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Televised reality



A drama queen I'm not. Nonetheless, here I am, squished into a drama-class corner in the old Fred Stone Theater at Rollins College, surrounded by frosted heads and shoulder straps. Think "Fame" mixed in with the "Facts of Life" tax bracket, and you'll know my pain. Talk of Pilates and toenail polish titters in the pre-class milieu, as the students get ready to hear firsthand about their chosen, or purchased, craft.

In this case, the high-end show-and-tell comes in the form of television producer Joe Cacaci, currently the string-puller behind Richard Dreyfuss' dour "The Education of Max Bickford."

Why him? Why here?

It's a fairy tale story, really. Rollins president Rita Bornstein got sucked into that odd world of TV show letter-writing, contesting the flip portrayal of the university president on "Bickford." Fan mail is fun, no?

"She wrote a letter, and I read them all," explains Cacaci later, in a post-class sit down. "I mean, not thousands or anything. Occasionally I call them back, and this one I did. ... Because she was very complimentary about the show."

The result is that Bornstein's become sort of a consultant for the Dreyfuss situation, marking an unlikely moonlighting gig for so serious a day job. Duly, Cacaci's returning the favor with an "Inside the Actors Studio"-style forum for the Old Navy hobbyists of the Rollins world. Lots of talk of humility, of "wills" meeting "ways," and industry decorum entrances the Tooties and Blairs for nearly an hour, and Cacaci almost has them all believing that money indeed does not matter. At Rollins.

"How much of it is who you know?" chimes one hopeful, after discussing at length the rather simplistic idea of, well, being nice to people no matter what.

"Well, you should always be nice," beams Cacaci. "You see, everybody wants to be nice to the producer. Like on our show, there's an actor who's always very nice to me, but is a complete schmuck to everybody else. He doesn't think I see, but I do."

Seeing as Dreyfuss is the only real male actor on the show, we can only presume that he's the schmuck at hand.

Cacaci doesn't say. But he's the perfect audience for gossip about himself.

So, Bickford's taken on something of a new life, with you rising in the ranks from writer to executive producer -- something of a desperate attempt by CBS to save the mess from the masses. It was all quite widely reported.

"All of it wrong," he grumps.

OK. Good start.

Let's talk about your audience. The show is on Sunday night, a lucrative boredom slot known for Mutual of Omaha nature shows and "Murder She Wrote," and more recently Della Reese's bad-hair years on "Touched By An Angel." Do you think the milquetoast gets you?

"Well, we've pretty much won our timeslot every week. It's not a big hit, that's for sure. But what kind of show is going to complain about coming in at No. 22?"

Well, it reeks of quality. I mean, yawn, I don't think that anybody talks about the show without using the term "quality." After all, there's a character who's a transsexual.

"Well, in that sense, the 8 o'clock timeslot is debatable. It's a good timeslot because it comes after "60 Minutes," and they figure a lot of our audience would be watching "60 Minutes."

Topical realism ... more yawn.

"That's the pro. The con is that 8 o'clock is considered the family hour. Honestly, for the most part, we've avoided being whitewashed by the network. As much as you can by CBS. I mean, it's not HBO."

Sex in the Classroom? I like it! You know, you remind me a little of Richard Dreyfuss yourself. Would you consider the two of you ... kindred spirits?

"It's funny to watch Richard and I argue," he chuffs. "Because of our mutual respect and affection for each other, the arguments are useful, and kind of fun. When they start, we're both like, 'fuck, we're gonna fight about this.' But once we're into it, and going at it, by the end of it, somebody always goes, all right, that's it. And a change is made.

Very interesting. And very "Goodbye Girl."

"Let's talk about the other Joe Cacaci," I steamily Barbara Walters. "Are you aware that there was a character by your name on "Chicago Hope," and that he jumped out of the sixth story of the hospital to his death?"

"I knew the creators of the show, and they created this character as a kind of goof, not knowing that the character was going to catch on," he yarns. "I was running my show up in Toronto a couple of months ago, and somebody told be about a headline that said 'Joe Cacaci Jumps Out of a Window,' and I wanted to call David Kelley and say, 'David! You killed me!'"

Stop. You're killing me.

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