Thursday, June 20, 1996
Adventures in the land of chat TV

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

This week, I had a root canal and I hosted a television talk show. The root canal was less painful. Of course, I was fully medicated for my tooth, and all they gave me for the talk show was coffee, Diet Coke and a doughnut.

Dick VonHoene, the regular host of TKR Cable's Northern Kentucky Magazine, had an emergency involving a cart, a bag and a 9-iron. Dick said I would be the perfect sub, and, from his point of view, I was. When he negotiates a new contract, I'm sure he will play a tape of my performance for his boss.

''Just be natural,'' the show's producer, Aimee Blake, told me. Ha. If it's all so natural, then why does it take Oprah two hours to get ready? Why does Norma have her own stylist? Why do Rob Braun and Clyde Gray wear makeup?

Not wishing to look like a poor print cousin, I laid on the hair gel and eye liner.

I looked just like Little Richard.

A slight glitch

When I arrived at the station in Covington, Aimee told me a guest had bailed out. ''We can get somebody else,'' she says, ''or you can improvise.'' It is now 20 minutes to air time. This show is live.

I had no idea that flop sweat could begin before the actual flop.

Earlier, Joe Rigsby, ''my'' cameraman, had taught me the signals they'd be using to make sure that I didn't blab through all their commercials. They start warning you at three minutes, then the signals get increasingly ominous until the 15-second warning, which is a raised fist.

I do not know whether this is the signal for everybody. Or just me.

My way of dealing smoothly with the end of a segment was to look nervous at three minutes, then become increasingly agitated at each new warning. At the one-minute signal, I would usually ask my guest a question that could not possibly be answered in less than 10 minutes.

When the floor director - a woman named Tracy Hodge who surely must have an ulcer the size of a basketball - gave me the raised fist, my technique was to freeze, then clap a hand over my guest's mouth and shriek, ''We'll be right back. Probably.''

They gave me great guests. There was a woman named Mary Ellis from Senior Services of Northern Kentucky, who kept patting my hand and telling me that I was doing ''just fine.'' But I'm pretty sure I caught her rolling her eyes when I forgot the name of the show, the name of her agency, her name. And mine.

Lucille Treganowan, ''America's most trusted auto mechanic,'' was next. The New York Times calls her ''an unflappable, khaki-clad grandmother who also happens to be an award-winning automotive expert.'' I think I saw her flap a little when I told her that I have no idea where the transmission fluid is located on my car, which I regard as a purse on wheels.

She wrote Lucille's Car Care, which Lucille says will help me save money, plus win respect from my mechanic. I wonder whether, instead of respect, he would give me a loaner. Lucille was also on David Letterman's show this week. My impression is that she wishes she was back with Dave, even if he did get her to admit on national TV that she has a lead foot.

Thumbs up indeed

Last was Dr. Michael Palmer, who writes medical thrillers. He says Larry King wouldn't let him plug his book. So, just to show him that my heart is in the right place, I mention it every chance I get. His new book is called Critical Judgment, and one before that was Extreme Measures, which is being made into a movie with Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman.

I am hoping that he will remember how accommodating I was if I ever need a complimentary tonsillectomy.

Then, there are just a few minutes to fill. So I fill them with nervous laughter and stuttering. Tracy gives me a thumbs up. So does Joe. This is going very well, I think. Then everyone in the studiois jabbing their thumbs up. And making faces.

It seems that is the signal to ''throw it'' to news. I finally throw it, and everybody collapses.

''You were not inept,'' Aimee says.

But I was not ept.

''Really, we'd love to have you back sometime.''

OK, but next time I think we should all be fully medicated.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.