Enter Poorman

Life's a (bikini) beach for KDOC's returning late-night host

One thing most people will tell you about Jim "The Poorman" Trenton: He's never on time.

Arrive at his editing bay at the appointed hour, ask if he's around, and the staff just laugh. Show up at his house on schedule, and you're likely to encounter a note scrawled in neon-orange marker informing you he'll be back in 15 minutes and to go on inside. The Poorman never locks his house; he believes there's nothing worth stealing inside, though some might think a big-screen TV and a PlayStation 2 are obvious targets. For him, the house itself is his only prized possession—it's right on the beach in Newport.

When he finally shows up, he seems surprisingly normal for a man of his reputation. A middle-aged guy in good physical shape (he surfs and runs every day), shorn of the turd-shaped dreadlocks he used to sport on earlier episodes of his TV show, Poorman's Bikini Beach, he even has a decent smile when he's not mugging or sticking his tongue out for the cameras. He's polite and calm to all, and even if you didn't know he had been a DJ, it wouldn't be hard to guess—not only does he speak in that Casey Kasem style, but he also has certain prerehearsed bits he says over and over. During the time spent with him to write this article, he must have mentioned at least seven times that Bikini Beach is starting to get ratings among women aged 18 to 45 and he can't figure out why, or that he's like Rupert Murdoch on a small scale, or that he's so unemployable that even he wouldn't hire himself to host the show if he didn't own it. His cell phone rings almost constantly, a hazard that comes with plastering his number all over TV and the Internet. "I get calls all the time," he says. "Horny dudes just call—they can't believe it's my phone number, so they just hang up."

The Poorman. Photo by Jack Gould.
The Poorman. Photo by Jack Gould.

Presumably, he's the envy of those dudes, and he admits the job is pretty good. "As far as the on-camera part, you can't beat it," he says. "The part that doesn't make it the greatest job in the world is the fact that I have to sell all the ads and do the business part. But as bad as that is, it makes it my own network, so nobody can kick me off." In eight years of doing the show, the Poorman claims to have slept with only two of the bikini girls, one of whom ended up being his girlfriend for three years. But that's still a major achievement, he says. "If I didn't have a camera, I don't think I'd ever have a chance to talk to these girls like I do."

*     *     *

It's audition day for the special Halloween episode of Poorman's Bikini Beach, a show completely self-financed by the Poorman since he started it in May 1999 and now airing six nights a week on KDOC following a recent move from KJLA, which he says didn't have as strong a signal. KDOC—once the home of Wally George's Hot Seat—was happy to have him: "Girls in bikinis—that's good old wholesome fun," says KDOC owner Bert Ellis. The show is as basic as you can get: The Poorman either puts on or attends events that feature girls in bikinis—or occasionally naked girls, with their naughty bits digitally covered—offers commentary, frequently has the girls humiliate him in some way, then rates the event with a "Poor thumb up" or "Poor thumb down." (Don't tell Roger Ebert, who trademarked the whole thumbs-up/thumbs-down thing back when Gene Siskel was still alive.) The Poorman sells all the advertising time himself and has the show syndicated in nine markets, including Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia and Atlanta, not all of which are as forgiving as KDOC of the show's content or the ads, which often feature controversial products such as medical-marijuana assistance or Ron Jeremy adult DVDs. KRON in San Francisco, furious that Jeremy might be seen plugging porn on their station, recently pulled all the ads from one of the episodes and replaced them with station IDs, a decision that hurt the Poorman financially. "A liberal city like San Francisco—they're the worst!" he notes.

Auditions are held in the upstairs living room of his house, which is mostly empty of furniture and possessions and has a great seaside view. The main goal of the process, it seems, is to see how the prospective starlets walk. No screen test, no speaking . . . just walking. The Weekly photography equipment set up in the corner actually makes this audition look about 200 percent more professional; without it, all you'd have is the Hawaiian-shirted Poorman and a bag of iced cookies. Most of the girls read about the show via L.A. Casting and have never seen the actual program. Victoria Brown recalls the casting notice as having advertised a "bikini fashion show"; Erin Micklow says it explicitly said, "hot girl in a bikini." Both will ultimately be among the seven who are finally cast, and each will have entirely different expectations.

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