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VIEWPOINT Tom Shales

May 05, 1985|TOM SHALES | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Robin Leach has set himself a simple task in life and he's quite up to performing it. "If the public wants to see an actress get out of bed and take a bubble bath, then it's my job to make sure that that gets done," says Leach, who treads bravely into bubble bath, bedroom and boutique on "Life-styles of the Rich and Famous," a silly and entertaining program now syndicated to more than 100 U.S. TV stations.

Sometimes referred to as "the aptly named Robin Leach" for the way he slavishly affixes himself to those in one spotlight or another, the British-born Leach, formerly a reporter for "Entertainment Tonight" and free-lance contributor to the National Enquirer, is branching out.

The two-hour pilot for another glitzy series, "On Top All Over the World," was shown recently throughout the country. It is a "Leach Entertainment Feature" that includes scenes from what Leach calls the worst TV show in the world, a Japanese quiz program.

And yet a third Leach program, "The Start of Something Big," with Steve Allen as host, premiered in April. The shows are distributed by TeleRep, whose president, Al Masini, churns out the formats.

A fairly cheerful little fellow with bushy Brezhnev eyebrows, Leach is unapologetic about "Lifestyles" and its fawning frivolousness. The show is a celebration of celebrity and a panting paean to fame. It's also goofily fascinating to watch.

A recent edition featured visits with William Shatner, Malcolm Forbes, tennis star Arthur Ashe and movie producer Menahem Golan. Publicity for the show assured us that Cathy Lee Crosby, another guest, lives "life in the very fast lane."

"Lifestyles" doles out in heaps the kind of information nobody needs but many of us feel strangely gratified to learn. Like whether or not Diane Sawyer wears silk pajamas.

"Now this is not Watergate journalism," says Leach, stating the screamingly obvious. "We aren't contributing to the benefit of morality and everything else in the world, but we're sure bringing a smile to people's faces. If I wanted it to be '60 Minutes,' I'd go ahead and do it. The show is a visual Architectural Digest. It's a visual Fortune magazine."

While he realizes he isn't breaking earthshaking stories here, Leach does say: "It greatly upsets me when I'm called a journalistic toad. I mean--I am a journalist!"

Leach sees nothing wrong with reverently venerating richness on his program. "I don't think that the rich should be attacked," he says. "There's nothing wrong in being rich. There's a lot of things that rich people might do that are not right with the world, but there's an awful lot that they do that we don't know that they do."

There is a theory that people who are not rich, in fact are far from it, watch programs like Leach's and commercials for luxurious products they could never afford, and feel frustrated and depressed at such wanton displays of material excess.

"I haven't heard that," Leach snips. He doesn't think the theory might be true? "I read all the mail," he says. "I've had only two complaint letters from the time the show's been on the air. Really nasty. Really nasty. They were both from a Los Angeles post office box. I have no doubt they were written by the same group of people or family of people."

Perhaps some impudent, starving indigents getting cheeky. The nerve!

Early in the TV season, Leach was accorded a rare honor. He was lampooned by the witty Harry Shearer on "Saturday Night Live," which offered a parody called "Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich and Famous." Leach was only semi-amused. "I think they could have been rougher and ruder," he says. "I mean, if you're really going to savage me, savage me. I mean it's a perfect thing to parody, isn't it? It goes with the territory. Sort of like water off a duck's back actually."

Leach insists he is not rich himself, though he has a profit participation in the shows, and that he works a "back-breaking, grueling schedule," sometimes from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., to record and edit the interviews. "When I go out, I don't go out with makeup and I don't go out with hairdressers," he says proudly. "I mean, that's just the way I am!"

Last year he says he logged 210,000 air miles. Leach also says, "I haven't had any fun, and that's the honest truth, since it started."

But the public's lust for starlets in their bubble baths must be served! Why, someday they'll erect a statue to this guy! Or at least name a bracelet after him at Cartier's.

Robin Leach says that so far no one approached by "Lifestyles" has turned down his request to barge into their boudoirs with camera rolling. "I tell you," he adds with a sly little smirk, "whoever said no at the moment has only said no for the moment, because we never leave them alone until they say yes. "

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