Wally George’s (Almost) 10 Years on ‘Hot Seat’ : Television: The show premiered in 1983, but the conservative commentator is celebrating tonight.
Meet Walter Lloyd George--Wally George for short, or, as his ranting audience knows him: “Walleee! Walleee! Walleee!”
Mondays through Fridays at 3:30 p.m. he appears on his KDOC Channel 56 television show “Hot Seat Highlights” against the backdrop of an American flag, a setting he likes to think will stir memories of the movie “Patton.”
But up close, the TV studio looks ramshackle, and George seems not even remotely military-like. If anything, he gives an impression of dubious civilian authority.
The idea that this self-styled “Mr. Conservative” is a media firebrand to the right of Attila the Hun--a repeated description in the press--frequently is contradicted by his on-air commentaries against racism, the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party and anti-Semitism.
While George, 56, is without question a right-wing, liberal-baiting, anti-abortion, law-and-order ideologue, the common notion that he holds maverick political opinions was more or less dispelled earlier this week by his endorsement on his show of George Bush.
“Well, nobody else is for George Bush. How many people do you hear on the air saying they like George Bush? So I am a maverick,” insists the Oakland-born entertainer, who is holding a “10th Year Celebration” tonight at 11 as the host of his other KDOC broadcast, the weekly “Hot Seat” talk show.
The fact that “Hot Seat” didn’t make its debut until July 16, 1983--nine rather than 10 years ago, following an earlier show on KDOC with a different format--is just another George contradiction.
Tall and thin, with watery eyes and an ingratiating, snaggle-toothed smile, he is standing in his cramped office surrounded by the memorabilia of an oddball career that began on the radio in Glendale four decades ago when he got his first job as a teen-age disc jockey despite a terrible stutter.
Tacky emblems of fan worship adorn the walls. Among dozens of mementos, there are drawings of him as Elvis and Superman; a plastic ornament called a Wallyburger; an embroidered “I love Wally” sampler; an autographed picture from Pat Boone (one of KDOC’s owners) that says: “To Wally, a David in a world of Goliaths.”
On the floor of this shrine to egotistical kitsch is a waist-high pile of videotapes from the nine years of “Hot Seat” broadcasts, consisting largely of mock interviews with all sorts of low-rent political guests--"liberal lunatics” and “fascist fanatics,” he calls them--as well as the usual “strippers, mud wrestlers and bimbos of all sizes and shapes.”
He whips the top sheet off a stack of photocopies on his desk: a July 7 edition of the Star with inflated account of his feud with his estranged movie-star daughter. The headline: REBECCA DE MORNAY’S DAD BLASTS HER AS BITTER, TWISTED & ‘OUT TO RUIN ME.’
“You know she’s my daughter, don’t you?” asks George. He can’t help basking in the reflected glory of her celebrity status even while conceding that she grew up in England without knowing him and wants nothing to do with him now. “What really bothers me more than anything is that she has given interviews saying I never tried to contact her until after she became a star. It’s not true. I embarrass her.
“She hangs out with left-wing actors like Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson and Harry Dean Stanton. They don’t like me because I’ve bad-mouthed Hollywood . . . they’ve convinced her I’m bad for her career.”
In fact, nothing would be better for George’s career than a sensationalized reconciliation with De Mornay. All his years trying to drum up controversy on “Hot Seat” have failed to gain the show the visibility he craves, either in Southern California or nationally as carried by Channel America.
George’s KDOC audience is too small to be rated, according to the Nielsen Media Research Co. That means both the weekly “Hot Seat” and the daily “Highlights” reach “less than 24,400 households within the Los Angeles viewing area,” a spokeswoman said.
Similarly, Channel America does not reach enough viewers nationwide to be rated, although network founder David Post said from New York that “Hot Seat” has exceeded his expectations. Besides 100 stations affiliated with the 4-year-old Channel America, another 50 stations pick up the show on an unaffiliated basis, Post said. (“Highlights” became a regular network offering this month.)
George says he gets “an average of 200 to 300 letters a week,” however, not only from fans in the United States but also from viewers who see “Hot Seat” on Channel America in England, Germany, New Zealand and Australia.
Post said Channel America buys time on a broadcast satellite that reaches many Caribbean and Central American markets and some in South America but cannot reach Europe or beyond.
Whatever the case, there is no disputing that George is “Hot Seat’s” one-man band. He books the guests, writes the commentaries and produces the show. His third wife, Janis, answers the mail, he said, “but I autograph the pictures.”
George even serves as chief prop man. Once a week he takes down three framed posters from his office walls--dated images of Richard Nixon, John Wayne and a NASA shuttle launch--and trundles them onto the “Hot Seat” set, where he rehangs them for his late-night broadcast.
“I’ve done the show 52 weeks straight, every year for 10 years, without a vacation,” said George, who is not unlike the dairy farmer who never misses a milking.
Even if he’s bending the truth--and only this week George apologized to viewers for re-running a show on Monday--that’s a record to be proud of.