As a radio DJ, Jim "The Poorman" Trenton has been fired by a long list of stations for such on-air antics as walking out, inviting listeners to a surprise party at a colleague's house and running a contest in which he encouraged people to destroy their most expensive piece of property. On TV, he once got in trouble for doing a show in the nude, wearing only a conveniently placed baseball cap. But when we interviewed him for a November cover story, everything seemed on the upswing. With his TV show Poorman's Bikini Beach being pre-taped, there was no question of him doing anything too crazy or surprising on-air. And KDOC seemed happy to have him, with station owner Bert Ellis calling the show "good old wholesome fun" and telling us in an interview that he hadn't had any problems with the show's content or ads.
But the day after our feature came out, Trenton received an e-mail from Ellis reading, in part, "We cannot air the Ron Jeremy ads anymore. . . . They are now costing us mainstream business. . . . We will be blacking them out/or overriding them with something else starting tonight. . . . Can you sell something more mainstream than porno tape ads? If not, we will have to part ways. . . . We cannot balance our family-friendly positioning and these ads."
The Weekly story referenced a situation with a San Francisco TV station that specifically had a problem with those same Ron Jeremy ads and blacked them out. Ellis says his decision regarding the ads had nothing to do with our story, but that "Jim never tried to go mainstream with his show or his advertising. He did not grow with the opportunity."
Yet the Ron Jeremy ads—in which the portly porn star pitches a monthly subscription service for an adult-DVD company—were part and parcel of Poorman's Bikini Beach from the very beginning of the deal and had been running for five months without any complaints. In an e-mail dated Sept. 6, regarding a show that featured the Jeremy commercial, Ellis wrote, "We are okay with all of the commercials except for the proms with the naked/semi-naked girls hidden by the 'black tape.'"
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When the ads were pulled, without warning, Ellis refunded Trenton for a week's worth of lost revenue, but Trenton was unable to find a replacement sponsor—the Jeremy ads had been booked for the entire season, at approximately $2,200 per week, says Trenton. "I said I'd try really hard to get new sponsors, but you just can't wiggle a magic wand and replace 15 minutes of commercial time in a week. So it didn't work out, and after that, the problems really started accelerating over Thanksgiving because I sent [Ellis] an invoice and paid him less the week after that, when he stopped honoring the missed commercials."
Ellis' response to Trenton's invoice, dated Nov. 21, states, "There is no provision in the contract for you to claim and/or take an offset to our $4,200 weekly payment that is due upfront. . . . You can argue for a refund after the fact, but you have no contractual right to claim any offsets."
Trenton sent a copy of his contract, signed by himself on Sept. 18 and by Ellis on Sept. 17, to the Weekly. Indeed, there is no provision for offsets—it states clearly that $4,200 per week must be paid in advance to KDOC. But it also states that "nudity or obscene language shall be the sole basis for content editing or show rejection" and that "commercial content of Bikini Beach is subject to the same nudity and obscene-language criteria as the shows themselves. This is the sole criteria for commercial-content editing or rejection."
The Jeremy spots featured neither nudity nor obscene language. Nor did an ad for genital-wart removal featuring Dr. Jeffrey Lauber (who also advertises in the Weekly). Yet it may have been the final straw—"This ad did not air, it was not in the show," Trenton says. "I just gave it to the programming people to take a look and see if it was all right to run." But no sooner had he submitted it than he got an e-mail from Ellis saying, "I am officially notifying you of cancellation of Bikini Beach, effective Dec. 31, 2007. I am also notifying you we will not be airing the increasingly offensive spots you are selling within Bikini Beach, effective immediately. That is our right and obligation as a broadcaster. I am sorry that you could not use this relationship to try to mainstream your show, but we are not a late-night avenue for pornography or for the removal of genital warts. This could have worked if you had made a real effort. The rap on you when I tried this was you would always push the rules and standards. I thot [sic] you had changed, and we could count on you. I was wrong. It is the same old, same old."
(Note: Apparently half-hour infomercials for colon-cleansing products are fine with Ellis, though—that's what we found airing in Bikini Beach's old time slot late last month.)
Ellis defends his decision as merely one of non-contract renewal—Trenton's deal was set to expire Dec. 31. "I did not want a sleazy franchise at 11:30, no matter how late it was," he says. "Bikini Beach has a chance to be something fun and cool and OC, and in my view, Poorman didn't make the effort to try and do that, so we gave up on him."
"He breached the contract, regardless of what he felt, and that's just bad business," Trenton responds. "It's not like I was in love with the Ron Jeremy ads; I'm just trying to make a living, and I was upfront when we made the deal. If he had a problem, he should have not put me on the air. If he had said no, I would have still been on KJLA," the station his show was on pre-KDOC. Trenton and his attorney are sending a letter to Ellis demanding payment of $20,000, the amount of lost revenue they believe is due. If Ellis declines, Trenton says, they will sue him.
Meanwhile, Bikini Beach fans will be pleased to know that the show has a new network lined up: KRCA Channel 62, a Spanish-language station that's home to such shows as Que Buena TV, Don Cheto and Jose Luis Sin Censura. However, don't expect Poorman en español-beginning Jan. 28, his will be the only English-language program on the network.
View the offending genital-wart-doctor ad online at blogs.ocweekly.com/navelgazing, and decide for yourself if it went too far.
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