What follows is a dispatch from Joe Muto, formerly known as the Fox Mole, written shortly after he revealed himself on Gawker earlier this month. This morning, Muto's apartment was raided by investigators for the New York County District Attorney's Office, who seized his computer, mobile phone and tablet computer in the course of investigating "attempt[s] and conspiracy to commit...grand larceny, petit larceny, and computer tampering."
"I have a pitch for the next TV Icon segment," Ron Mitchell, our chief booker said.
"Oh really?" O'Reilly swiveled in his chair to face Ron. He leaned back, lounging. The rest of his producers, about a dozen of us, stood uncomfortably in a semi-circle facing him. It was the pitch meeting, a twice-weekly affair that usually involved Bill shooting down pitch after pitch — usually with boredom or disdain, sometimes with anger. ("Why would I put that on TV? Do you WANT me to lose 200,000 viewers? Is that what you want? IS IT?")
But Bill was calm that day, so we were a little less on edge than usual.
Ron continued, with the wry look on his face that indicated he had something up his sleeve. The TV icon segment was a recurring feature where Bill interviewed washed-up television personalities—past subjects have included Mr. T and the guy who played Pugsley on The Addams Family. "We've been offered... from the 1980s sitcom... ALF." We all burst out laughing.
Even Bill cracked a smile.
He swiveled in the chair again to face our executive producer David Tabacoff, who was busily tapping away on his Blackberry, head bowed, only half paying attention, as usual. "Tabacoff," Bill boomed. "What do you think? Should we have the puppet on the show? Can we get away with that?"
Tabacoff looked up and sighed. "Well, it's not exactly the Pentagon Papers... but I think it might be fun."
"There's just one thing," Ron interjected. "You can't call him a puppet. ALF isn't a puppet. He's an alien who crash-landed on earth in the 1980s and moved in with a family."
Bill frowned. "What do you mean he's not a puppet? Is it a guy in a suit?"
Ron shook his head. "No, it is a puppet with a puppeteer, it's just that you can't call him a puppet. You have to pretend he's real."
O'Reilly rolled his eyes. "Of course." He sighed, and stared at the giant bulletin board that held color-coded index cards showing the topics and guests scheduled for the next few weeks. He tented his fingers and thought for a moment.
"Why the hell not? Book it for next Friday."
The following Friday, I was standing in the lobby of 1211 6th Avenue, waiting for ALF to arrive.
I had spent a few hours that week preparing Bill's research packet. Usually this was a rigorous affair, but with this segment it mostly involved copying and pasting bullet points from ALF's Wikipedia entry. "ALF is an alien from the planet Melmac. He crashed on earth in his spaceship after his planet was destroyed, and went into hiding with the Tanner family. ALF is an acronym for Alien Life Form. He likes to eat cats."
I had spoken on the phone with Paul Fusco, ALF's creator, voice and main puppeteer. I got a momentary thrill hearing his voice — his normal speaking voice wasn't quite ALF, but the character was there at the margins. It brought back memories. I had an ALF stuffed animal when I was six.
Paul was very nice, very earnest, and very protective of his creation, which he was intent on sparking a comeback for: "We'd really like to get a feature film, maybe something that explores ALF's origins on Melmac."
"You know what I think would be great?" I said. "Maybe you could pitch some sort of show like Curb Your Enthusiasm, where ALF is still real, still an alien, but now he's a washed up actor living in Hollywood and he has a drug problem or something. That would be hilarious."
"Oh, no I would never do that," Paul said, horrified. "ALF is for children. No drug jokes, no sex jokes, none of that."
I saw the chartered SUV I had booked pull up to the curb, and Paul and his companions climbed out and pulled two huge trunks out of the back, using dollies to wheel them across the plaza.
I brought them into the studio, where they began setting up.
At this point, a crowd of onlookers had gathered in the hall outside the studio, hoping for a glimpse of the puppet. It was a pretty sizable crowd, actually. People normally didn't gather like that unless a the celebrity was at least a B-lister. (Jon Stewart, who skewers Fox on a regular basis, draws the largest crowd at Fox, oddly enough.)
On the phone earlier in the week, Paul had insisted that the bare minimum of people watch him get set up.
"I don't want people looking at ALF and snapping pictures when he's not ready for showtime," he'd told me. "People know he's not real, obviously, but I don't want to spoil the illusion too much."
Meanwhile, I was watching the illusion get spoiled in front of my eyes. Paul pulled ALF out of the massive steamer trunk. He was limp, deflated, flopping around like a sock, his hair matted down. Over the next 20 minutes I watched in amazement as Paul and his wife groomed the puppet with a steamer wand and a brush. They slipped a Hawaiian shirt over his head, and hooked up the electronic box that controlled his animatronic eyes, eyebrows and ears.
Paul stuck his right arm up into the puppet's head, working the mouth. He shoved his left arm into ALF's left arm, basically a long, orange fur-covered glove. He scooted under Bill's desk and arranged himself on some cushions that he'd laid down. His wife clambered after him, putting her right arm into ALF's right arm, keeping her left hand free to work the controls for his facial features.
Then Bill walked in.
"What have we got here?" he asked, grinning, with a bit of sarcasm.
"Bill, how you doing!" ALF gave a little wave, then drummed his fingers on the desk.
They began the interview. The funniest thing about it is that Bill didn't once address the puppeteers until it was over. For more than 10 minutes (which was later edited down into 5) he interviewed ALF with a straight face.
Afterward, Paul and his wife reverently put ALF back into his trunk. Dick Morris, the oily, often-wrong regular pundit was in the room with them, waiting for his segment with Bill. He struck up a conversation with Paul, and the talk turned to Disney characters.
"Hey ALF, I've got a good joke for you. Mickey Mouse is getting a divorce from Minnie, and he's in court in front of the judge. The judge goes 'Mr. Mouse, I don't think I can grant you a divorce just because, according to your testimony, your wife is extremely crazy.' Mickey says 'No your honor, I didn't say Minnie was extremely crazy. I said she was FUCKING GOOFY!"
Morris laughed uproariously, slapping Paul on the back. "Good one, right ALF?" Paul, the children's entertainer, looked uncomfortably at his wife, who was standing next to him with a horrified look on her face and then back to Morris. Paul managed a wan smile, and mumbled "very funny," before returning to packing up his puppet.
Dick, oblivious to anyone's discomfort, and still laughing at his own joke, climbed into the makeup chair to get his face done.