In May 1993, while still on the air at KROQ, I began doing fun live street reports for a fledgling morning-news show, Fox 11’s Good Day L.A. I got the gig because of the popularity of my radio show Loveline. My first feature was a breakfast “for under $3” at Burger Continental in Pasadena. Fox 11’s management loved the report, saying, “You hit a home run!” They kept hiring me one to three times a week to do these lifestyle features in the field. Even after I was suspended from KROQ, I continued to be a regular on Good Day L.A.
In July 1994, I hit upon a big exclusive. My publicists Steve Levesque and Dave Crowley got wind of the fact that the iconic 1969 film Easy Rider was being screened for a 25th-anniversary celebration. They arranged for me to have the first exclusive interviews with star Peter Fonda, who co-wrote the movie, and director/co-star Dennis Hopper. Easy Rider was a film that took a groundbreaking look at the late 1960s in America and became a statement for an entire disillusioned generation when it was released on July 14, 1969. It only cost $400,000 to make but grossed $60 million at the box office. Here I was, through a twist of fate, poised and ready to be the first to interview the two main stars of this movie during its landmark celebration! (As a side note, there was recently a 50th-anniversary celebrationof Easy Rider. I can’t believe how fast time flies by!)
The producers at Good Day L.A. were also extremely excited to get this exclusive. They saw it as a wonderful opportunity to score some big ratings. The show needed it. It were a brand-new morning program struggling with low ratings and trying to compete against the established “behemoth,” Channel 5’s KTLA Morning News. Fox 11 management pulled out all the stops to flawlessly make it happen. The day before I was to interview Peter and Dennis, they sent a truck to the location and conducted satellite tests to ensure that nothing could go wrong technically. Everything was set. Unfortunately, they didn’t account for a thorough inspection of what might go wrong inside the Poorman’s brain.
The following day, we shot the live interviews. It was a beautiful, sunny morning at the Thunder Roadhouse on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Fonda and Hopper decided to do the interview there because they were part owners of this new restaurant. When I arrived, they hadn’t shown up yet. We were scheduled to do two bits on the show that day. The first one was to take place in the 7 a.m. hour, and the interview with Peter and Dennis was scheduled in the 8 a.m. hour. Around 7:20 a.m., I interviewed the manager of the Thunder Roadhouse, who explained it was a motorcycle-themed venue, talked about the menu and showed us the Easy Rider memorabilia on the walls. He also took me outside to ride on one of the motorcycles parked in front. It all went flawlessly. I felt great!
Around 7:45 a.m., Peter and Dennis arrived and went to eat breakfast. They introduced themselves and were both really cool, down-to-earth guys—kind of what you expected. There was no “I’m a big star” arrogance. Our Good Day L.A. live interview was right around the corner. They wanted me to conduct it at the table while eating to show that the Thunder Roadhouse served breakfast. At this point, I started to get really nervous. Maybe it was due to all the hype about the Easy Rider reunion, but more probably I was thinking about all the high-powered executives at the Fox network, including Rupert Murdoch, tuning in for my interview. There was a lot of pressure, and I let it get to me.
At 8:20 a.m., we went live on Good Day L.A. I introduced Fonda and Hopper. The interview became a perfect example of how to lose a prime TV job. Before I even brought up Easy Rider, I immediately told Peter on the air while he was eating, “I think your daughter Bridget Fonda is hot! I’d like to date her.” As he put down his fork, slightly annoyed, he gestured to our cameraman to come closer to his face. He then asked, “Do I have any shit in my teeth?” In case you didn’t know, you can’t say “shit” on broadcast television. The interview went downhill fast from there.
My producer Mike Levin remembers very well what happened. “We were so excited to get this gig,” he recalls. “The ratings of Good Day L.A. weren’t that good. I was so proud Poorman lined this up. Then we were so bummed. I was standing right by the cameraman, watching the whole thing in his viewfinder. It was like, ‘Oh, nooo, did [Poorman] really say that? There goes our jobs.’”
At the time, Bridget Fonda was a very hot actress who had just starred in the movie Point of No Return, in which she played an incredibly sexy assassin. I’m sure a lot of guys had a reference point to Peter Fonda related to the simple fact that he had a gorgeous daughter, who, by the way, is now married to Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo. I probably brought up what was on every man’s mind, but it certainly crashed and burned on live television during a morning show watched primarily by women. Looking back, it was a really stupid move to ask that!
Afterward, Mike and I were summoned to the location truck to talk to the producer back at Fox News LA headquarters. I was notified I was most likely going to get fired. As I drove home west on Sunset toward the ocean, I felt like continuing to drive right off the Santa Monica Pier. That’s how bad I felt. Amazingly, the next day, I was given another assignment, and it was like everybody had forgotten what happened and moved on. This was a case where I really got lucky. But I will never forget Peter Fonda. May he rest in peace with no shit in his teeth.
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When Poorman doesn’t have his feet in the sand, you can find him on the air Monday-Friday 7am-10am at KOCI hosting Poorman’s Morning Rush – Orange County’s only morning drive show. His show brings plenty of excitement, and of course, the Poorman’s aura of unpredictability – both good and bad – that has defined his legend! Email Jim “Poorman” Trenton at [email protected] to request a song or submit music.