees. You ask a farmer--
"I'm a farmer," said the woman who asked the question.
"See?" replied Montel. "You're a farmer. You know what I'm talking about. There are farmers in southern California--"
"We actually hire the local kids in the summer, when school lets out," she said.
"That's what I'm saying," Montel said. "There are farms in California where fruit is literally falling off of trees, and if only illegal immigrants are willing to pick it, then I say let them stay. Next question."
Someone stood and said, "Montel, the government should melt down all our pennies. Why don't we have copper doorknobs?" [Editor's note: apparently copper is much less of a haven for germs than most materials, and this is a cause for great concerned among, I guess, people who home-school their kids.]
"I completely agree with you, but copper's at a premium. I would love to see those doorknobs across America. Our show today is about germs. But listen to me--it ain't gonna happen."
Saturday: A bonus post, one detailing the actual Montel show, on Saturday.
Update: it's Here
Next Thursday: Cash Cab