CNN doc chronicles “trash TV” pioneer Morton Downey Jr.

Nowadays, you almost can’t get away from talking (and screaming) heads on cable television, especially on programs focusing on politics, sports and popular culture. But in the late 1980s, it was relatively novel to see Morton Downey Jr. berating guests on his self-titled talk show, which started locally in New York and soon became a syndicated hit nationwide. He preceded the likes of Jerry Springer, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and likely set the stage for their “I’m pissed off and won’t take it anyway” brand of media (thanks, Morton?). Honestly, he still carries a presence today, as we look back on those old clips of him sauntering around the stage somewhat smugly, puffing away on a cigarette, and telling audience members or guests to “Zip it!” That presence is chronicled in the CNN documentary Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, premiering Aug. 13 Aug. 20 at 9pm ET, with limited commercial interruption.


“Morton Downey Jr. knew confrontation made good TV,” says Daniel A. Miller, co-founder of Ironbound Films, the production company behind the documentary. “His story, more relevant than ever, is of how far that can be taken.”

Evocateur follows the rise and roller-coaster career of the shock host, and archival highlights from The Morton Downey Jr. Show include legendary show segments with guests such as defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, Congressman Ron Paul, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, attorney/activist Gloria Allred, and Rev. Al Sharpton (Sharpton’s appearance was particularly heated, as it related to the controversial and infamous Tawana Brawley case).

Contemporary interviews are also featured, including Downey friend and conservative icon Pat Buchanan, former talk show hosts Richard Bey and Sally Jessy Raphael, broadcaster Larry King and the team behind the talk show. They explore Downey’s appeal, as well as his personal demons that seemed to fuel his on-camera persona.

New insights are also offered into the mystery about an incident that basically ended Downey’s TV career: Did he actually stage a brutal attack on himself, allegedly by skinheads, in a misguided attempt to regain some of his notoriety?

The film, which first premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, is fascinating. And anyone who says otherwise can zip it!

Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie premieres with limited commercial interruption Aug. 20 at 9pm ET on CNN (was originally scheduled for Aug. 13).