By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Here's what you see on Cheaters TV.
Act I: A client tells Cheaters' fictional hero, Habeeb's Tommy Gunn, why he or she suspects a significant other is unfaithful.
Act II: During a second interview with the client, Tommy Gunn confirms the suspicions with video and audio footage of the actual dalliance.
Act III: The client, duly enraged, needs justice. The only thing to do is confront the adulterers in their lusty indifference. Maybe, if luck holds out, the client will open up the whole can of whup-ass.
In exchange for this service, the client agrees to let the whole thing be videotaped for a television broadcast.
Think of it as Cops meets Jerry Springer. Shaky cameras catch crazy couples cursing at each other. The guy is invariably shirtless.
As creator of this finely detailed outline, Bobby Goldstein doesn't like the Springer association. "Our surveillance work takes the bullshit out," he insists. On Springer, "there's no evidence. That's when you get nothing but a swearing match."
Habeeb leans in. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
"Well, yeah," Goldstein concedes. "But there are other parts to the show. It's not just about fucking over people and leaving them with egg on their faces on national TV. That is a viable part of it, but the reality is..."
Goldstein is on his soapbox now, insisting the show is his art, that he's a rock-and-roll-type rebel just painting with human emotion. He will tell you he's looking for truth in the human condition. He's a caveman painting on the wall, the documentarian of our society's great ill -- infidelity.
"We're just putting the teeth back in the Ten Commandments," Goldstein offers. "That's all. Historically, adultery had a big, big price tag. In today's society, there's no remedy."
But despite Goldstein's yearnings for the return of the Scarlet Letter, can't two people just break up, separate, get a divorce?
"You've been ripped off emotionally and sexually by somebody, and you're just going to get a divorce? Bah. Everybody gets screwed in a divorce. It's a legal process. Whenever the law is involved, everybody gets screwed."
Back in Jack Ruby's old stomping grounds, the top floor of the Ervay Theater, Goldstein stands in front of a bird's-eye-view diagram of the intersection of Zang Boulevard and Beckley Avenue in Oak Cliff. He's addressing all 15 members of the Cheaters crew, which includes the director, John McCalmont; three cameramen; boom mike operators; production assistants; and security guards. They've gathered for the pre-bust briefing to hatch the plan on how to cover the impending second and third acts involving the gun-toting ex-Marine and his wife, Margie. It's vaguely reminiscent of the opening of Hill Street Blues: Every man gets an assignment. The difference is that Goldstein ends this meeting by cautioning his men, "Let's be careful out there, and don't get caught."
"Remember, if anyone asks you, you are the press," he says. "You have rights. But if something should happen, you do have a good criminal lawyer here, and I do mean criminal. Hey, it's a public record.
"But here are the questions you have to ask yourself: What do I want to see on film? Everything. What do I want to hear on film? Everything. And how I'd like to see it? From every fucking angle possible. The idea is to keep it going as long as it can be continued without becoming a part of it. You are really there to be invisible and to create a form of omniscience for those that ultimately watch it. It's your job to catch the real heavy-duty shit coming out of the gut of all the parties. I want to be in the shit, just like in 'Nam. Your cameras are your weapons. Your lights are your shields."
Two uniformed Dallas police officers raise their eyebrows at the scenario. Cheaters has been bringing in off-duty policemen to serve as what can only be called informal decoys. The idea is to have someone official-looking standing around the scene. It helps ward off any troublemakers -- including other police officers who might happen by and take an interest in this spectacle of domestic disturbance.
Last time out, about a month before this bust, an officer named Derrick Wright took the role and, though leery of commenting too much, explained, "They just bring us in to watch over the equipment."
Of course, while he was watching the equipment, the equipment was capturing the image of a woman bitch-slapping her man after finding him nestled down at White Rock Lake with another woman.
Between pops, with the blistering white light of the camera's so-called "sun guns" blinding him, the man calmly inquired, "Uh...is there a peace officer here? I think I've been assaulted."
When asked about not stepping in, Officer Wright raised his eyebrows. "She hit him? I guess I didn't see that. I was, you know, a ways back, backing people away."
But the two officers here this afternoon have seen enough and are about ready to back themselves completely out of this mess. They won't comment, but the non-stop jokes about pending gun play, using cameras as weapons, and plots about how to deter the man and his alleged mistress from bolting away from the cameras are obviously enough to make the two feel uncomfortable.