By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Just south of downtown sits the Ervay Theater, the former home of Jack Ruby's nightclub the Silver Spur. It's only appropriate that attorney Bobby Goldstein has turned this venerable old joint into his office, a building now strewn with the carcasses of behemoth oak desks, tables, and leather chairs. One hustler replaces another.
Goldstein and his business partner Tommy Habeeb sit in the upstairs office on a Wednesday morning watching surveillance videotape taken outside an Oak Cliff home. On the tape, a bear of a man wearing a shirt labeled "SECURITY" steps out from the home belonging to a woman who isn't his wife. He moves to the passenger side door of his pickup, which is adorned with green stickers that read in big yellow type, "MARINES." The man slides into the passenger seat, fishes for something, steps out again. He walks back around the front of the truck, leans over to kiss the woman who isn't his wife goodbye, and then moves to get into the driver's seat.
But, right now, it's these last few frames that matter most.
Riiiight...there. See it? Making a compact bulge in the waistband of the man's pants is a gun -- shiny, silver.
"That great big son-of-a-bitch -- he's packing heat," says Goldstein, who produced this little peek-a-boo footage. He speaks fast, like a used-car salesman, and his voice is full of giddy delight. "Did I tell you this was going to be a mind-blowing bust or what? Let's get to work. We've got us a goose to cook before he nails that golden egg."
Goldstein is a round ball of kinetic energy. He can smell infidelity in the air; he lives for the aroma, and he knows how to make it even sweeter. The next time that strapping S.O.B. cuddles up to his mistress, Goldstein would love to jump out and surprise him, video cameras blazing. Goldstein also would love to see what would happen if the man's wife, Margie, jumped out with him.
Goldstein plans on seeing all of the above later today. Tomorrow -- or at least someday -- he hopes to show it to the world.
TV, as far as Goldstein is concerned, has never stunk this good.
"I just hope I don't lose my huevos, literally," shoots back Tommy Habeeb, the man who will ultimately face the alleged two-timing, gun-toting, Marine-loving bear with only the protection of video cameras and his alter-ego: TV Private Dick, Tommy Gunn.
Habeeb and Goldstein are the Abbott and Costello of gotcha television, the current phenomenon of showing real people involved in real, uh, wild situations. Nothing's wilder than someone catching a lover cheating. Habeeb is the lanky, more controlled one, a man tailored all in black. Goldstein's the self-described bad boy, a short, roly-poly sort with a penchant for running at the mouth, often stumbling upon 50-cent words he'd sell you for a buck.
At this moment, Goldstein's office is the epicenter of Cheaters TV, a show that is either another sign of the ruination of our civilization or the next step of evolution for reality television. Simply speaking, Cheaters is three-act drama edited down to 12-minute segments -- at least if Goldstein and Habeeb can ever get their enterprise on the air.
Despite being in production on and off since last year and filming an estimated 25 cases of exposed infidelity, the show has yet to secure any time slot on any channel. But every day Goldstein swears they are a step closer to syndication. Judging by recent trends, he may be right. A When Jilted Lovers Attack special makes about as much sense as watching real police-car chases, disgruntled office workers poop on office furniture, or good pets go bad. And Goldstein and Habeeb have successfully created a dirt storm of controversy, played out on entertainment reports, news magazines, and afternoon talk shows high-minded enough not to condone Cheaters exploits, but base enough to know their audiences are eager for an eyeful and an issue to mouth off about.
Skeptical viewers accuse Cheaters of being a cheat -- fiction masquerading as fact. What else would you expect from a show that has attracted participants from the pages of tabloid fodder such as The Star -- and, yes, ads in the Dallas Observer. Others feel it's all too real, a legal and ethical quagmire that plays only to our prurient interests. Lionized talking heads such as Ralph Langer, former Dallas Morning News editor and an SMU lecturer on media ethics, has repeatedly gone on television to call Cheaters the worst thing he's ever seen. He has accused Goldstein and Habeeb of "sucking scum off the bottom" for fun and profit.
It wouldn't be the first time attorney Goldstein, a grandson of Schepps Dairy founder Harmon Schepps, has been mistaken for scum -- either by detractors or even his own clients, one of whom turned her own lawyer into a defendant.
Goldstein says it probably won't be the last time he winds up on the wrong side of the law. But, he argues, there's nothing wrong with Cheaters TV.
"We're 1984," he says. "We're what George Orwell wrote about. We're Big Brother. I haven't invented any fucking thing here. We just have a format that takes it a bit further. And people want it. They just won't know they want it until they see it."