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Talk Radio's Don Imus: A Sight To See

March 16, 1997|FRAZIER MOORE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Don Imus has one of the better talk shows on television, and he doesn't even have a TV talk show.

Instead, robotic cameras strung from his studio ceiling peer down on him as he plays host of radio's "Imus in the Morning," originating live from the New York City borough of Queens, and heard coast-to-coast.

Meanwhile, TV viewers who think watching radio isn't such a dumb idea and tune to MSNBC Cable are privy to a news-and-talk show that can compete with any of its morning rivals.

Or, if you believe Imus, could beat them to a pulp.

Imus transplanted to TV is "a much better program than any of those other TV shows," he flatly declares, as if this were a natural fact. "You ever watch the 'Today' show? It's just horrible. I mean, horrible!"

But, then, Imus abhors moderation. This is the man who, booked to entertain for a posh Washington affair, toasted President Clinton not only as a philanderer but also "a pot-smoking weasel [who] once ate an apple fritter the size of a baby's head."

Even so, loyal listeners know the I-man is, at heart, a pussycat with radio's most entertaining scratching post.

"On TV, we're not in people's faces," Imus notes. "We're not looking at the camera while we're saying all these horrible things. For the audience, there's the old, traditional voyeuristic aspect."

Pre-recorded satire includes musical parodies ("There's plenty of room in the Hotel Pennsylvania," a Clinton sound-alike wails to the tune of an Eagles song), which you hear while you watch Imus stretch or prowl the premises or jab a piece of Nicorette into his mouth or bark out a directive to the control room crew (you can see, not just hear, those wiseguys too).

There are interviews. Eggheads and politicos and media bigs come on, and you can see they look relaxed in that cozy little studio. No wonder. A solid interviewer, Imus is informed enough to ask good questions, interested enough to shut up for the answers.

"I don't have anybody on I don't want on," he explains.

All this is what has made Imus so big on radio, and little about "Imus in the Morning" is meddled with to serve the TV version. The Heisenberg Principle--which holds that the process of observing anything changes it--is inoperative here.

"We're trying hard not to do a television show," vows Terry Irving, who produces the TV show.

"The fatal mistake would be to turn this into a television program," agrees David Borhman, the show's executive-in-charge.

It was Borhman who cooked up the idea of "Imus on MSNBC," and Imus recalls his reaction: "I asked for a lot of money," he says.

So now Imus finds himself on TV, yet unfettered by a TV show.

"Imus In the Morning" airs weekdays, 3-6 a.m. on MSNBC and 5-9 a.m. on KLAC (570).

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