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Cheaters starts its 10th season as TV's guiltiest pleasure




Fans of bargain-basement TV know the scene: if there's a crowd of cameras, a blubbering girlfriend and a serious-looking guy asking about infidelity, it can only mean one thing:

Another episode of Cheaters is on the air.

Ten years ago, I went on WTVT-Ch. 13's Your Turn talk show to challenge this guy who was pushing one of the most dangerous, exploitive ideas I had ever heard for a TV show. His name was Tommy Habeeb and he wanted to investigate people suspected of cheating by their significant others, using cameras to film their trysts and eventually confront them in public.

At best, it seemed like making money by opening up the worst moments of a couple's life to a jeering TV audience.

At worst, given how fakey the pilot footage looked -- one local TV executive told me he didn't buy the show for his station because it didn't look genuine -- it was a license to stage fake confrontations with bad actors. It seemed just a hair more responsible than another concept CBS was considering producing -- a contest for survival among people trapped on a tropical island.


When I heard Cheaters was starting its tenth season, I had to catch up with the current host, Joey Greco, and ask about  why he's still helping unmask working class lotharios. Over the years, Greco has been arrested, stabbed and burned during these emotional confrontations -- building a show so infamous, it scored a featured spot in a video gag aired on Jay Leno’s first 10 p.m. variety show.

“We’re dealing with a very extreme topic,” said Greco of the show, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Saturday. “But what’s funny is, it’s something that people want to see anyway, but they have to come to terms with accepting the fact that they want to see it. And I think that’s where we’ve been able to make a difference over the last 10 years.”


Making people want to see something they think they shouldn’t – the very definition of a guilty pleasure. Here’s a few more questions for Greco:

Deggans: Ten years ago, TV managers told me your show looked staged. And you faced allegations in 2002 that you paid actors for your scenes. What do you say to skeptics who think it’s all fake?

Greco: Well…people are compensated … in order for us to air someone’s image, they have to sign a release waiver. Sometimes they’re hesitant to sign the waiver. (But) if anyone else has questions beyond that, I would certainly be happy to invite them to any court case that I could be involved in as a result of what may happen on the show


Why are people still surprised to see you after 10 years of busting people on TV?

Greco: Well, I think it may be more that they’re surprised that they’re actually getting caught. Some of the suspects are so brazen, they would even sit and watch the show with their partner at home, and even say, “Go ahead and call Cheaters if you think I’m doing something,” never really thinking that they might actually call. I think there’s almost a bizarre cachet to getting caught on the show.”

Why keep getting in someone’s face, when it’s obvious they’ve been caught cheating?

Greco: I think my job is more “Let’s find out what’s going on,” “There are two sides to every story.” It’s almost like guerilla therapy or guerilla counseling because they’re not always open to answer those questions. But as long as we put them out there and give someone an opportunity to be heard, we’re speaking for someone who doesn’t have a voice who’s been either lied to or given misinformation and has been taken advantage of. And that’s why we’re there – to find out what actually took place.”

Some people say your show is an example of everything that’s wrong with television.

Greco: Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion…(but) no one is on our show that doesn’t seek out assistance. So they know what they’re getting into on the front end. It’s not just about conflict…if these couples want counseling, we provide counseling. If you really sat down and watched, the positive side of it is, ‘Let’s see if we can encourage someone to get out of a relationship that they’re not happy with.’ Let’s be a voice for someone who doesn’t have a voice, and that’s how I look at it.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:02pm]


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