Clark Gable is on the Case

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Schadenfreudenista pin-up Clark Gable III with a client

Last year, Clark Gable III replaced the venerable Joey Greco as the host of Cheaters. Gable has his grandfather’s profile. ‘He’s the handsomest guy ever,’ Cheaters creator Bobby Goldstein told Dallas News.  ‘You think you’re watching a ghost.’ The Cheaters brand was tarnished when Inside Edition revealed that Joey Greco’s Season 9 stabbing had been staged. With his furrowed brow and ambrosial lips wrought through with indignation, Gable represented a fresh start for the grey lady of reality TV.

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Joey Greco takes a hit in Season 9

The Cheaters formula has remained unchanged for thirteen years. The host’s prim, yet florid introduction to the cuckold (‘Afraid that his maneuvers are calculated, she seeks guidance from a trusted and resourceful organization’) precedes black and white surveillance footage of ‘the suspect ‘ romancing their secret lover, vigorously narrated by Robert Magruder, Cheaters‘ éminence grise. The delinquent lovers hold hands over the table at Cheddar’s and visit White Rock Lake at night; they are caught in flagrante delicto by hidden spy cameras in their bedrooms. Segments conclude with The Confrontation: after watching the surveillance footage, the cuckold interrupts and usually attacks the cheaters, surrounded by Clark Gable and a crew in black Cheaters T-shirts wielding shoulder mount camcorders and fuzzy boom mics.

The cheaters hold their assignations in a rotating stable of two-story apartment complexes in Dallas Fort-Worth and Greater Houston. Everything is comfortingly familiar: the midnight strolls, the parking lot battles, the ambient theme playing over the surveillance footage, the slow Cheaters guitar riff ushering in the commercial breaks.

IMG_1321 After the quiz show scandals of the fifties, The Communication Act of 1934 was amended to prohibit ‘influencing, prearranging, or predetermining outcomes… (in) contests of knowledge, skill, or chance… with intent to deceive the listening or viewing public,’ but no laws regulate against presenting acted-out scenarios as real. The veracity of Cheaters has been questioned since Season 2, when Scott Nowell of Houston Press interviewed five people who said they’d earned $400.00 to perform in fake scenes. A woman named Michelle told Nowell she was recruited by the program’s infamous Detective Gomez, who purportedly shoots the incriminating surveillance footage. Michelle said Detective Gomez urged her to ‘take one for the team’ and make out with the metalhead who was cast as her secret boyfriend, an assertion in conflict with the gushing testimonials on the Gomez Detective Agency’s website.*

‘That’s interesting, ‘ Goldstein bristled when Nowell contacted him with the allegations, ‘I don’t know. Dan Rather reporting that Gore won Florida comes to mind. No matter how many quality controls you put into place, I guess there’s always some hanky-panky that could arise.’

Participants respond to ads on Craigslist, Myspace, and Facebook. They earn $50.00 for each person they refer to Cheaters. Oftentimes, a group of platonic friends will make a day of it. Shooting lasts about ten hours. ‘It was a blast,’ one Reddit poster wrote.

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Detective Gomez briefs Clark Gable prior to The Confrontation

 When Cheaters premiered in 2002, the spy footage was a departure from the show’s hidden camera/practical joke predecessors. Jerry Springer’s audience became a Roman mob in the nineties. Cheaters marked another cultural shift: a population acquiescent to surveillance. People began invading their own privacy. Cheaters opened an online Spy Shop, where suspicious viewers can avail themselves of the hidden cameras, GPS trackers, and semen detection kits in Detective Gomez’s bag of tricks.

Cheaters is repetitive. The performances are for the most part painfully false, like a film school melodrama starring the director’s friends. Yet Cheaters endures. A Bulgarian version called Caught Cheating premiered in 2008. The Cheaters website claims a weekly viewership of 1.5 million people in over 100 countries.  It airs Saturday nights at 12:30 on WUTV Buffalo, at midnight on WCIU in Chicago, WLNY in Long Island, KDOC in Los Angeles, weeknights at 11:00 in London on ReallyUK, working the graveyard shift from country to country, up and down the dial.

*eg. ‘Thank you so much for everything. You are the greatest detective ever…. Thank you again for being such a great person and wonderful detective.’ 

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