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Upchucking Talk-Show Sorrow on ‘Forgive’

The host feels their pain.

“It’s all right, baby,” she coos today on the new “Forgive or Forget,” her voice creamy and soothing, her body pitched forward, her face a soft cushion of sympathy offering comfort to a suffering mother who’s bawling about abandoning a son four years ago.

Here come Mother Love and her feuding, sobbing sad sacks who open their veins and hemorrhage misery in front of us--you presume sincerely--as if chipped from “The Truman Show,” Jim Carrey’s wondrous new movie about a man whose life is a hit TV series.

Carrey’s Truman Burbank is presented as an actual person who is somehow unaware that his chirpy wife and everyone in his universe is a role-playing professional actor, and that his life is scripted and then monitored by 5,000 cameras and beamed live and unedited to a captivated global audience. He’s a superstar but doesn’t know it.

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“The Truman Show” is a sort of distant scenario for television--but not too far in the future, given what already is at hand. Increasingly, the presumption is that the airwaves define, validate and give meaning to each experience, even one that owes its own existence to television. Consequently, it’s essential that every experience be a television experience--from a man taking his own life on a freeway or estranged family members reuniting a la “Forgive or Forget"--translated by technology into a specie of reality and sent live to homes everywhere.

Does the camera make or tint the reality or merely witness it, transforming the rest of us into voyeurs? It’s something to chew on, for “we accept the reality with which we’re presented,” observes the “televisionary” who produces “The Truman Show.”

Whether you buy that or not, it is true that TV is increasingly operated on circuitry that dictates all the world being a sound stage.

That includes “Forgive or Forget,” the first of the syndicated “Jerry Springer” antidotes, a mollifying, tranquilizing Stepford hour when daytime guests reach for hankies instead of blackjacks while upchucking sorrow in front of millions of viewers and begging forgiveness from those they’ve wronged. It has the same surreal ambience of the Moscow “show trials” of the 1930s.

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In the case of today’s despairing mother who dumped her young son, the abused party she addresses is not the child she left behind but the grandmother with whom she left him before scooting. Could Granny possibly forgive her?

Joining America in hearing these confessions, and seeking to close the wounds, is the feel-good diva herself, former Cleveland comic Jo Anne Hart, who recast herself as Mother Love some years ago in starting a career as an advice-giving radio personality that culminated in pit stops here on KFI-FM (640) and KLSX-FM (97.1) and a scattering of TV jobs.

If this were kin of good old-fashioned Jerry Springer before the peaceniks got hold of him, the mother, Charity, and grandmother, Celia, would punch each other out before Mother Love could give either a crack at the Sally Jessy memorial box of tissues she keeps handy for guests who get teary. But this kindler, gentler brand of television instead finds Mother Love commiserating with and pacifying guests on both sides.

*

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The format varies somewhat, but essentially it’s this: After a transgressor delivers a woeful story and mea culpa, the object of this contrition is observed reacting to a taped apology, after which--as the suspense builds to a low monotone--the apologizer learns whether this act of repentance has been accepted or rejected. The moment of truth comes when a big wooden door is opened. If the victim of the transgression is standing there, happy ending. If not, pass the tissues.

Even more emotionally cathartic are the rapprochements, as in Charity and Celia weeping a river while coming together and having an intimate catch-up chat as if they were in a closet instead of facing a studio audience and TV’s multitudes.

Celia tells Charity that her grandfather has cancer. Celia updates Charity on her parents. “Him and your momma got divorced two years ago.” Celia informs Charity that she and her husband have adopted Charity’s son. When Charity seems to flinch slightly, Mother Love says, “It’s all right,” as if she really knows it’s all right.

This entire family retrospective happens with the cameras rolling, just as Truman Burbank’s life evolves, from birth to adulthood, in front of an unseen audience of strangers.

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And are “Forgive or Forget"--and all the other daytime shows that traffic in sad tales and expose human wreckage to the camera--any more real than “The Truman Show”? Aren’t the characters of “Forgive or Forget” also real people who operate inside an artificial environment on behalf of building an audience? Why don’t they smooth things by making a few phone calls to each other instead of carrying on publicly? Can we really believe that the culture of the lens gives 20/20 insight and remedies all? That long-standing fractures in relationships can be mended so easily in front of the camera? That these TV patch-ups will endure beyond the closing credits? That the host’s verbal Band-Aids can heal anything other than a superficial cut?

“Aw baby,” she says to one of her guests in distress. They don’t call her Mother Love for nothing.

* “Forgive or Forget” airs weekdays at 3 p.m. on KCOP-TV Channel 13.


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