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. . . Now a Word From Your Favorite Hoaxer

It’s hard to separate the hoodwinkers from the hoodwinkees.

Who’s the greatest pretender in TV’s latest absurdity, Sally Jessy Raphael or a Chicago sex therapist and the phony guests he recommended for Raphael’s syndicated talk show and those of Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera?

In a show taped last week for airing Thursday (2 p.m. on KHJ-TV Channel 9), a wounded and self-righteous Raphael angrily confronts sex therapist Dean C. Dauw and Wes Bailey and Tani Freiwald, the actors who have admitted faking the roles they assumed on the three talk shows.

“You put me through living hell!” Raphael lectures Freiwald, who on separate talk shows, pretended to be a woman apathetic about sex and a sex surrogate.

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“I gave good advice,” Freiwald says in her defense. Her friend, Bailey, pretended to be a virgin on one show, a husband suffering from impotency on another.

Dauw denies he knew they were putting on an act. Freiwald and Bailey charge Dauw with putting on an act in denying he knew they were putting on an act.

How can Dauw explain pitching Bailey for talk shows both as a 34-year-old virgin and a man who was sexually impotent? “ I was a virgin once in my life,” he replies, “and then I got married.” Oh.

By now you feel you’re watching a talking-heads version of Roller Derby.

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Raphael may be perpetrating the biggest hoax of all, however, by insisting on the broadcast that talk shows like hers are designed to provide “in-depth” reporting, “not entertainment.” Is she kidding?

We’ll return to that after the snickering subsides.

Meanwhile, greater talk-show truth is available from Martin Mull in “Portrait of a White Marriage,” a Cinemax movie at 10 p.m. Friday. Although inconsistently funny, the movie does merge art and reality by satirizing how such programs as “Donahue,” “Oprah,” “Geraldo” and the “Sally Jessy Raphael Show” pick their themes--how they identify and give prominence to sometimes-bizarre subcultures as a means of enticing viewers.

Mull plays a desperate talk-show host whose topics include women who have lost parts of their bodies through household accidents and ex-convicts who want to start a diaper service.

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Back on the alleged reality side of the line, twins who rediscovered each other in adulthood after being separated at birth were the final segment of Monday’s premiere of the syndicated “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” on KHJ-TV.

On Monday’s “A.M. Los Angeles” on KABC-TV Channel 7, meanwhile, co-host Steve Edwards told Emmy-winning actress Patricia Wettig of ABC’s “thirtysomething” that she bore a striking resemblance to his wife. For a moment, it seemed that Wettig and Edwards’ wife also would turn out to be twins separated at birth.

But “A.M. Los Angeles” was on to other matters. The show’s final segment featured women who had gained weight after getting married. The absolute shocker came when they were joined by a woman who had gained weight after marrying--but lost almost all of it.

Coming next, perhaps, are women who gain weight after marrying, then lose it, then regain it.

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Or perhaps viewers who gain weight while watching people lie on talk shows.

Are Freiwald and Bailey twins who were separated at birth? The issue doesn’t surface on the “Sally Jessy Raphael” show airing Thursday. But Jessica Hahn’s name does, lumped snidely with Freiwald’s by members of the studio audience, as if Freiwald would be following in Hahn’s barefoot steps to Playboy. And then, of course, the inevitable book and TV movie.

If Raphael can claim that Freiwald and Bailey initially exploited her, however, then surely Raphael is the one doing much of the exploiting now by having them and Dauw on her show. That’s the way talk shows always do business, even though she isn’t honest enough to admit it.

Raphael gives three reasons for inviting the hoaxers back: She wants to determine what really happened. She wants to demonstrate how her show books guests. She wants to allow her studio audience to question the perpetrators.

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She omits a fourth reason: that having Dauw, Freiwald and Bailey on the show can capitalize on the enormous publicity surrounding the event and inflate her ratings.

It gets pretty thick. “You have taken one of the most valid forms of broadcasting and made it a joke,” an outraged Raphael proclaims.

Yes, at stake here is the very bedrock of incredulity upon which these shows rest. If they sink, all America suffers. Where else would we learn (as we once did on an episode of “Oprah”) about people who forgive and remain married to spouses who have tried to murder them?

Raphael plays it so big that you’d think that Bailey and Freiwald had sold government secrets to the Soviets or, even worse, colluded with Donahue to make her look bad.

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“Where is your morality?” Raphael demands. “You have hurt the integrity of 7,782 real people,” she tells the hoaxers, referring to her guests through the years.

She says her show’s main goal is to help people, not earn big profits. “A lot of talk shows make a lot of money,” she says. “I don’t.”

To emphasize her own value, Raphael plucks from the studio audience a former guest who testifies to the talk-show host’s incredible goodness. Mother Teresa, eat your heart out.

All of this gets pretty funny when it becomes obvious that the two acknowledged liars on Thursday’s show are the ones providing the most truth.

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Bailey, who appears via satellite from Chicago, says he regards his role in the scam as nothing more than a great adventure. Freiwald, who is in the New Haven, Conn., studio with Raphael, admits that she participated in the scams mainly for self-serving reasons, that as an actress, she could not resist the “improvisational” opportunity she would get on national TV. “I did it because I could,” she says.

Which is right in line with the same self-promoting reasons that probably motivate most guests on these talk shows, whether they’re advertising their crusades, their books, their movies or, most important of all, themselves. And members of the studio audience are unpaid co-performers.

Buried in Thursday’s swampy doubletalk is one message that bears remembering. It’s delivered by Freiwald.

Be “critical, analytical, participatory watchers of television,” she urges. “It’s a great medium,” she says later, “but just don’t believe everything you hear.”

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Members of the studio audience attack her revisionist thinking. One woman shrewdly complains that if that hussy Freiwald had her way, viewers would begin questioning everything that occurs on talk shows, and nothing would be the same.

“That’s the point,” says Freiwald.

“I just don’t get it,” says Raphael.

Exactly. If we can’t trust Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jessy Raphael, who can we trust?

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