Doc Hollywood Takes a Scalpel to the Viewers Again : Television: The 'first-ever televised sex-change operation in talk-show history as far as we know' on 'Geraldo' is oversold, overblown and overcooked.

Congratulations! It's not every day that you're part of something historic.

"This is the first-ever televised sex-change operation in talk-show history as far as we know," Geraldo Rivera announced at the start of Monday's episode of his 4 p.m. hour on KCBS-TV Channel 2.

Even more significant, this is the first-ever column about the response of a columnist's mother and mother-in-law to the first-ever oversold, overblown, overcooked, televised sex-change operation in talk-show history.

As far as we know.

Midwesterners Claire (the mother) and Margaret (the mother-in-law) were in town for the holidays. Naturally we made Monday's widely advertised "Geraldo" the centerpiece of our day.

The operation on someone named Lisa in Trinidad, Colo., by Dr. Stanley Biber "will shock and amaze you," Geraldo promised. "You will watch as a man becomes a woman," he promised.

But first. . . .


There in the studio was the wife of a man named Rocky "who wants to be a woman." Then she was joined by her husband, "who wants to become a woman." He was wearing a miniskirt. "Quite an outfit, Rocky," Geraldo said.

Then Geraldo introduced Wendy and Shawn, a sister and brother whose father, Kerry, became a woman 17 years ago.

Then came videotape of Lisa in a hotel room packing a case for the hospital where Biber would perform the operation that would "shock and amaze" us.

Soon "Lisa's life as a man would end," Geraldo said, leading to the first commercial break. The power of suggestion was working. I was beginning to wonder which of my wife's outfits might look good on me.

"I have never even seen anything like what you are about to see in a couple of minutes," Geraldo continued. "It is far more incredible than someone coming in with a hatchet and chopping that thing off."

We gasped. But on another TV set, a dentist was looking into a patient's mouth. It was a newscast on KNBC-TV Channel 4, perhaps warning viewers that their family dentists may be serial murderers.

Should we switch? "No!" Claire and Margaret answered in unison.

When he returned from the commercial break, Geraldo said, "You are about to see an extraordinary operation! A sex-change operation!"

Instead, he interviewed Dr. Biber in the studio.

Finally, Geraldo announced, it was time "for the operation that turned my next guest into a woman."

And yes, via videotape, there in the operating room for the big event, somewhere inside a cap, mask and surgical gown, was Doc Hollywood himself, the breathlessly revved-up Geraldo. Simultaneously on a KABC-TV Channel 7 newscast, a reporter in the field was wearing a worried expression while speaking, perhaps alerting Los Angeles to killer carrier pigeons.

Should we switch? "No!" Claire and Margaret answered in unison.

But we should have. "Geraldo" was now showing a surgical team hovering over something that was either a pile of sheets or Lisa. It was hard saying which. Much easier to spot was Doc Hollywood curiously peeping from the background.

Then "Geraldo" switched to videotape of another female transsexual in Trinidad. "That's a man's face, excuse me," Margaret protested angrily. "So they take the penis off. So what?"

Back to the operating room, where lengthy surgery was being compacted into a few minutes of footage in which nothing was visible but the surgical team working over a table. "Two-and-a-half hours after the operation began, Lisa was a woman!" Geraldo proclaimed. It was "not an easy procedure for this layman to watch," he admitted.

"We didn't see anything!" Claire complained.

"Well, we can say we saw the patient sleeping," Margaret said. "I would like to have seen her in clothing, so we could see her body."

"You couldn't see her boobs or anything," Claire said.


Meanwhile, Doc Hollywood had moved in on the conscious Lisa, who was still on her back. "Good luck to you," Geraldo said, pushing a mike at her face. "Hope to see you in the studio."

Hope and you shall receive. After a commercial break, Geraldo returned with Lisa in the studio. "We watched as Lisa was physically transformed," the revisionist Geraldo declared, living in some kind of fantasy world.

In truth, this was turning out to be virtually an echo of every other talk show on transsexuals. It recalled Geraldo's much-ballyhooed exploration of Al Capone's secret vaults, which produced no loot, only dust.

"This is the same thing," Claire snapped. "It's just ridiculous."

Geraldo now interviewed Lisa, who was seated beside the chubby woman who reared her from childhood. Only Jerry wasn't a chubby woman. He was a chubby man dressed as a woman--or, as Geraldo put it, a "preoperative transsexual."

"She's still got all the equipment, I guess," sighed Margaret. "But look at her boobs. She's got 'em."

Next Geraldo interviewed Rocky. "She looks sick to me," Margaret said about Rocky, who reported that his attempt to make his wife a lesbian had failed.

Then Geraldo brought out Kerry (not Jerry), the matronly female transsexual father of Wendy and Shawn, who looked somewhat androgynous himself.

"Is he a guy now?" Margaret asked about the adult Shawn.

"No, he always was a guy," Claire said.

"He was a guy?" Margaret asked.

"No, no," Claire said. "He's a guy now. That's him and his sister."

"He is a guy?" Margaret replied. "Are you sure? Why does he have that funny look on his face? He looks mixed up to me."

By this time, who wasn't mixed up? The hour did produce one piece of hard information, though. Just as Phil Donahue once did a show wearing a dress, Geraldo is no stranger to gimmicks. But if you've ever wondered if he would undergo sex-change surgery himself just to attract an audience, the answer appears to be no. Geraldo disclosed that during Lisa's operation, he nervously kept his "legs together."

When it comes to ratings, even the bold and inventive Doc Hollywood has his limits.

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