Tuesday, March 28, 2006
"Niko, when it comes to 10-month-old Princess -- "
Onstage, the young man and woman, warring over the infant, hang on the host's every word. The mother, Sanquenetta, has insisted that the man, Niko, is the father; he is adamant that he is not. They've come to this TV studio to tell their conflicting stories and insult each other, to the great amusement of a live audience.
All that remains is the payoff: the results of a DNA paternity test.
Welcome to "The Maury Show." The man opening the envelope containing the test results could only be Maury Povich, the program's genial, somewhat controversial host. Each day, the program presents an array of guests united by their life-dramas, which are generally sex-dramas. Show titles -- always heavy on exclamation points -- range from "Secret Sex Videos . . . Ruined Lives! Caught on Tape!" to "I Think I Got Our Babysitter Pregnant . . . Don't Divorce Me!" to "I'll Prove My Baby Is Your 14th Child!"
The paternity show, though, is the program's signature format, its franchise -- as well as its highest rated, helping "Maury" (3.8 million viewers daily) rank fourth this season among daytime talk shows, behind "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Dr. Phil" and "Live With Regis and Kelly." (The hour-long show airs locally at noon and 2 p.m. on Channel 50.)
Only minutes ago, Paul Faulhaber, the syndicated program's executive producer since it began in 1998, warmed up the crowd of 150-plus at a recent taping. ("Is Brooklyn in the house? Let me hear it, Brooklyn!") When he announced that the day's theme was paternity, the audience turned red-hot, shrieking with delight.
Paternity segments vary in the particulars, but the outline is almost always identical: A woman accuses a man of fathering her child, and he denies it. They state their cases, often savagely, and then Povich reads the DNA results. That settles the genetic question, although often it does little to bring peace between the parties.
Povich's studio audiences tend to sympathize with mothers, and when he leads Sanquenetta to the stage and announces that she "made the mistake of her life when she met a man named Niko," audience members murmur with understanding.
Guests are encouraged to be forthright, and Sanquenetta is. "I'm not 100, I'm not 1,000, I'm a million percent sure he's the father of my baby," she says. "Maury, this is the first and last time you're gonna see me on your show."
That last statement alludes to some of Povich's more notable female guests, who have made a staggering number of appearances in seeking to establish first this man, then that one, then still another as their children's fathers. (A woman named Georgetta has attained legendary status by appearing 12 times to test 13 men.)
When Sanquenetta told Niko she was pregnant, she reports to the audience, "he said, 'Have an abortion.' " And since Princess's birth, she adds, he has provided "nothin'. No Pampers, no diapers, nothin'."