Reality TV with Bobby and Kinky.

Reality TV with Bobby and Kinky.

Reality TV with Bobby and Kinky.

What you're watching.
Feb. 17 2006 3:24 PM

Kinky and Bobby

Two Texas louts and their reality-TV shows.

Kinky Friedman: Next governor of Texas?
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Kinky Friedman: Next governor of Texas?

On Feb. 3, 2005, a 60-year-old potential crackpot stood in front of the Alamo and announced his intention to seek the governorship of Texas in 2006. Because the guy's name was Kinky Friedman—cowpoke about town, leader of a band called the Texas Jewboys, writer and hero of best-selling mystery novels, and, among other honors, NOW's 1974 Male Chauvinist of the Year—the announcement attracted the national media. Friedman spoke of his plan to become the first independent on the Texas ballot since Sam Houston. "We're running on the coin of the spirit," he told the crowd."We're gypsies on a pirate ship."

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.

As usual, Friedman wore a black Stetson and smoked a cigar that he variously employs to Churchillian, Freudian, and Grouchovian effect. Someday, someone will smoke a stogy in a Kinkian fashion: He's got a big personality and a bigger persona, which is what makes Go Kinky (Country Music Television, Fridays at 11 p.m. ET), about the opening moves of his campaign, a fascinating document. Friedman is free of normal inhibitions, a politician quite at ease sucking helium, telling ethnic jokes, and handing one of those cigars to a child—"If you want, you can suck on it like a lollipop." His slogan is: "How hard could it be?"

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However, the primary question hovering over the proceedings is: Is he serious? The answer is a qualified yes. Despite all of his jesting and camera-hog hamminess, Friedman really wants a part in the way Texas is run. Footage of campaign donors signing fat checks plays against a sound bite that's all business: "I don't trust the politicians. They're not the ones that built this country. The cowboy has a lot to do with it, and they're my heroes—cowboys, teachers, cops, firefighters, the troops—and if we all get together, folks, I'm absolutely sure that we can make that lone star shine again." There was a lump in his corroded throat. He is no more absurd than Minnesota's Ventura or California's Terminator.

On the other hand, the camera later captures him talking to one of his "girlfriends." If I understood him correctly through his slur and his censor, he invited her to have sex in the bathroom. That was at a fund-raiser, a venue where Friedman, who does seem a little lonely at times, is in his natural state. He may be running as an independent, but it's clear that he's looking for a party. "It's a spiritual campaign," goes a favorite refrain, "not a political one."

Bobby Knight: Back to school
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Bobby Knight: Back to school

Meanwhile, over in Lubbock and on ESPN, one of Friedman's would-be constituents is presiding over Knight School (Sundays at 10 p.m. ET). Since getting run out of Indiana University five years ago, * the Hall-of-Fame basketball coach Bobby Knight has led Texas Tech's Red Raiders, and this six-episode reality program finds students competing for a walk-on spot on his squad. Where Friedman is offensive mostly between quotation marks, Bobby Knight has worked hard for decades to encourage the belief that he is sincerely a jerk.

His rap sheet features an infamous chair-toss, a notorious rape joke, and alleged physical altercations with players, secretaries, assistant coaches, a Puerto Rican cop, and his own son. (Knight's taking a whip to a black player was supposedly just for laughs.) You approach Knight School with vile motives, tuning in with a secret wish that Knight will punch a kid or regale his staff with a knee-slapper about how the Sabine women were asking for it. At the least, you want to witness a temper tantrum that will expand your vocabulary of invective.

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Instead, you are disheartened to see Knight treating players and colleagues with respect. On the evidence of the first episode, he behaves no worse than that your average grumpy grandpa. Sure, he gets a bit peeved and gets a bit bleeped, and he does turn crotchety when he can't find the supplies for taking courtside notes—"Where the hell are my cards?… Somebody's gotta have a pen and some cards!" But the presentation is family-friendly enough to create the impression that the show is meant as a recruiting tool.

The rest of it is basketball fundamentals, sports nonstatements ("Coach," says an assistant, "is a guy that likes to win"), baby food for thought (Kipling's "If"), and the wholesome interpersonal drama of 16 open-faced American boys moving into a house. Knight, as a TV personality, is not precisely Tyra Banks. He's creaky when addressing the camera, lumpier than ever when stalking the sideline, and the show's production values—uncommonly humble for ESPN—reflect his aesthetic. The message is, that is a guy who doesn't care about that stuff or much else besides. Coach is a guy that likes to win.

Correction, Feb. 17, 2006: In an earlier version of this piece, the author incorrectly referred to Indiana University as the University of Indiana. (Return to the corrected sentence.)