Us Vs. Maury Povich

By Jeffrey Lee Hollis


On February fourth of 1998, my wife Emelda and I were guests on a taping of "The Maury Povich Show." For those of you unfamiliar with the program, it is a daytime talk show hosted by a former journalist. The show generally features non-celebrity guests. The following story describes what Emelda and I went through by appearing on the show.

On January 22nd of 1998 (my mom’s birthday), I received an e-mail from a lady named Annie, co-operator of Sunshine International, a service which introduces western men to women in several Asian countries. I had met my wife through their service. (If you haven’t already read about my experiences searching for true love in the cynical 90’s, you can do so elsewhere on this Website.) Annie informed me that "The Maury Povich Show" had contacted Sunshine International in order to find some couples who had met via their service. Annie told me that she had recommended three couples to them and that Emelda and I were one of the three. She gave me the phone number of the show and told me to speak to a lady named Joni (one of the show’s producers).

I left a message on Joni’s voice mail, letting her know how to reach me and I hoped for the best. I then asked Emelda if she would like to appear on television. I tried not to look too excited at the prospect of being on the show, but I must confess that I was wearing an anxious smile. I wanted to keep a poker face when I asked Emelda about it because I knew that she would agree to appear on the show (even if she didn’t want to) if she thought that I wanted to. She’s very considerate and tries to please me at all times. (I wish she’d be more selfish at times, but she’s just too great of a lady for that.) She quickly agreed and seemed quite happy with the idea of appearing on television. We discussed whom we’d send the tape of the show to and giggled about the prospect.

The guests on our episode

At that time, there were only two daytime talk shows that I would even consider appearing on with Emelda. Those two were "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "The Maury Povich Show." America is cursed with a glut of prurient and sleazy talk shows. It’s fun to tune into "The Ricki Lake Show" and see how long it takes before an audience member uses the phrases "Do not go there, girl" or "Kick him to the curb." It’s fun to tune into "The Montell Williams Show" and watch that egocentric poser pretend to be sincere and cry at the drop of a hat. It’s fun to watch "The Jerry Springer Show" because I love a good spontaneous fistfight between two transsexual prostitutes, but I wouldn’t want to appear on camera on these or many other programs. What set "The Maury Povich Show" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" apart (in my mind) from the many trashy shows out there was that these two shows seemed to have some class.

On the following morning, someone at "The Maury Povich Show" called and interviewed me over the phone. I told him about how Emelda and I had met and I directed him to my Website. He was quite affable and I enjoyed the conversation. Emelda was still asleep, so he called back later (while I was at work) and spoke to her for a bit. Knowing that we were one of three candidate couples, we sweated it out for a few days. We weren’t sure if they’d pick us, but something told me that we would soon be flying to New York (where the show is taped in front of a studio audience).

The next call I got was from Joni. She told me that the other producer had a hard time understanding Emelda on the phone. I explained that Emelda was quiet and shy with strangers. She asked to speak to Emelda and I handed over the phone (after urging Emelda to be more outgoing). Emelda must have done all right, because Joni then informed us that they wanted us to be guests on the show, which would be taped the following week. I asked Joni about the content and tone of the show. Even though I respected "The Maury Povich Show," I had heard horror stories about shows like "The Jenny Jones Show" suckering in guests under one pretense, then surprising them on the day of the taping with an entirely different show than what had been described. It was because of this that I asked Joni several questions about what would happen on the program. She assured me that the show would be a "fun show about couples who met in interesting ways." She also assured me that this was not going to be a confrontational show. Her attitude was cheerful and she seemed honest. Along with my feelings for the show, I agreed that we would appear based on what Joni told me.

Joni transferred me to Nancy, who was in charge of getting the guests to New York in time for the show. Nancy mailed us our plane tickets a few days later and let us know that we would be staying at The Beacon Hotel. She also informed us how we would get to and from the airport and the television studio. I logged onto the Internet and tracked down a Website which featured The Beacon Hotel. It appeared to be a lovely old building and it seemed to be in a good part of town. I looked forward to the coming adventure!

Our flight left on February third at 10:15 a.m., which meant that we would have to arrive at the airport by 9:15 a.m. We planned to leave at 8:30 a.m. Since the airport was only 20-25 minutes away, we’d have plenty of time.

Well, on that morning, El Nino hit! We decided to leave at 7:30, since we were already dressed and ready to go. As a former L.A. taxi driver, I know the quickest routes to the airport. On that morning, I took the route I always took. If an asteroid hit Los Angeles, it would take 45 minutes to get to the airport from our apartment, but barring that, 20-25 minutes was the average.

Apparently, El Nino is worse than an asteroid, because it took us an hour and 45 minutes to get to the airport. Two of the four ways to enter the airport were flooded. It was a traffic disaster. It was almost as bad as driving in Manila at rush hour! Almost.

The Continental flight was pleasant. They took off on time, the service was good and Emelda was able to stretch out across a few empty seats and catch up on her beauty sleep. I on the other hand, watched the movie (of course). It was The Matchmaker, starring Janeane Garafolo. It was a delightful story about love and personal identity. It put me in a good mood as we landed in Newark New Jersey.

We were driven to New York City in a small limousine. As we approached the famous skyline, I pointed out The Empire State Building, The World Trade Center and The George Washington Bridge to Emelda. It was my second time in The Big Apple and Emelda’s first. When we drove through The Lincoln Tunnel, I tried to forget about the plot of Sylvester Stallone’s film Daylight, but I was secretly glad that the tunnel hadn’t caved in on us (like it does in the movie) when we exited the tunnel and appeared in New York City proper.

I was getting more excited about the show and Emelda seemed to be taking everything in stride. I love adventure, but she’s happy to stay in one place. I hoped that she would enjoy the experience, but worried a bit that she might be overwhelmed.

We checked into the hotel and called the show to let Nancy know that we had arrived safely. We then bought a few necessities at the D’Agostino’s Market across the street from the hotel and decided not to go for a walk in the cold winter air. We went to a little cafe next to the hotel where the waiter was rude to us. Since it was New York, I liked the fact that he was rude. I mean, it wouldn’t be New York if he smiled and said, "Have a nice day!"

We turned in early and ordered a 6 a.m. wake up call. We had to be checked out and in the lobby with our baggage by 8 a.m. Since we were still on L.A. time, this was equivalent to us getting up at 3 a.m. Yippee!

We were in the lobby by 7:50 where other guests had begun to congregate. We were introduced to a man who runs a correspondence service called A Foreign Affair. His service specializes in introducing western men to Russian ladies. He was friendly and we chatted for a bit while the man who was going to drive us to the television studio scuttled about, trying to find missing people while talking into a walkie-talkie.

Next, we overheard a man saying that he and his wife would be on the show and that they were swingers (for those of you who may not know; that means they have sex with other couples). I gulped and tried to assure myself that Emelda and I would look good next to them.

The driver was getting more and more angry as our departure time came and went. I overheard him say that he had found Jeff but that he was still looking for ‘Hollis.’ I told him that my name was Jeff Hollis and he yelled into the walkie-talkie, "Jeff and Hollis are the same person!" It was soon quite apparent that the show had given him too many names and that everyone had been present and accounted for for over 20 minutes already.

He soon hustled us outside into the New York winter air and we got to take a look at our method of transport: a long black stretch limousine. "Now, we’re talking," I said to myself. This was the first time in a stretch limousine for Emelda and I both. A few of the guests drank from the bar in the back while Emelda and I chatted with an attorney that was going to be on the show and the man who runs A Foreign Affair. It was a pleasant ride, but my first hint of trouble came when the man told us that there was going to be an opponent of relationships like ours on the show. I assumed that I would have no trouble trouncing her if the need arose, so I didn’t let it get to me. Emelda and I have nothing to be ashamed of no matter what anybody thinks.

At the studio, we were taken up to the second floor where different groups of guests were directed toward different green rooms where we would await instructions. Maury Povich walked by at one point and waved to us. The man who runs A Foreign Affair and a couple who had met through his service occupied the green room that Emelda and I waited in. The female half of the couple was a delightful Russian lady married to an ebullient older man who never seemed to lose his smile. They seemed like a loving couple that was sharing a wonderful life together. They had brought a friend with them who would sit in the audience during the taping of the show. He told a few stories about the couple and we all shared many laughs together.

The green room had a sorry assortment of muffins that no one would want and a bathroom with a toilet that wouldn’t flush. We hadn’t eaten breakfast, but we decided it would be better to remain hungry than to eat what was available. Before long, we were taken off to the makeup room where they decreased the bags under my eyes and calmed my hair down. They somehow managed to make Emelda look even more beautiful than before. She was stunning. I still can’t believe that she married me sometimes! The best part about her is that she’s even more beautiful on the inside.

Eventually, we were taken backstage. It was freezing! I had to keep rubbing Emelda’s arms to keep her warm. They equipped each of us with radio microphones and turned on a monitor on which we would be able to watch the show in progress. We could hear a comedian warming up (both literally and figuratively) the crowd on the show’s set. He was pretty funny, but we were too cold to laugh.

When the show started, the first two guests shocked me. The first couple was comprised of a man who was 64. His wife was 14! I couldn’t believe what I was watching. These were the kinds of guests who appeared on shows with a lot less class. I wondered if my opinion of this show was about to change. The audience gasped and attacked the couple. Maury started off with benign questions which led the interview in a particular direction. Then, he started to ask tougher and tougher questions, until he was getting pretty harsh with the couple. Of course, who could blame him? I mean, the girl was only thirteen years old when the guy married her. I repeated a phrase which would become a mantra for the day: "We’ll look good next to these people."

The next couple was the couple that had ridden in our limousine. The woman was 88. The man was 45. The old woman was feisty and the segment was much friendlier that the previous one. Emelda and I both used the restroom (with a toilet that flushed) during that segment, so we missed a good portion of it. I was hoping that the tone of the show would continue to get lighter and lighter by the time we appeared on the stage.

The next couple was one person short. The wife was there, but her husband was...

...IN JAIL! He was also 27 years younger than she was.

I steadied myself as the segment continued. I was getting stressed out, but was trying to hide it from Emelda. This show was not turning out like I had hoped it would. Butterflies started flying around in my ample stomach and I repeated my mantra.

The next segment showcased the swinger couple. The man was funny, but he looked like he had stepped off a time machine that had just arrived from 1978. He wore a big gold chain and a tight, form-fitting T-shirt, which boldly presented his hearty stomach as he talked about his and his wife’s sexual escapades. I repeated my mantra as the segment ended and tried to remember all of the things that I wanted to say on the show.

What happened next blindsided me. As Maury announced the end of the segment, he gave a hint as to what was coming next by saying that the upcoming women were ‘mail order brides.’ My stomach dropped. I felt dizzy as they showed a clip of our wedding video on the monitor. After his comment, the footage of Emelda in her wedding dressed made a statement that made me angry. Maury was attacking my wife, my relationship and me. The verdict was in: we had been ambushed. Emelda asked me why they called her a mail order bride. I tried to calm her by telling her that it was a term that people used because they were ignorant of the facts. I told her that Maury wasn’t trying to be rude. This was of course, a white lie.

As we entered the set, a few audience members made disapproving noises as Emelda and I passed by them. My anger was now brewing in a big way. I knew that what I had just told Emelda about Maury not ‘trying to be rude’ was nonsense. Maury had just fired a shot across my bow. I would be remiss if I didn’t fight back. As the commercial break commenced, I tried to come up with a way to stand up for us. I had practiced what I would say to Maury’s questions. We had been given his first question already and I was ready with two jokes and a delightful story. When I looked back at how he had manipulated the previous guests by leading the discussions with questions designed to be nice at first, then mean later, I realized that if I played his game by his rules, I would lose.

I start crying on the show

As the countdown to our segment (which would include the Russian lady and her husband) began, my heart started beating faster. My head got a bit lighter. I became very nervous. I decided that I had to strike first. My prepared text was going out the window. When Maury introduced me by asking me his first patronizing question, I said, "First let me say how deeply offended both of us are that you used the term mail order bride." I knew I was in a bit of trouble, because my voice had started to waver about halfway through that sentence. By my second sentence, my emotions bubbled over and I began crying while trying to speak. A few audience members laughed scornfully at me, which gave me the strength to suck in my sobs and continue to fight.

The look of Maury getting lectured

The look on Maury’s face was interesting. I clearly threw him off by refusing to answer his question and spun the discussion in a new direction. Maury began descending the stairs and addressed Emelda while I pulled myself together. When he said that Emelda was upset, I looked over at her and saw a tear streaming down her cheek. I suddenly felt shame that I had put Emelda in this position. Why hadn’t I foreseen that this might happen?

I told Maury that the term ‘mail order bride’ was inaccurate and that you couldn’t order a woman from a catalog. He then held up a catalog and got his anti-correspondence relationship expert to stand and prepare to pounce. He then asked me what he was holding. I said, "A catalog." He got a smug look on his face like he had made a good point. Some audience members laughed. I quickly added that you could not order a woman from that catalog. He asked me what you could order from the catalog. I told him the truth: you can order the addresses of women looking for pen pals. "You write to them," I said, "and they don’t have to write you back!" I added that Emelda had never even appeared in that catalog. I explained that Emelda had seen an ad with my picture and that she had written to me. By this time, the tears were no longer flowing and I was kicking Maury’s yellow-journalism ass! I mean, Sears and JC Penney have catalogs for God’s sake!

His expert tried to denigrate relationships like ours, but she was not at all well spoken. She stammered and made some stupid comments about these women being like appliances. Maury, of course, did not allow me to respond to her inane comments. It was clear that he had a negative agenda and he pursued it relentlessly in spite of me slapping him in the face with the facts.

What a revoultionary idea!

As Emelda and I answered questions, I felt the audience gravitating to our side. We had nothing to be ashamed of and I think our love shone through. At one point, when Emelda said that she wanted to be with her husband, several audience members simultaneously said, "Yeah," in support of her. That made me feel good. At another point, the swingers started defending us. Later, when Maury started to question the man who runs A Foreign Affair (using the same insulting techniques he tried to use on me and Emelda), he defended us against Maury. Later, Maury spoke to a relationship expert who defended us as well. It was beginning to look like Maury and his anti-correspondence relationship lady were alone in their negative opinions.

Later, Maury asked each couple if they felt that they had real relationships. At that point, I was feeling a mixture of annoyance, satisfaction and anger. I quipped, "I’ve never been incarcerated and she’s twenty-one!" Maury immediately sent the show to commercial after my comment. During the ensuing commercial break, Joni (the producer) came onstage and repeatedly complimented me on my one-liner. She liked it a lot.

Later, Maury asked the audience to applaud if they thought that we had a good relationship. The audience broke into enthusiastic applause immediately and Maury cut them off as quickly as he could by starting to talk about the swingers again. He was still trying to make us look bad. He was failing miserably. When he asked me if I treated Emelda like a husband should, I told him that I respected her and that I had devoted my life to her. I began crying again when I spoke about my feelings for Emelda. Maury cut me off again as I said (through tears), "I don’t even think that I’m worthy of this woman. My career used to be number one. Now, she’s number one."

Every single question asked by the audience was directed at the 64-year-old who was married to the 14-year-old. They were clearly the most titillating couple.

Maury reluctantly shakes my hand

At the end of every show, Maury gives his signature line, "Until next time, America" and then shakes the guests’ hands. When he shook Emelda’s, he looked at her like she was a victim and said, "Good luck, Emelda." He then passed in front of me and refused to make eye contact (even though I was quite ready to look him square in the face) and barely even shook my hand like a weak old lady. Obviously, he didn’t have the guts to face me like a man. I just hoped that he had the guts to keep the show intact and not edit any of my comments out. He was quite friendly with the swingers, the lady with the jailbird husband and the guy who married the minor. I guess he’s got his priorities straight.

Backstage, after the show, all of the other guests complimented us on how we stood up for ourselves. Several crew members and a nice intern also complimented us. As we prepared to leave for the airport, the audience was returning for a second show that would be taped that day. As they passed by Emelda and I, several of them verbalized their feelings. They said things like, "You two are a great couple," "You guys did great," "I wish you the best of luck" and other assorted compliments. Not a single person said a negative thing to either of us. It boosted my mood a bit. My feelings about who the crowd was behind were being confirmed.

We said our good-byes, collected our per diem check ($100.00) and headed for the waiting limousine that would take Emelda and I to the airport. The limousine driver asked us how it went and we recounted the entire experience to him. I think he’s going to take a trip to the Philippines after hearing about our story!

The plane ride to Los Angeles was pleasant. Emelda and I had the strangest feeling. We knew that we should’ve felt angry and violated, but we had the most surprising feelings of happiness. I was proud that I had stood up to Maury. Emelda was proud that I had defended her so well. The experience actually brought us even closer together! Go figure!

I watched the movie Red Corner on the flight to L.A. It was a film about cultures coming together and underdogs battling authority figures. I seemed to identify with it after the day’s events. The flight arrived 45 minutes early. (The pilot said that it was because of El Nino.) Emelda and I were happy to be home in a less hostile environment. We were still basking in our victorious defeat of the evil talk show host as we drove toward our apartment.

When I asked Emelda if she would do it again, knowing what we now knew Maury had in mind, she said, "No! Are you crazy!" That brought me back to reality. We did win a victory, but there was a price. Shame on me for not protecting Emelda better. We agreed that there would be no more talk show appearances in our immediate future.

…unless of course, Oprah calls.

Update!

On February nineteenth, our show aired. Emelda and I watched it together

and all I have to say is...

BOY do I look FAT on television!

But seriously, here's my take on how the show turned out...

As a few of my friends and family suggested might happen, the show was HEAVILY EDITED.

HEAVILY.

They took out some of my comments, they took out the part when Maury asked Emelda if she was upset (presumably because a tear was falling down her cheek and it would've made Maury look like the bully that he is), they took two different segments including Emelda and I and stacked them end to end, then changed it around so that the lady who referred to Filipinas as appliances had the last word instead of me and they removed the part when Maury asked the entire audience if they thought that we had a 'real relationship' (presumably because the audience applauded wildly in affirmation).

At one point in the episode, Maury says, "Let's move on." Then, instead of going to the couple who met through "A Foreign Affair" (which is how it was taped), the show did NOT move on, but went to the 'appliance' lady. If you taped it (as I did), you could look closely at how that plays out. It is very awkward because of the edit.

They also edited out some of the audience questions and they edited the Swingers' portion too. They made up for the lost time by adding a pre-taped segment on a woman in England married to twins! They edited out part of the jailbird's wife segment but left the others pretty much intact.

The most heavily-edited segment was ours!

Watching the show was a weird experience. I noticed every edit and it created the effect of representing me inaccurately. At least they left in the parts where others defended us. As you could see (if you watched it), the audience started out by snickering at me when I began crying, but judging from their reactions (applause, verbal comments), they joined our team by the end.

I wish we had not done the show. They had an agenda and they pursued it with reckless disregard for the truth after misrepresenting what kind of show it would be. After I shined the light of truth on the issue, they edited out points which went against the host's agenda and they rearranged the footage to serve their needs. They should be ashamed.

Since the show's airing, I have received a flood of e-mails supporting Emelda and I and saying how well we did, but I wish we hadn't done it. I feel guilty for putting Emelda through it. I shouldn't have believed the story that the producers fed me.

Oh, well! You live and learn!

A special thanks to my good friend Bart Cox for the video frame grabs used in this story. To see more photos from our appearance on the "The Maury Povich Show," click here.