Jesse Ventura's next TV venture, Tru TV's "Conspiracy Theory," debuts in early December, providing me the perfect opportunity to reconnect with the former governor. I've always enjoyed covering Ventura because he's highly quotable, highly interesting and unpredictable. Unfortunately, the interest only went one way. Publicists have been told by Jesse's people that his ban of the Minnesota media continues and that he won't talk to any of us.
Ventura has sometimes made exception to the ban, most notably on Tuesday when my colleague Rachel E. Stassen-Berger caught him at the Capitol.
Then there was the phone call I got from him in October 2003, nine months after he had left office. I had just reviewed his MSNBC talk show - and was less than complimentary (the full review runs below). Ventura bellowed for more than 10 minutes, repeatedly asking me what I knew about television. As usual, he didn't really care about my response.
I'm hoping I'll get another phone call from Ventura after my review of "Conspiracy Theory," although it's unlikely, because...I kind of liked it.
Here's the Oct. 31 review
Pro wrestling is fake. Every kick, every step, every grunt is as
choreographed as a Britney Spears concert.
It's important to remember this when assessing Jesse Ventura,
because it's pivotal in explaining why he grew increasingly
frustrated with the governorship and why his MSNBC talk show,
"Jesse Ventura's America," isn't shocking the world.
Back in his "Body" days, Ventura loved a good fight - as long as
he knew when Hulk Hogan was going to barrel toward him, how the
crowd was going to react and whether it was his night to play hero
or villain. He was also effective in movies, where he knew exactly
when the alien predator was going to jump out of the jungle and
when it was time to bleed.
Even his stint as Brooklyn Park mayor fit his personality. Big
issues in small-town politics move about as fast as a tractor,
which gave him plenty of time to prepare for battle.
But when the Minnesota economy floated down the Mississippi River
and opponents tried to apply unscripted sleepers, Gov. Ventura was
thrown off his game. He blamed both major parties; he blamed the
media; he blamed the governor's mansion staff; he blamed little old
ladies. I mean, who's directing this mess?
There's no question who's in charge on "Jesse Ventura's America,"
which made its debut on MSNBC last month. The show opens with a
shot of the back of a bald head and a well-scripted tirade about
career politicians, yellow journalism or another subject that we've
heard about 4,671 times over the past five years.
Then Ventura introduces his C-level guests - media Prof. Paul
Levinson, radio host Dick Marcinko, rocker Ted Nugent - although he
might as well be bringing out a stuffed scarecrow, since he does
almost all the talking. When someone does get a chance to speak,
it's usually to agree with everything that Ventura just finished
It's not that Ventura is boring. Spending most of the time on his
feet and speaking directly into the camera, he has the polish and
charisma of an infomercial host who's selling his way of life.
Maybe the studio audience would be a little more engaged if
Ventura were hawking diet pills. The spectators in the St. Paul
studio are representative of Minnesota - almost all white, casually
dressed, well-read and extremely underwhelmed. They might make good
company at the PTA meeting, but they're out of place on a national
program with pumped-up rock music and a host who probably does
pushups in his sleep.
Some in the audience have challenged him, and the give-and-take
suggests what this show could be if Ventura took on all comers, but
he interrupts at a staggering rate.
One senses that he wants the challenge - that he understands that
in the world of cable news, conflict is king. When one audience
member took on his old pal Marcinko, Ventura laughed and slapped
his hands together. He even ends each show by saying, "You don't
have to agree, but you do have to think."
But Ventura just can't help himself. He believes deep down in his
heart that listening to anyone else is a waste of time, and he's
doing us all a favor by stepping in and shutting down these idiots.
I'm guessing that was the main problem MSNBC faced in putting
together this show and why it took so long to get on the air. One
of the many ideas producers played with was a program in which two
people from opposite sides of an issue would face each other, with
Ventura playing referee.
That could never work. Ventura can't sit on the sideline. He has
to be in the game. Heck, he has to be the game. Unless you found
two people who are just as stubborn and determined as the host -
say, James Carville and Mary Matalin.
On second thought, maybe that's not such a hot idea, unless
you're really eager to see Carville twisted into a human pretzel.