By John McCormack
TAKE HEART: For those of you still feeling blue about the departure of Studs from late-nite television over half a decade ago: your malaise has finally registered with top network brass. Change of Heart brings shameless voyeurism back to the 11 o'clock time slot. This variation on The Dating Game sends both halves of a restless and predictably edgy couple (I mean, they've been going out six months!) on dates, ostensibly to find out if they really belong together. They don't, of course, ever really belong together; but for the sake of, what, humiliation let's say, each partner describes his or her respective date making pained efforts to drive his or her current sex partner wild with jealousy. Said date is introduced and brought forth for inspection to much whooping it up by the audience, not to mention an indiscriminate use of the "raising-the-roof" gesture. The jealous partner eyes the interloper, often resorting to sniping comments about his or her physical appearance, with a special mean-spirited focus on hair.
It is ridiculous, usually. Lanky host Chris Jagger serviceably, if clumsily, navigates his guests through interminable rounds of "talking to the hand," pejorative salvos, awkward comebacks, and general audience uproar, as the minutia of each date is evinced with embarrassing candor.
The ever-mounting suspense as to whether the couple will weakly choose to stay together or boldly strike out in search of new and improbable sexual territory reaches its, er, climax when each partner holds up a placard stating his or her intent to "Stay Together" (smiley face) or have a "Change of Heart" (frowny face).
The ultimate Heart experience is a show in which someone is left teetering precariously on the edge of public shame by choosing to Stay Together when the other has chosen a Change of Heart. Or, and this is very rare, when a particularly romantic outing leads to the lusty twentysomethings "getting biz-zay!" The show's producers take care to state that intercourse is neither encouraged nor endorsed, however. Spoil sports.
Typical denouement is a couple breaking out into jittery laughter after they choose to Stay Together, foreheads bumping as they awkwardly kiss and make-up in front of the live studio audience. This usually entails apologizing effusively for calling the other "fatass" on national television. Then for some reason everyone stands up and starts hugging. Hip Swedish decor (think Ikea) and porny theme music round out this mesmerizing train wreck of a television show.
(Note: for certain acutely embarrassing moments, make sure you have a pillow or for God's sake something with which to hide your face.) Change of Heart airs at 11 p.m. weeknights on Fox, Channel 11.
GAY GUMSHOE: Paul Turner is a Chicago police detective on the case of a male model who, in a grim manner of speaking, made his mark at the bottom of a Windy City skyscraper. Supposedly, he fell. But Turner, a gay cop who's seen it all, suspects there may be more to the story in Drop Dead, the fifth novel in the Paul Turner series by Mark Richard Zubro.
Zubro won a Lambda Award in 1989 for his Tom Mason mystery series, which features a gay high-school teacher. It was a bold move for an author who is, himself, an openly gay high-school teacher in suburban Illinois--it's a topic he discussed with humor and candor in his first Tucson appearance at Clues Unlimited in 1996.
"He's a very good speaker," says Clues co-owner Christine Acevedo. "And I think he's very brave."
Asked if the novels were politically charged, Acevedo offers instead, "They definitely teach by example. The relationships in the novels are appealing, loving relationships. The first time I read one of his books, I thought, 'If only I could find a relationship like that!' " (She's referring to the Tom Mason series.)
Zubro's style is light and humorous, and his works have won consistent praise for their "fluid pace and flawless structure."
The signing will be an informal affair, with ample opportunity to chat with the author. "There are easy chairs and a coffee table where they can have their book signed, and then sit and talk," Acevedo says.
Zubro signs Drop Dead from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 23, at Clues Unlimited, 123 S. Eastbourne, in the Broadway Village shopping center. Call 326-8533 for information.
FINE PRINT: Other book discussions this week include William J. La Due's The Chair of Saint Peter: A History of the Papacy, at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at the Barnes and Noble on East Broadway (745-9822); and Jerry Colangelo's insights on How You Play the Game, at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at the Foothills Mall Barnes and Noble (742-6621).
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