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Live, Before a Studio Audience, It's Splitsville

October 04, 1998|Irene Lacher

Breaking up is hard to do--unless, of course, you do it for fun and profit.

Heaven knows, gossiping about other people's breakups has always been entertaining. But these days, it's even bigger--it's entertainment.

We interrupt this column for a disclaimer: This is not yet another big old blob of ink about Jerry Springer.

Back here in journalism land, we have a maxim: You see something three times, and you've got yourself a trend. We started with one of the nuttier dating shows to launch this season--Warner Bros. Domestic Television's "Change of Heart," which is about, well, guess.

It goes like this: Take a disgruntled, unmarried couple, fix them up with other people, bring them back together on the show and then voila!

In the interest of public service, we volunteered to do some investigative fluff reporting at a "Change of Heart" taping in Burbank. Unfortunately, the show's producers declined our offer to write about the show. Maybe they were afraid we'd compare it to the "Jerry Springer Show," which the press has trashed for being scripted trash.

Moving right along, we headed for the Santa Monica Barnes & Noble to sniff out another sign that a fun breakup trend is afoot. The occasion: Anita Liberty's reading of her tart new volume of poetry and advice, "How to Heal the Hurt by Hating" (Ballantine).

Liberty, a performance artist from New York who signs her checks Suzanne Weber, subtitled the book, "My boyfriend, Mitchell, whom I dated for three and a half years, left me for a woman named Heather, and, to get even, I have devoted my entire career to humiliating him in public."

Naturally, Mitchell isn't a real person but a composite who coincidentally resembles the real person Weber broke up with five years ago soon after she created her Anita Liberty character. Also naturally, the profit potential of breakup fun is not lost on this town: Liberty's big- and small-screen incarnations are in development at New Regency Productions.

Both Liberty and Weber are tiny, cute and able to squish tall egos at a single bound.

To wit:

"Compromise:

"Lowering my standards.

"So you can meet them."

More breakup haiku:

"You're a bad habit.

"I want to kick you.

"Hard."

Oh, by the way, did we mention that a woman at Liberty's reading happened to have signed on as a blind date for "Change of Heart"? The woman, a zaftig Cindy Crawford look-alike who asked that we call her "Samantha," explained why she enlisted in this latest battle of the sexes:

"They pay you $250. I date a lot, and I figured that if I'm going to go out on a date, I might as well get paid for it. I hadn't even finished the audition when they said, 'We have a match for you,' which I thought was really cool because I really needed the money."

Isn't it romantic?

Anyway, the couple on Samantha's show had been dating for eight months. The guy complained that the girl was spoiled and high-maintenance. The girl complained that the guy was totally self-absorbed.

Would a blind date with Samantha be enough to break them up?

"He opened the door, and I'm like, 'My God, could they have been any further off in setting me up with somebody?' This guy was so not my type, which I don't even know what my type is, but it wasn't him."

The date went downhill from there. Not that you'll hear any of that when the show airs.

"He started drinking before I got there, but I wasn't allowed to say anything on TV about it. They kind of give you guidelines of what to say. They wanted me to make him look really good, like I liked him."

Despite her doting, the couple decided to stay together. Those of us who are sentimental fools would have preferred a happier ending--a breakup.

Samantha thinks the guy stayed with a semi-sure thing because "he realized I would probably never go out with him again, I'm sure. I mean, he called me twice the next day after the date. He asked if I'd like to go out again when he's not drinking so much."

But sometimes the blind dates do work out and the heart changes, says Samantha, who has a few friends with war stories of their own.

"It's an interesting concept. It's kind of depressing. I would never go on there as [part of] a couple. [People do it] either for the money or because it's like, why do people go on 'Jerry Springer'?"

Oops.

*

They Want Your Virtual Signature: What's the next episode in the continuing saga of Starr Reports Of Our Lives?

Backlash.

A groundswell of people around the country is rising to protest the independent counsel's investigation of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. Such cultural heavy-hitters as William Styron, Toni Morrison and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers are writing about and organizing opposition to the ongoing probe, which critics are lambasting as sexual McCarthyism.

Some protesters are old hands from the '60s and '70s who used to grab your lapels at marches. Now that they're grown-ups of the '90s, they're turning to the millennial equivalent--Internet petitions.

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