Turn on your TV at 9 o'clock next Tuesday morning. You've got your Sally Jessy Raphael. You've got your Regis and Kathie Lee. And over on Channel 45, you've got your Tom Tabback.
Actually, the big question may be: What?
You see, The Tom Tabback Show is a talk show quite unlike any other.
You doubt it?
Does Johnny Carson pay a local TV station to air his program?
Does Geraldo Rivera tape his show in a Holiday Inn disco in Mesa?
Does Oprah Winfrey's "green room" feature a Murphy bed?
Can Arsenio Hall boast that he is the nephew of the guy who ran Mel's Diner on TV's Alice? Heeeeere's Tom!!! "DOES THE WORLD really need another talk show?" asks Tom Tabback, who resembles a toothier, mustachioed version of Lyle Waggoner (the third banana on Carol Burnett's old TV show). "Absolutely not. But I realized that going in."
Now closing in on his first anniversary on the tube, the 39-year-old Tabback is the host of the Valley's only locally produced talk show. And in a TV age when slick packaging and sensationalism (witness Personalities and A Current Affair) are everything, The Tom Tabback Show is a happy, homey throwback to the milquetoast days of Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. As Tabback's relentless publicity factory is so fond of pointing out, the show is full of "old-fashioned, lighthearted fun."
Think of a cornfed couch confab where everything is groovy and never is heard a discouraging word. Kind of a folksy version of SCTV's Sammy Maudlin Show. Or, in the words of one press release, "If you are getting tired of the oversensationalized, negative, or just plain boring programs on television, there is a positive alternative."
Last year, Tabback became positive that he was that alternative. A former Phoenix police officer turned health-aid mogul, the self-avowed "ham" had long harbored show-biz ambitions.
After all, the business hadn't been bad to his uncle, Vic Tayback. (The late actor decided to spell the family name phonetically.) But even though Tom Tabback landed a bit part as a cop when Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet was shot here in 1977, Hollywood wasn't exactly breaking down his door.
Unfazed, Tabback decided to bankroll his own TV program with an eye toward syndication, a move that some might have interpreted as a case of galloping egotism.
"I'm not doing it for the money," says Tabback. "I'm doing it because it's fun, it's what I enjoy and I think I can be good at it. But God Almighty--you've got to make money, too, or you won't have fun for long."
Realizing that he needed a solid air date to lure West Coast names for the short flight to his divan in Arizona, Tabback's first task was buying a drop-dead slot on Channel 45's Tuesday-morning schedule. The companies that flood TV with infomercials do it all the time, but rarely does anyone buy time to air an entertainment show.
"Sure, it's an unusual way to go," admits Tabback. "But it was something I had to do in terms of lining up some good celebrity guests." That's where Tabback's ten-woman production staff comes in. (Some of them double as employees at his SportStar Nutrition Supplement company.) "They're hard chargers," he says, "fantastic little gals who accomplish so much that they boggle my mind. I think if I asked them to call the president, they'd have him on the phone waiting for me in fifteen minutes."
To date, Tabback's task force hasn't been asked to place any calls to the Oval Office. The "gals" have, however, spent many hours phoning the far reaches of the Hollywood galaxy to line up a roster of has-beens, wanna-bes and never-weres. As his publicity claims, "Hollywood comes to the Valley of the Sun!"
It's not an easy task. "Last week we were supposed to have Nancy Grahn, but we couldn't get her because she ended up having to be in wardrobe all day," explains Tabback.
"We got Timothy Gibbs to fill in for her, instead," Tabback adds. "He did a fantastic job, by the way."
(For the record, Grahn and Gibbs are players on the NBC soap Santa Barbara. Like most of Tabback's guests, they don't exactly suffer from overexposure.)
"Once the shows go on hiatus, we've got all these people saying they want to do the show because the word is out this is a great show to do," says Tabback, who claims that "Roseanne Barr, Kim Basinger, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera" are "future guests being scheduled."
"These people are having fun," he says of his guests. "A lot of celebrities avoid doing shows where they might be asked embarrassing questions about their personal lives."