UPDATE, 8:20 AM: CNN just announced it has pushed the premiere date for Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie to Thursday, August 20. It will air at 9 PM and 11 PM ET.
PREVIOUS, July 9, AM: CNN Films has acquired the exclusive U.S. broadcast rights to Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie and has set its TV premiere for August 13 at 9 PM ET on CNN.
Produced and directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger of Ironbound Films, the Evocateur documents the cigarette-sucking Downey’s rise in the late ’80s as star of a comically combative talk show, once described in the Washington Post as a program in which “the decibel level exceeds the I.Q. level.”
The film, which premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, traces the catapulting to infamy of the shock host, whose talk show started as a local program in the New York area in October 1987, quickly became a hit and moved into national syndication early the following year, causing TV critics to bemoan the fate of talk show discourse. (Watch the trailer below.)
“Suppose a maniac got hold of a talk show. Or need we suppose?” wondered WP‘s TV critic Tom Shales back then. “The biggest splash in television right now is being made by The Morton Downey Jr. Show, a nightly syndicated hour that is more slugfest than discussion, presided over by a host known for insulting, abusing and berating his guests.”
At the height of his popularity, Downey Jr. famously screeched at White House hopeful Ron Paul, “If I had a slime like you in the White House, I’d puke on you!” Late-night host David Letterman marveled, “I’m always amazed at what people will fall for. We see this every 10 or 12 years, an attempt at this –and I guess from that standpoint I don’t quite understand why everybody’s falling over backwards over the guy.”
Downey once explained it: “I think anyone in this country who’s been raised in an Irish family, in a Jewish family, a Spanish family and Italian family has been raised around yelling,” said the guy whose wildly popular show flamed out quickly and who died of pneumonia in 2001 at age 68.
Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie includes archival segments with Paul, defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, attorney-activist Gloria Allred and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Deconstructing Downey’s rise to fame are contemporary interviews with Downey friend and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and ex-CNN show host Larry King, as well as syndicated columnist Stanley Crouch, comedian Chris Elliott and the team behind the talk show, who discuss the behind-the-scenes battles with production executives and sponsors that ultimately led to Downey’s career immolation. The docu also reveals insights into an incident that is credited by some with hastening the end of Downey’s TV career, in which he claimed to have been attacked by skinheads.
“Evocateur is a wonderful portrait of an influential, controversial, larger-than-life man,” CNN Worldwide’s SVP Development and Acquisitions Vinnie Malhotra said in a statement. “Morton Downey Jr. left his mark on American television and set the tone – for better or worse – for much of the modern-day debates we see play out on television now.”
Here’s the trailer: