Gerry Spence began hosting his own 30-minute legal show recently on CNBC, and he got one absolutely terrible review right out of the box.
From himself."I've been around a while, but I've not done much of this in terms of television hosting," Spence said less than a week after his debut. "And I'm not entirely at home. My first night out - I hope none of you saw it. I bombed."
He was particularly upset about the way the show ended.
"I'm thinking that we're coming up to a (commercial) break and it's the end of the damn show," Spence said. "And I had this beautiful ending. I mean, I was going to read this wonderful poem."
Just days after his debut as a television show host, Spence sounded decidedly unsure if he really wanted to be doing the job. He pointed out that he's still a practicing lawyer and worried aloud that the show would distract him from where his focus ought to be - on his clients.
"My focus ought not to be on television shows. And I shouldn't wake up in the middle of the night all the time saying that I got . . . mixed up at the end of the show," Spence said. "I should be thinking about working in the legal system, not talking about it."
But talk about it he will. His weekly show will focus on various aspects of the judicial system. And the setting will be decidedly different from that of most TV shows.
"The show is different," Spence said. "I mean, whoever heard of coming to somebody's living room in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and hauling a truck every Friday all the way from Boise - 400 miles away?
"I think that they're taking a big chance. . . . This show - I don't know about this show. I mean, I don't figure on having very many celebrities. I don't really think celebrities know very much. I think they make a mess of their own lives. I don't know why people should be listening to celebrities all the time. And why people want to watch them and look at them I don't know."
Despite his own fame, the attorney insisted that he is not a celebrity himself.
"I don't consider myself a celebrity," Spence said. "I think celebrities are those people who consider themselves celebrities.
"I told this to Kato (Kaelin) one time - I was talking to the man, not the dog, and some people said that you couldn't tell the difference - I said, `Kato, remember that there is a myth out there about who you are. That's the celebrity.' "
And it remains to be seen whether Spence's unacknowledged celebrity status will allow him to continue to do the show as he wishes. He insisted that it will continue to be done from his home in Rock Springs, despite being contradicted by his boss, CNBC executive producer Andy Friendly.
"I don't want to come to Burbank. I ain't gonna come to Burbank," Spence said.
"Yes, you are," said Friendly. "You're coming here half the time. You forgot that."
"Well, I ain't gonna do it," Spence replied.
Despite calling himself a "true amateur on television," the lawyer has already had more than his share of exposure on the small screen. The CNBC job grew out of his association with NBC News, which hired him as a consultant for the O.J. Simpson trial.
"I do that whenever they ask me," he said. "But they really don't ask me too much, because I'm not a very good sound-bite man. I mean, I make Tom Brokaw nervous. You're supposed to say something in two or three minutes, and I have a hard time saying anything in two or three minutes."
He's also been a regular contributor to CNBC's coverage of the trial. As a matter of fact, he and other lawyers have had so much tube time of late that some are questioning whether viewers won't just burn out on attorneys on television.
"My friends ask me the same question. They say, `Don't you think you've been there long enough?' " Spence said. "And maybe that's right.
"It reminds me, however, of the 21/2-hour pornographic call that nobody seems to hang up from."
BETTING AGAINST A CONVICTION: Spence said that when the O.J. Simpson trial began, he was convinced that Simpson would be convicted. He even bet on it.
But he has since changed his mind.
"I thought that because I believe black people are as responsible as white people," he said. "And I do believe that at this moment. I believe they are equally responsible and that they have a sense of justice and a hatred for wrong the same as we do. And I therefore believed that that black jury would rise up and say, `This is wrong and we are going to avenge the wrong under the law.' "
But Spence changed his mind because "the jury in this case has a totally different experience than we do."
He recounted a conversation he had with a black cameraman while preparing to go on television. He was watching one of Simpson's attorneys, Carl Douglas, do a cross examination.
"It was hostile, mean-spirited, ugly. He (Douglas) was ugly. His face was ugly. His demeanor was ugly," Spence said. "It was exactly what I teach young lawyers . . . not to do. And I was saying to this black cameraman, `Wasn't that a terrible cross examination?'
"He said, `I thought it was wonderful.' This perfectly decent, gentle guy . . . said, `And every black mother in America would be proud if he were her son.'
"And all of a sudden, the light dawned that it doesn't make any difference what the facts are. And I don't care whether we're talking about white people or black people, we believe what we want to believe."
Spence went on to say that, because there was a history of black people being mistreated by white police officers in Los Angeles, that black jury members (who make up most of the panel) come into the case with an entirely different perspective than white jury members.
"It's a matter of experience. It isn't a matter of intelligence. It isn't a matter of fairness. It isn't a matter of even racism," Spence said. "It's a matter of experience, and the experience of that black jury, I think, is going to result in either an acquittal or a hung jury at least."
"ONCE UPON A TIME . . . in Salt Lake City" won't grab them in Peoria, but if you live around here it's both fascinating and fun.
The 90-minute documentary (8:30 p.m., Ch. 7) looks back at a Salt Lake City that most Utahns are too young to remember - Utah's capital during the 1940s.
It was before the malls, before the high-rises, before they took out most of the on-street parking. When people actually walked down the streets to do their shopping - and the main stops were Auerbach's and Kress - and when you didn't have to go too far down Main Street before you were out in the sticks.
This is an entertaining peek into the past. It's not comprehensive, of course, but it gives viewers a flavor of what life was like some half a century ago.
Set the VCR. (And if you miss it tonight, "Once Upon a Time" will be repeated Thursday at 7 p.m.)