Imagine a world pre Jerry Springer, when the strange and wacky had nowhere else to turn to give us all a glimpse into their world. Fortunately for mankind there was one place where they could gather to share their stories then get berated by one man and his legion of followers. If you’re over the age of 35 then you certainly remember the man who made the phrase, “Zip it” part of the cultural lexicon, the man who made red socks trendy and ruined his own career by staging the lamest fake hoax ever. Yep, he is Morton Downey Jr., a man whose popularity skyrocketed back in the late 80’s. With his screaming, take no prisoners’ talk show, it inspired countless talk show imitators, gave birth to trash TV, and paved the way for the many opinionated talking heads, the kind that talk too much that you almost wish Mort would come back to tell them to “Zip it.”
Evocateur very nicely chronicles Downey’s rise as one of TVs original hotheads. His show would feature, at first, reputable and respected talking heads such as Alan Dershowitz to Ron Paul. But the more the audience fueled Downey’s rage, the more outrageous the guests became and Downey’s obnoxiousness would become.
As much as Downey tried to build an issues-oriented show with Downey as more of a dictator than moderator, the show just ended up giving Springer and Geraldo Rivera the blueprint for the more outrageous shock TV that would become the standard talk show format of the 90’s. The documentary doesn’t pull any punches as it also documents Downey’s quick downfall. Almost all the cameo appearances by Downey show producers agree that Downey did as much to contribute to his eventual downfall than avoid it. Downey wasn’t just the Morton Downey Jr. character in front of the camera; he lived it and reveled in it off camera as well. When America just got tired of the same gimmicky routine he presented each night, they stopped watching minus a few rabid, mostly young male fans that loved to watch Downey scream at the top of his lungs at whatever poor guest happened to show up.
The final straw came in a men’s restroom when Downey claimed to be assaulted by several skinheads, which it turned out to be a hoax. If there were ever a quicker rise and fall in TV you can arguably make the case it was The Morton Downey Jr. Show.
This is certainly one of the best documentaries on a once beloved then ridiculed media personality who’s main concern seemed to be play up the character they created instead of being more real. Morton Downey Jr. could have had a long career as a talk show host but instead he just milked every second of his 15 minutes and really believed his style of brash, in your face TV would last a while longer. Talk about someone not looking ahead and living for the moment; today his show is rarely ever mentioned unless as a joke. Yet Evocateur does suggest that the Morton Downey Jr. Show could’ve survived, could’ve been credible if Downey would’ve just followed his own advice and zipped it every once in a while.
Take a Drink: Whenever you see Mort and Rev. Al Sharpton having a bro-mance whenever Sharpton would come on the show to discuss the Tawana Brawley case.
Do a Double Shot: Whenever the weird, faux psychedelic animation would appear in between old Morton Downey Jr. Show footage.
Take a Drink: Whenever Downey begins to yell, flip his cigarette or get face to face with a guest to berate him or her.