Friday, September 03, 1999

City very 'politically incorrect'

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bill Maher figured he'd find politically incorrect people in Cincinnati. He wasn't disappointed.

        “I knew this was going to be good because Cincinnati is such a conservative town,” said Mr. Maher, the Politically Incorrect host who auditioned “citizen panelists” Wednesday at WCPO-TV.

        “There were some very politically incorrect people here.”

        Of the 50 people interviewed by his producer Wednesday, 15 were selected to audition with Mr. Maher. That's 50 percent more than in other towns visited by the show.

        Five of the 15 — again more than usual — were finalists. One will be flown to Los Angeles Sept. 28 and appear on the Sept. 29 telecast (12:05 a.m., Channel 9).

        Mr. Maher's personal favorites were two Price Hill residents, salesman Steve Bartholomew, 30, and student Lydia Justice, 31.

        Mr. Bartholomew, a Republican, argued that most woes in American society could be traced to giving women the right to vote.

        “I'm intrigued by it because you could actually defend it. I don't know if I agree with him, but you could defend it,” Mr. Maher said.

        Mr. Bartholomew was exactly what Mr. Maher and producer Sheila Griffiths wanted — “kind of a character” with an impressive topic.

        “That's a good combination. He seemed like a politically incorrect type,” Mr. Maher said.

        Ms. Justice, a Democrat, complained that the way media portray women “maintains and perpetuates a rape culture.”

        Said Mr. Maher: “That's pretty strong stuff. And she's obviously very very willing to go to the mat on that issue.”

        Other finalists were John Gray, 26, a Westwood minister; Galen Bailey, 38, a Price Hill illustrator; and Brian P. Downing, a Clifton Heights bartender.

        The 15 semifinalists met in two groups with Mr. Maher, who refereed the verbal fights, as he does on the show he created for Comedy Central in 1993. (It moved to ABC in 1997.)

        “People get to talk for as long as they're interesting,” he said. When they repeat themselves, or fail to make their point, Mr. Maher cuts them off.

        “You have to be a little rude to one person, so you can be courteous to millions,” he said. “It's my job to not bore the audience ... because they're going to flip the channel, and I don't blame them.”

        Who makes it on the show will depend on the celebrity guests, booked for the Sept. 29 program.

        “Citizen panelists” have been a refreshing addition to the show this year, because they don't have publicity agents and spin doctors telling them what not to say, he said.

        “Ever since the show has been on, people have been trying to get me to do it. People have always said, "Why don't you have a regular person in there?' I should have done it years ago,” he said.

        “These are people who have nothing to protect. They don't have a publicist saying, "Make sure you don't say anything too inflammatory.' They just let it fly.”

        Despite moving the show from New York to Los Angeles for ABC, some of Hollywood's biggest stars have refused to appear on Politically Incorrect. Mr. Maher's wish list includes Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson.

        “Tom Hanks is a very intelligent guy. Mel Gibson, I know, is extremely politically incorrect,” he said.

        “I'd like to get all of these big movie stars in my hot seat. But I think they've got too much image to protect.”

        HISTORY FOR SALE: The six-part Cincinnati History series concludes Saturday (7:30 p.m., Channel 9) with “The Forgotten Chapter (1819-1960)” about racism, segregated schools and job discrimination.

        If you missed part of the 1981 series, hosted by Charles Kuralt, copies can be purchased from the Cincinnati Historical Society — for $30 per half hour.

        “That's pricey, and I'm not sure many people want to pay that,” admits Cynthia Keller, broadcasting archivist. For more information, call Ms. Keller at the Cincinnati Museum Center, 287-7073.

        MDA MIA: CBS' U.S. Open Tennis Tournament coverage again will pre-empt the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon Monday afternoon on Channel 12. Less than 12 hours of the 211/2-hour telethon will be carried here (11:35 p.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday), with a local-national wrap-up show at 6:30 p.m.

        Dayton's Channel 22 will carry the entire broadcast from 9 p.m. Sunday to 6:30 p.m. Monday.

        C-SPAN HERE: C-SPAN will telecast live 9-11:30 a.m. Monday from the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Mount Auburn, part of the channel's American presidents series.


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