Your cheatin' heart...

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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.


Scenes from Cheaters

Coming Soon

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."

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.

Goldstein seems impervious to their unease, but a few minutes later, he signs their paychecks. The officers collect for a job they won't do, leaving before anything has really begun. Goldstein explains that this situation might go beyond the scope of what police officers are permitted to do. After all, this ain't no off-duty babysitting gig at a local mall.

He smirks. "Did I tell you this was one not to be missed? They got scared of the situation. What in the hell does that tell you? What kind of crazy fucks are we?"

Crazy. That's one word to describe Cheaters. Sneaky is another. Devious, yet another. Unscrupulous? Perhaps. Illegal? Only a lawsuit will determine that for sure, but the show definitely flirts with some sticky issues.

Along with ambushing unsuspecting private citizens with allegations of adultery, the show hires detectives to suss out evidence. These private investigators collect not only surveillance tape, but also audio of the suspects lying to their mates. On an episode of Cheaters already in the can, the stakeout revealed some too-hot-for-TV hanky-panky on a living-room couch. But most of the Cheaters footage is akin to the material taken of Margie's security-guard husband. He may be kissing another woman when he's supposed to be at work, but the evidence of down-and-dirty adultery is circumstantial at best.

Broadcasting it all on television just begs charges of intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation of character, libel, and, of course, invasion of privacy. Goldstein, of course, does not see it this way.

"We do not invade anybody's privacy," he insists. "You don't have a privacy expectation when you go out in public. All our recording is done in public."

What about placing a bug on a phone?

Goldstein sticks out his tongue as though a different kind of bug just flew into his mouth. "It's not a bug...don't use the 'bug' word." He explains that in Texas, one party can record another party without consent. "If I own a home...then I can rig all the cameras I want in my own dwelling. And I can even wiretap my own home."

He grimaces. "Wait, wait." He bangs his hand down on the table and grins. "It's not 'wiretap.' Don't use that word either."

The Cheaters team doesn't call Goldstein "J. Edgar" for nothing.

Then again, there's one easy way to make sure nobody sues: Goldstein gets his subjects to sign releases, giving him their OK to appear on TV. And how does he do that? Easy. He pays them. He even admitted as much on Leeza Gibbons' syndicated show. "I control the checkbook," he told the host, "and I'll do what it takes to make the program."

Not that the money makes much difference to some of those who have been put under Cheaters' microscope.

Hampton -- just Hampton, no last names please -- appears in the Cheaters footage that has made the rounds, having been aired on NBC's Later Today and other news-magazine programs. Hampton, you see, caught his girlfriend Elena with another woman.

He doesn't like to talk about the money, because he thinks it will make people assume the scenario was faked. He says he doesn't want people to think his tears and pain and confusion were anything but absolutely real.

"That was one of the worst experiences of my life, period," Hampton says. "A camera crew being there didn't help, but it didn't change what happened or what I was going through. And money -- money didn't come in until afterward. And if I knew then what I know now, I'd say, 'No, no thanks. Not for any amount of money.' The decision screwed my chances of ever getting Elena back. It screwed up my life."

Hampton says Goldstein told him the incident would be broadcast regardless of whether he signed a permission slip. According to Hampton, Goldstein told him he had no legal recourse against Cheaters -- and Hampton believed him.

"I'm not sure whether he's a conniving son of a bitch or not," Hampton says. "But I'm not very intelligent when it comes to the legal field, and neither is Elena. So the most I'm going to do is think, 'Oh, you fucking cocksucker.'"

But Hampton is, in fact, somewhat protective of the Cheaters gang, even though he can't really explain why. This, even though Goldstein told Hampton he wouldn't air the footage if that's what Hampton wanted, but Hampton would be responsible for wasting $20,000 worth of crew and equipment and time.

"It was like, you can only twist somebody's arm so much before it breaks," Hampton says. "And rather than breaking my arm, I thought, 'Fuck it, it's already done. And the relationship is over. There's nothing I can do. So why not?'"

Goldstein, sitting at his desk, says he didn't pay Hampton anything for his appearance on the show. Hampton was the client who sought Cheaters' services out. All clients sign waivers before production of their case ever begins. But Goldstein readily admits that some money was exchanged for some promotional work on behalf of Cheaters -- meaning, Goldstein has paid Hampton to appear on shows such as Leeza and do interviews with other media. "It's hard to ask these people to give you their time for free to help us sell the show," Goldstein insists.

Goldstein then walks over to his filing cabinet to double-check the paperwork.

"Well, I guess I'm mistaken," he admits, holding up a photocopy of a check made out to Hampton for $1,000. "We paid him this for helping us get his girlfriend to sign the release."

Not exactly a windfall for public humiliation.

Elena, for her part, says only that she agreed to take the money and sign the release because "it's something Hampton and I discussed and decided on." When asked if she regrets it, she answers without hesitation: "Oh, yes."

Rewind the tape, back to Goldstein's comments about how "whenever the law is involved, everybody gets screwed." There may not be anyone better to discuss that subject than Bobby Goldstein himself. The man's not only a lawyer, but just one year ago, he was the subject of an enormous lawsuit that cost him plenty.

Lynne Ginsburg nailed him for more than $100 million in a malpractice suit after he handled -- or, she claimed, mishandled -- her high-dollar divorce from former Chancellor Media mogul Scott Ginsburg. Along with charges of professional negligence, exorbitant fees, and stolen money and property, Lynne Ginsburg accused Goldstein, a married man with young children, of attempting to convert the attorney-client relationship into a sexual one.

She filed suit against her lawyer and applied for a restraining order, insisting that "Goldstein repeatedly told [her] that he loved her [and] could not make it through the day without hearing her voice." Court documents also claim that Goldstein also approached her about having his baby and suggested they enter into a contract where he would pay Ginsburg $1 million to bear his child. She claims Goldstein said they could "have sex as often as necessary." She also said Goldstein wanted to pick the name of the baby.

Goldstein writes off Ginsburg's allegations as nothing more than the products of his "colorful past." He claims he did indeed love Lynne, and that he thought they were great friends who understood each other. He adds only that "people can make some bad choices."

"She found some other lawyers," Goldstein says. "I won't use any other words but 'effective' to describe them, but they gave me what I can only call a Welcome to Prison Initiation."

Despite the exorbitant judgment, both Goldstein and Ginsburg's attorney say Goldstein ended up paying far less than $100 million. (The actual settlement amount remains sealed.) Still, Goldstein does admit the case damaged him personally and professionally.

He is also forthcoming about his 1989 conviction for securing and executing a document by deception, resulting in two years' probation.

However, Goldstein still insists on pleading his case, trying to split legal hairs. "I'm not a convicted felon," he says. "If you read the latest ruling on the case, it says clearly that judgment of guilt is set aside and the indictment is dismissed. People never put that in. The public only likes the dirty stuff."

Even Goldstein's detractors must admit the obvious: The man has balls made of bronze, and they are as big as his head. As the mastermind behind Cheaters, he risks not only potential litigation, but something far worse. After all, it's not out of the question to consider that disgruntled cheaters might up and decide to hunt down ol' J. Edgar.

Larry Friedman, Goldstein's "effective" legal nemesis in the Ginsburg case, acknowledges that Goldstein is skipping down "a potentially highly litigious path" with Cheaters. But that's scarcely the point, Friedman says, when you consider the danger in situations involving husbands and wives on the outs. Especially when the husband carries a gun.

"It takes a lot of courage, and Bobby's nothing if not courageous," Friedman says. "He's a risk-taker...I've spent years studying Bobby Goldstein, and I'll say one thing. He's one of a kind. And you can quote me on that, but that's where I'll leave it for now."

"I don't want to fuck anybody around," Goldstein says. "Not really...I'll say this in all sincerity: If truly it can be demonstrated to me there is no utility to Cheaters, and if it can be demonstrated to me that the harm always outweighs the good and that there is absolutely nothing beneficent about it, that it's evil and wicked, I'm telling you I wouldn't do it. If you see me doing it, let me know."

A few hours after Goldstein and Habeeb watched the videotape of the man with the gun, a private investigator named Danny Gomez calls. He's got bad news: Margie, the wife, has decided to bail out. Goldstein's horns begin to show. He's wringing his fists. He's steamed.

Goldstein barks into the phone, telling Gomez to remind his client she signed a contract. He then hangs up and exhales.

"I am empathetic," Goldstein insists. He sounds pained that his sincerity may be in doubt. "I know what she's going through. When one is in love or devoted to another and that person is not reciprocating, it is very, very tormenting. It causes a lot of angst and grief and anxiety. I'm not disappointed so much that these people think selfishly: me, me, me, me. I would expect them to feel that way. What I don't want to do, of course, is to give everybody a free walk. It costs me $6,000 to get this camera stuff together, to get these personnel together. It's a big investment."

To protect this investment, all clients sign a contract. Goldstein pulls Margie's paperwork from under a pile of papers and folders on his desk. "This document is very, very clear. And we give them all the time in the world that they need to sign it."

He flips to the second page, runs a finger down to Section 11, and reads. "I understand that producer shall incur financial and other obligations in reliance upon this agreement, including without limitation my agreement to participate in the materials."

Blah, blah, blah, he ellipses through the paragraph to: "In the event that I breach any representation, warranty, or agreement..." He stops reading. "Well, anyway, technically they have to pay us back."

Goldstein argues that it's not in the show's best interest to misrepresent anything, especially to the clients. "I want them to know how the show works. If they are confident with what's going on, they'll be less inclined to disappear on us at the last minute."

Goldstein has a plan to keep Margie from disappearing. Danny Gomez has agreed to bring along other family members to the second interview -- Margie's brother and her 19-year-old daughter. This scenario isn't the norm, but it might save this particular episode, especially if Margie bails. Maybe her family will want to step in and confront her husband in her stead.

In order for that to happen, Goldstein instructs the cameramen to tape them giving their names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth -- and, of course, their permission to use their images in case a release can't be obtained later.

The funny thing is, Margie's threatening to balk and she doesn't know yet about the surveillance footage of her husband kissing another woman. Margie spent the morning in church and has decided to let God, not Bobby Goldstein, take care of everything.

"We have found that if we inform clients of the suspect's misconduct and give them too long to stew over it, they will lose their chili and screw up the bust," Goldstein says, explaining why he has yet to show Margie the tape. "Which, I guess, is selfish, but they will also put themselves in a vulnerable position before they have a chance to take the aggressive offensive."

But isn't that a form of misrepresentation?

"That's for their own protection."

A few hours later, Margie has decided she wants nothing to do with busting her husband. She sits in the back seat of a bronze Suburban; she is a statue of grief. Her daughter tries to comfort her. In front of them is a silent TV monitor. Margie doesn't want to confront anyone -- not her husband, not the alleged mistress.

But that's not what Goldstein wants. He walks up to the truck, and his manner is calm. He speaks in a slow, measured tone. He will say anything to Margie to get her to participate.

"It's a private matter, but it became a public matter when you invited us in," he tells her. "We have a lot of money tied up. Pay us by your cooperation. I know I'm being selfish, but you're our queen. We're your soldiers. You deserve it."

This goes on for what feels like hours but actually lasts less than 12 minutes, the amount of time Cheaters expects to give to Margie's entire story. Goldstein tries guilt: "We have about $7,000 or better tied up in manpower just tonight." He threatens: "I don't want to have a contract dispute with you, because that's not really what I'm about, but...the document that you signed, which I don't even like to point out, but that it does provide that I can sue you." He offers revenge: "Hopefully, I can get you to muster up enough strength to put the finishing...touch on this." He offers comfort: "I think you would be more vulnerable in private than you would be now with all of us by your side."

Someone suggests turning off the cameras to give the family some time to themselves. Goldstein agrees and calls "an executive session" among him, his operatives, and the family members. After some time, Margie eventually exits the executive session. Goldstein is happy.

The bust is on.

Because of the delay in getting Margie through Act II and on to Act III, the plan for the bust changes on the fly. Another investigator has been tailing Margie's husband. He thinks Margie's husband went to his mistress' house while Margie sat in the Suburban. The tail thinks Margie's husband has now brought the woman along with him to work.

So the bust will now take place outside gates 1 and 2 of Reunion Arena, right before the beginning of the Dallas Stars-Detroit Red Wings game. Margie's husband works at Reunion as a security guard.

"This is going to be a fiasco," Habeeb mutters. His smile doesn't hide the concern etched into his face.

Inside the arena, the detectives have lost sight of the "other woman." Outside, darkness has fallen, and the camera crew is without the appropriate lighting -- the "sun guns" that allow them to spotlight their prey. The boom operators can't hear anything because of the pre-game revelry in the parking lot, and the show's chief security guard has disappeared to get a chopped-beef sandwich.

Inside Reunion Arena, Gomez stands alongside Margie's unsuspecting husband. When Margie and her daughter are in position, and the cameras and microphones are stashed just out of view, the trap springs.

Gomez approaches the husband, telling the man his wife and daughter are outside and need to speak to him now. It's an emergency. The man strides out of the arena. His family stands in front of him, wearing grim faces. They are almost close enough to touch.

Then a swarm of people, machines, and accusations collapses on him. Sounds fade away; movements become slow. Microphones poke for position, and cameras stare.

Habeeb, as Tommy Gunn, stands in the man's face. "We're with Cheaters," he says, as though that will magically explain away the sudden thrust of confusion and fear.

There's no mistake about it: This bear of a security guard, this broad and brawny man, has become a rabbit. He quivers slightly; beads of sweat bubble up on his forehead. His pupils have shrunk to the size of pinpricks. He makes a move as if to flee, but stops. In the middle of this madness is his family.

A crowd quickly surrounds and closes them in: Soccer moms halt their troops; frat boys, rowdy on beer and testosterone, shush themselves; and hockey fans crane their necks for a better view of the action. The man speaks to his family in Spanish. The tone of his voice and his body language contain denials and excuses.

His daughter grasps his arm. "Dad," she says quietly, "we saw you." For a moment, there is just a father and his daughter and the simple heartbreak of human emotion. It's mesmerizing.

"That shot is golden." These words will be said over and over as the scene is reviewed, edited, and spliced together.

The cameras dive in. The microphones jab. The crowd gawks. Habeeb begins rambling, talking to the family even as it crumbles before him -- and the camera.

"[Your wife] just came to me and needed help," he says. "It's important that she knows that's how you feel. She's not able to sleep at night, not knowing what to do. Our job is just to help her find out the truth so she can make some logical decisions. Honesty is the best policy."

Now, he's hitting his stride.

"Obviously, you are in another relationship. We have some pretty explicit documentation."

Then, the bomb.

"Do you want to stay married?"

It's all the man can do to muster even a quiet response.

"I don't know," he says, barely above a whisper.

Habeeb tries to wrap things up, to put a neat little bow on the carnage. He tells the couple that they need to talk, that communication between couples is so important. He sounds like a marriage counselor.

"We want things to work out for the positive," he says. "I've seen your wife and daughter, and there's a lot of love there."

Then, suddenly, it's over.

The man somehow manages to return to work. The crowd disperses, remembering there's a puck about to drop. The family is swept into a waiting car, driven by Gomez.

Margie will not say why she ultimately decided to go through with this bust. Her brother, up to this point reluctant to be anything more than a silent presence of support, says, "We felt that since she had started something, she needed to see it to the end." The daughter adds that she hoped she's the one that gave her mother the strength to go through with this. "She wasn't just doing it for her," she says. "She was doing it for me. She was doing it for our entire family."

The family promises to discuss their experience with Cheaters at a later date. They never returned calls from the Observer.

The car carrying the family speeds off. All that's left is to film Tommy Gunn's case wrap-up -- sort of the Cheaters' answer to Jerry Springer's episode-ending final thought.

Habeeb turns to a video camera and says, on cue: "The words of an adulterer can cut like a knife. Sometimes it takes the love of a daughter to see the light. I'm Tommy Gunn, and I'll be keeping an eye on you." He repeats this entire rap two more times, toward two different cameras. Cheaters' cameras get it from three different angles each time. They are omniscient to the very end.

The next morning, Bobby Goldstein leaves this voice mail.

"How about yesterday?" he asks, sounding thrilled, giddy once again. "Was it Barnum & Bailey who said something about the greatest show on earth, or was it Bobby Goldstein? I was thinking about how you still don't believe it's the art for me and you think it's the bucks. You might want to come by my house and take a look at what stimulates me."

Was it P.T. Barnum who said something about a sucker being born every minute?

The Goldstein house sits near Preston Road and Northwest Highway, right next door to the estate of another Dallas art lover, Howard Rachovsky. The home befits a man of longtime wealth and taste. It's aglow with a vast array of paintings, sculptures, and finely crafted furniture.

"Oh, fuck that classical shit," Goldstein barks. "Classical is easy. Everyone likes that stuff. What's the fun in that? I want to show you other things, things near and dear to me."

In the dining room, the things near and dear to Bobby Goldstein include a row of glass bulbs carved into uncomfortable clown faces. In his home office hangs French painter R.E. Gillet's L'Avocat (The Lawyer), a dark and abstract image of a figure that, to Goldstein at least, is all tormented head but no heart. Upstairs, stashed away in a bathroom, is a graveyard of paintings. He says it's a collection from another life.

"My wife won't let me put this weird stuff up," he confesses.

The weirdest of the weird stuff includes paintings from death-row murderers. The crown jewel is an original commission from John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown of Chicago.

It's here, among artwork done by fiends, that Goldstein is asked about the pressure he exerted on Margie after she initially balked at a confrontation with her husband. Goldstein gets that rascally twinkle in his eye.

"I know you're trying to get me to say that I'm just doing whatever it takes with the show to get money and fame," he says. "But, shit, I'm not going to say that, because I don't believe it. Sure, who doesn't want success and notoriety? But it's more complex than that. It truly is. And I hope the show's more interesting than that too, or I'm in trouble."

He lifts up one of the canvases. A sinister phantasm stares back.

"I honestly believe this show, as with other forms of art, ultimately casts a light onto an area of life that usually remains hidden and dark. And I think when we allow things to hide in the dark, that's when it festers and spoils. But if you expose it, then people have to look on it for what it is, though it may not always be pretty."

He lets the pile of artwork collapse back against the wall. He is talking about how he knows people will cast him as nothing but a sleaze-mongering voyeur making money off the suffering of others. He might even agree with them. But that will not stop him. He believes his is a just existence, that his is a righteous cause.

"If we do end up on the air, and we do attract an audience, it's because people do find the show interesting," he says. "And that means it speaks to them on some level -- good or bad."

The piece of art in his collection that most speaks to Bobby Goldstein is found outside -- in the yard, in the dark. To see it at night, you have to pull a car around and expose it with the harsh white of halogen lights. It's a group of bronze figures made up of nothing but vulture legs and camera heads.

"You know what they are?" Goldstein asks, the pleasure seeping through his voice. "The paparazzi. Pretty interesting piece of work, isn't it?"

Whether he's asking about the assembly of statues or the television show with which it shares more than a passing resemblance, the answer is the same.

Yes, Bobby, it is.

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Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


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