By actual count, 5,724 people have guested on "Geraldo" since it went on the air 1,000 shows ago today. What if one of them had been YOU?
Imagine you're, say, Marjorie Garber, and that the "Geraldo" folks have flown you down from Boston one afternoon to tape a show on female cross-dressing.Your name came up thanks to your much-acclaimed book "Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety."
For "Women Who Dress As Men: Fad or Fashion?" - scheduled to air in the next couple of weeks - you have been cast as The Expert. No wonder: You're a Harvard professor of English, a widely published cultural critic and a popular lecturer. You have a Ph.D. from Yale and a stylish but no-nonsense appearance. Your designated role on "Geraldo" will be to legitimize the other guests.
"But beyond that, The Expert on a talk show exists to be undercut a little," you propose as you wait, alone, in a holding cell in the CBS production center on Manhattan's West 57th Street. "The real wisdom should come from the host and from the audience asking truth-telling questions. This helps establish conventional wisdom as the real wisdom."
No problem. You have your own agenda: to share your ideas with a television audience, to publicize your book and - not the least of it - to satisfy your curiosity.
"This show is a theater, Geraldo is the impresario, and I'm really interested to see how he runs his stage," you think.
Before long, you are brought to the Green Room. A makeup woman puts you in her chair, while your fellow panelists - five jaunty young women turned out in men's suits - talk among themselves.
If they seem already acquainted, that's because they are.
"We did `Joan Rivers' together," says one of the women, who sports a pasted-on mustache, pointing to her friend. Others say they met doing "Donahue."
Now the producer who booked you arrives for a briefing.
"We want the show to be educational and fun," he says, "and don't be afraid to cut in. You're a team - five guests and the expert."
"THEY'RE the experts," you say.
Now you're next door in the studio, seated at the end of the row of talk-show-guest chairs, and "Geraldo" is rolling.
The host, predictably spruce in a trim beige suit, is moving about the audience of 200.
"I know this isn't normal" is one man's verdict on the cross-dressing issue. "It's definitely a problem."
"He says it's not normal," Geraldo says to you, "and yet it's been around, according to your book, since at least ancient Greece. What's the deal?"
"The deal is," you reply, "it's a way of redefining our notion of what normal is. `Normal' is much wider than our current mores would lead us to believe."
Although Geraldo concedes "different strokes for different folks," he remains troubled: "I mean, it's not NORMAL."
"It's not USUAL," you say.
Another thing you hope will sink in: that the act of cross-dressing is "completely different from sexual preference" and that "more cross-dressers self-identify as straight than gay."
Indeed, one of the panelists beside you has a husband.
But Geraldo wonders if cross-dressing might not foreshadow an eventual sex change.
"Is the suit the first step down that long road?" he asks, still nagged by the notion that this woman really longs to be a man.
A bit later you are downstairs in the CBS cafeteria, the Station Break, killing time before the limo takes you to the airport.
"The defining moment," you say, "was when Geraldo came over to me during one of the breaks and said, `What should we talk about next? I'll tell you what - let's talk about how cross-dressing is risky behavior.' That said to me that he already knew the answers that he wanted.
"But I don't fault him for that. He really knows his audience. I was quite impressed with his performance as a host."
All that, and he plugged your book over and over.