For some time I've been waking with a thud at precisely 4:31 a.m. There may be a Northridge component to this, but since I don't jerk awake in seismic terror bleating This is it!, it's probably just a preview of early-middle-age ennui that, my over-40 friends gloat, will get me no matter what. Anyway, rather than practice Morse code by flashing my Timex Indiglo on and off in the predawn dark, I now haul myself upstairs and spend a few hours watching early-early-morning TV.
Long gone is the Rorschach-like test pattern that greeted the early-early or late-late television viewer. Instead, there are impossibly well-groomed newsreaders and persons of weather, SigAlert updates, the odd rerun of "Hogan's Heroes" and lots of infomercials--though despite what those insufferable screenwriter-testimonialists say about ordering Personal Power tapes at 4 in the morning, I have yet to see one of Tony Robbins'. I have seen--many, many times--the one for Greg Norman's Secret, the first golf aid Norman says was good enough for him to endorse. "If it wasn't," Norman avows, flashing the you-know-what-eating grin he probably laid on the president just before that tumble at Greg's mansion, "I wouldn't put m'name to it."
Out of this swinish sunrise drivel I've uncovered a pearl--several, in fact: ESPN2's wheel of early-morning "fitness" programs: "Body Shaping," "Kiana's Flex Appeal," "Fitness Beach," "Co-ed Training," "Gotta Sweat." These invariably feature beautiful women working out beachside at some tropical paradise or other and are ostensibly aimed at women--several include loutish exercise guys of the sort who pronounce "strengthen" strenthen.
But since it's almost impossible to "train along" to these shows--Kiana, for example, arrays her frighteningly tanned body over what looks like $30,000 worth of weight machines--one is left to ponder: Do women actually drag themselves from bed at 5 in the morning to watch slimmer, more pneumatic versions of themselves work up a sweat? It seems that ESPN2, the incorrigible, skirt-chasing little brother of the ESPN network, has divined that there is for the early-morning male a certain . . . verisimilitude in watching attractive women demonstrate flys and lunges while clad in above-the-hip bikini bottoms and cleavage-enhancing sports halters.
Of the lot, I'm partial to "Fitness Beach," which usually stars Denise Paglia, Leeann Tweeden and Kathy Derry. I must admit I've taken a shine to Derry. With her blond bangs and fetching, hoarse-from-leading-the-sculling-crew voice, she's the Kappa house president with a heart, the cheerleader who dates the bass player. I also like her because she laughs a lot at her own expense, like the day Denise somewhat meanly made her try one-arm lateral bench push-ups. I long ago cast Derry as the flight attendant who takes the controls of a crippled 747 in a movie treatment I wrote one morning before discovering "Fitness Beach." (Enough of the plot so uncannily mirrors "Air Force One" that I'm considering legal action; n.b. to the Industry: If you thought Art Buchwald was a pain, just wait.)
Not that I haven't picked up a few tips. To maintain good form during my bench flys, I now try to picture, as "Co-ed Training's" Carol Grow recommends, that I am hugging a tree. (I think she could have chosen a more compelling metaphor, but no matter.) And I like the look of some of the resorts these shows are produced at in exchange for promotional plugs. As soon as my girlfriend wakes up, I'm going to ask her if she wants to drop everything and fly off to Swept Away, in Negril.
Honest. Otherwise, I wouldn't put m'name to it.