Chances are you've never tuned in one of the longest-running programs on Los Angeles television--unless you're up on Sundays to hear the roosters crow or the morning paper land in the driveway.
But ask almost any city official in Southern California about KHJ-TV's "Meet the Mayors" show and their eyes probably will light up like a pinball machine.
"Sure it's on awfully early, but it's the best 30 minutes of advertising a city can get," said Cerritos Mayor Barry Rabbitt, a recent guest on the talk show, which airs at 6:30 a.m. Sundays on Channel 9.
"You can't afford to turn down free publicity--no matter what time of day it is," said the mayor recently as he left the afternoon taping of the show at the station's Melrose Avenue studios.
These days, when local government is hard pressed for media coverage, "Meet the Mayors" is an anomaly. Television rarely focuses on the workings of local cities. Shows about redevelopment, new zoning ordinances and revenue sharing are hardly ratings busters.
But don't tell that to Rabbitt and other mayors from Santa Barbara to San Diego County who have appeared on "Meet the Mayors" since host Tom Frandsen began the show 15 years ago. They jump at the chance to talk local government with Frandsen, who rarely asks his guests anything more probing than, "How did you get into politics?" and "Is your number in the phone book?"
In an era of hard-hitting interviewing, Frandsen's approach is folksy. The show is a kind of love fest between Frandsen, a longtime Los Angeles TV personality who is now semi-retired and living in north San Diego County, and mayors of Southern California cities.
"Sure, there's a lot of good will on the show,," Frandsen said earlier this month before taping the show with Rabbitt, which will air Feb. 26 and repeat on March 2.
The show is No. 306 in the series that has earned Frandsen accolades from many community groups, including the Southern California Assn. of Governments.
"I won't apologize for the show. We're not pretending to be '60 Minutes,' and I'm certainly not trying to be Mike Wallace," Frandsen said. "Besides, controversy doesn't come across well at 6:30 a.m."
Frandsen, a 10-year resident of Belmont Shore in Long Beach before moving south last year with his
second wife, June, said, "Southern California is a mosaic" of cities.
" 'Meet the Mayors' is an attempt to help viewers see the individual pieces of that mosaic--the cities and their mayors."
Frandsen runs his show almost like a travelogue. This day in Studio 2, Frandsen appointed the ever-smiling Rabbitt "honorary tour guide" as a series of slides of Cerritos, its parks, shopping centers and city buildings, flashed on the monitor.
At one point, after Rabbitt had rambled for several minutes about the city's rapid growth and healthy economy, Frandsen smiled and leaned across the glass table on the set, remarking to the camera:
"Well, it looks like someday Los Angeles may be known as a suburb of Cerritos."
Both men laughed, which happened often during the taping.
Question for Rabbitt
After one commercial break, as Frandsen was reintroducing Rabbitt, he stopped and looked at the mayor. "That's Rabbitt with two tt's and Barry with two rr's, right? I guess you have been the subject of some ridicule."
The mayor didn't miss a beat: "No. My name has actually helped me. People remember my name."
Frandsen's show used to air in a more watchable slot, 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. But several years ago it was bumped back to its sunrise slot (it also appears occasionally on Saturday mornings at 6:30)--a move Frandsen says is indicative of television's biggest problem.
"TV management is too caught up in the ratings," said the silver-haired Frandsen, who is in his 60s.
"It's a dangerous syndrome that is hurting the business," he said. "Shows come and go and the viewers get jerked around like a yo-yo. One week a show is on at a certain time and the next it's gone, all because of the race for ratings."
Ratings No Guarantee
But even ratings, as Frandsen found out, are no guarantee of longevity in the mercurial TV business. His popular late 1960s show, "Tom Frandsen FYI," was canceled by KNBC to make room for a network talk show hosted by a then up-and-comer, Mike Douglas.
"We had the top ratings for the 3 p.m. slot," recalled Frandsen.
"But 'FYI' was only shown in Los Angeles and Douglas was nationwide," he said. "The network wanted my slot. And when the network barks . . . But I had a contract and they had to pay me--and handsomely."
Frandsen has been in broadcasting for four decades, mostly in television, working first for KNBC-TV, where he was a news writer and afternoon movie-talk show host, then switching to KHJ-TV, shortly after losing "FYI." There he became vice president of community affairs and the station's editorial director before retiring last year.
Frandsen also wrote a column about politics and city life for a small Long Beach weekly newspaper, the Grunion Gazette.
Since retiring, the smooth-talking Frandsen has been doing car commercials for a San Diego radio station and living on his pension as a retired Navy fighter pilot. He quit working full time because he wanted to spend more time with his family and more time on his 34-foot cabin cruiser, Prime Time, which is docked in Alamitos Bay.
Nevertheless, Frandsen makes the 102-mile commute once a week from his La Costa home to Hollywood to tape "Meet the Mayors" and a second show, "Government Scene," a similar 30-minute interview show with Los Angeles-area civic leaders and politicians.
Though he has cut many of his ties with TV, he said he couldn't let go of his two government shows, especially "Meet the Mayors."
"It's my creation and if I don't do it, then I'm not sure anyone else will," Frandsen said. "I guess I'm a bit protective of my turf. Call it pride."