Bob Deck, Smarmy Talk Show Guy

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Bob Deck, Smarmy Talk Show Guy

Bob Deck gazes steadfastly at the TV set just above the bar in an Old City restaurant and—in that sort of quizzical, let's-just-imagine-this-for-a-sec voice that local cable TV audiences used to hear so often—says: "You know, there ought to be a Drinking Channel. Hopefully, there'll be a Single Malt Channel sooner or later."

But not to worry—the slim-handsome-and-43 former talk show host hasn't lost himself to the bottle since being vanquished from the local television world for the past two years. ("I drink less now, probably, than I ever have in my life," Deck insists. "I'm a changed man!") He is, however, the same affable, inquisitive, wisecracking fellow who inspired a cult of affable, inquisitive, wisecracking fans with his live, daily call-in show on that grand experiment in local TV broadcasting known as TNi. The now defunct "i Channel" was envisioned by WBIR in 1994 as a local cable channel that specialized in...uh, well, that was never very clear. But Deck's Prime Talk was the "i" in question, the only truly "interactive" aspect of the whole cutting edge media venture. With his local guests, musicians, topical issues, wacky remote segments, and especially the phone calls, Prime Talk was genuinely different, if not exactly great. While other local TV shows earnestly trade in smarm on a daily basis, Deck made fun of the fact he was being smarmy with a lot of self-deprecating humor and rare intelligence.

"I think I was the same person on the air that I am off the air," Deck says, attempting to explain the show's appeal. "Among all the sweet, wonderful, talented people who work in this market and many other markets—everybody I've ever met in this industry—that's an exception to the rule. Not that it's better, but the show looked different and sounded different and acted differently than other shows do. You hate to use the word 'attitude,' but it had a quality of authenticity that I don't think shows have."

After about two and a half years on the air—and with the future of TNi in doubt—Deck accepted a job offer to host a similar show in Nashville. Unfortunately, the station's management changed the same day Deck moved into town—and it decided to give him the boot even before his first show. Since that dark day in 1997, nary a month goes by when we here at Metro Pulse aren't queried about Deck's whereabouts—and why the heck doesn't he have a show? The answer is probably that nobody's willing to give him one—because the idea of returning to the air still tempts Deck.

"Actually, I think a lot about television, because I love television. Who could not love television?" says Deck. "And I think I'll probably do something again one of these days, I don't know what. I talked with some folks to do an Andy Rooney-style segment, but it never went beyond just talk. They didn't have the resources or the money—'We don't know how we'd get it produced, but we'd love for you to do it.' Well, that'd be great, wouldn't it? Maybe I'll just click my heels and we'll have a segment."

Don't cry for Bob, though—he's been quite busy with the rest of his life. Career-wise, he's been scripting commercials ("I'm a mercenary writer. I write what pays. I do television commercials, I do radio commercials, anything—without any predilection or consideration for what it is or what it might do to people. I'm pretty heartless."). But most importantly, he and his wife Kate traveled to China one year ago and adopted a little girl. Olivia Liyan, now 2 1/2 years old, consumes most of his thoughts.

"I'm really involved in raising my daughter. It's been the single coolest thing that's ever happened to me. Every gooey cliché that everybody applies to child-rearing and having a kid..." His words trail off. "It's astonishing. There's no way to effectively, accurately articulate what it's like to be a parent as far as the emotional investment that goes along with it. You can tell the cute stories, you can tell the horror stories, but there's no way...." He shakes his head. "And people kept saying that to me: 'You're not going to believe how much you're going love this child.' And they are absolutely right—the depth of attachment that you have is beyond comprehension."

So, if you see Bob about town, be sure to say hi. These days, he confesses, he mostly gets people who walk up to him and say he "looks like that guy on TV" ... Dylan McDermott. "That's kind of nutty. Though I got a David Duchovny the other day. My wife was thrilled."

—Coury Turczyn