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Two years after scandal, "Father Oprah" Alberto Cutie, tries emulating namesake in new daytime TV show

11

July

father-alberto-cutie.jpgFor years, Father Alberto Cutie had the nickname "Father Oprah" for his emotive, successful Spanish-language TV and radio talk shows.

Now he's got a chance to live up to the name.

The Miami priest's new English-language talk show, Father Albert, debuts on several Fox-owned stations at 11 a.m. today, including WTVT-Ch. 13 in Tampa. According to Cutie, the show will have a 21-episode test run, paving the way for a longer commitment if the format jells with viewers.

And rather than avoid his own personal peccadilloes — Cutie left the Roman Catholic Church in 2009 after he was spotted on a Miami beach kissing a woman whom he later married — the now-Episcopal priest will center his show on them.

"I think everybody became so interested with my dilemma," said Cutie, 42. "I think, you know, the program basically deals with people's dilemmas. I think this is an opportunity for me to say to people, hey, guess what. I know about being stuck in a place where you don't know exactly where to turn."

father-albert1.jpgHow did this show come about?

I really didn’t wanna take on anything in the media immediately following, you know, all the hoopla with my transition and the whole media blitz that occurred as part of it. I wanted to kinda lay low and I did, actually. I run a little parish … I’m the rector of a little parish in Biscayne Park, which is just in north Miami, and really enjoy just being a parish priest. Yet, you know, the calls kept coming in: When are you gonna do a talk show? When are you gonna do a talk show in English? There was an interest from Fox, there are interest from Debmar-Mercury. There was a joint venture between the two. They’ve already done this with other talk-show hosts and other successful television programs, and so they said, we want you to take one on yourself, and this is where I’m at right now. This is where we’re starting.

Your nickname when you were on Spanish-language TV was "Father Oprah." Are you trying to take her place now on the daytime talk scene?

When I started in Spanish television, several media started calling me Father Oprah, and I used to laugh about it. I even apologized to Miss Winfrey when I met her because I said to her, I want you to know, I never came up with that title. That’s what a bunch of people called me in different interviews, different reports. But you know, I think the reason they did was because they saw something in Spanish that was very similar to what they saw in Oprah in English … not just Latinos in the U.S. but throughout Latin America, they could identify with this type of talk show. This is not the talk show that exploits your problem and then throws it in your face and then a body guard takes you out because you were so out of control that, you know, 15 people decided they were gonna get up and … punching or cuffing at you. This is the type of talk show where people come, they open their hearts, they … we look for solutions.

cutie_family_746635k.jpgDo you worry some fans won't forgive how you left the church?

My situation, I think, falls way short of what we can really call scandalous in the sense that you’re talking about a single man and a single adult woman. You know, there was no crime, there was no covering up, there was … I mean, there wasn’t a payout by the church for thousands of dollars (chuckles) as in other cases, unfortunately, we see. But certainly, for very traditional-minded people, it’s scandalous that a celibate priest would allow himself to be involved in a relationship with a secret girlfriend and that that relationship would eventually become public and that he would make the decision to move on and marry. I think that many people, in their own mind, think, well, the right thing to do is to just decide no, I’m not supposed to love this way and I’m just supposed to continue, you know, following the rules and just shut every other situation down. But, you know, I think in life we evolve and we change our mind, you know.

Was your head turned by all the fame and acclaim?

"I've never looked to work in media. I've always either been assigned by my bishop or been invited. I think the people who really know me, know that my passion is to be a parish priest and that whatever media work I do is always somehow an offshoot of that and not vice versa. In my case, it’s a little different than a lot of the popular religious TV figures because a lot of them are millionaires, you know, and a lot of them do live like millionaires and they have the expensive suits and the fancy cars. And, you know, I didn’t live that way. I was an international celebrity in the Spanish-speaking world, and I was accessible to people. I never lived on a private island where people couldn't get to me if they had to. I still drive my Honda Civic."

Your TV work also never seemed connected to your work as a priest, either.

"In '98, (Spanish language network Telemundo) told me, 'We want a priest to host a talk show.' For me, the idea was outrageous but I understood; if people want to hear me preach, they can come to church on Sunday. My work as a talk-show host was helping people as they are. It's like, you know, why do doctors now host talk shows? Well, there's a role for us in television."

[Last modified: Monday, July 11, 2011 10:28am]

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