What Can We All DO to Heal the Racial Divide in America

Tommy Habeeb is best known for producing and hosting a variety of television and film genres. As the executive producer and host of one of the original reality television shows, Cheaters, Tommy altered the landscape of conventional television. His work on that show created a breakthrough for reality television, including his innovations of live-camera and docu-series styles. His current work is a show that discusses a tragic worldwide problem but is also one of the most difficult to discuss today: suicide in teens and children. In his new show, they aim to come up with a solution for these children that are suffering all over the world. Tommy strives to prove how a reality TV show can be more than just a show. Tune in to this interview and be amazed by how Tommy’s experience made him strive to change the world of reality television.

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Ron:

Welcome to the show, my good friend, Tommy Habeeb.

 

Tommy:

Hey, Ron, how are you?

Ron:

I’m doing much better now that we finally got together here. I’ve been trying to get you on the show here for a couple of months. You’re a busy fella. Hey, I want to just mention, if you ever do a show about billionaires, yacht clubs, and you need some volunteers on the crew live aboard these while you’re filming, please, just consider me as a volunteer.

 

Tommy:

Well, actually Ron I’m working on that but everybody on the yachts are nude. So it’s the all nude yacht. It’s a new show. You know they have Naked and Afraid; this is Naked and Sailing.

 

Ron:

Well, that probably would disqualify me. I’m not afraid to get naked, it’s just nobody would want to see me naked.

 

Tommy:

Naked and Afraid it’s not something you want to watch either you got, like, trying to close your eyes, some of these people.

 

Ron:

I am one that will admit that I have not seen Naked and Afraid like a lot of people don’t admit that they have seen Cheaters. But I want to go this is something though that is this was curious for me right off the bat, because I was telling some friends of mine that I was getting ready to interview you also, that you also have a persona name of Tommy Grande and they said where did that come from? I don’t know. I’ll ask him.

 

Tommy:

So yeah, so it’s an interesting story. Because when we started Cheaters, right, there wasn’t reality television. And so we really were treading new ground. So the plan was to go film people cheating right? And prompt them. But my persona on the show was this gumshoe detective and this guy that kind of in the early episodes if you see my office I had this kind of film noir look right. And it was very strange. And so we needed a fictional name for my character. It was actually started out as a Tommy Gun. And then they you know, we did the testing on it, they go, that’s a little campy. And I think actually the first two episodes I was Tommy Gun, and then after that, we went back and changed it to Tommy Grande. And as I’m working with these people, what was crazy, is I really realized what the first situation I was doing was, it’s not fictional. These are real people in real stories. And as it’s happening, and it was very bizarre trying to be this detective so I quickly threw that out the window when I can’t be this thing person, I am Tommy Habeeb but now we had already been down the path with Tommy Grande but it was not in the script ,I just threw the script out and we’re just gonna do this thing live and real though it was good but that’s how it started.

 

Ron:

I thought it might have been from your soap opera days or something.

 

Tommy:

Yeah, no you know with a name like Tommy Gun or becoming Grande, you know, my porno days but

 

Ron:

Well, I guess Claudia probably doesn’t know about that.

 

Tommy:

Never did pornos.

 

Ron:

Hey and for the record. I haven’t either.

 

Tommy:

So I thought I saw something I knew that was you and I was a flash on the screen.

 

Ron:

Oh, well, let’s see. Maybe was that when I was dancing on a tabletop in Cabo one time after a margarita.

 

Tommy:

I do have to tell you you have filled in the audience out there. If you don’t understand Ron Hall is a singing fool. Sing and dance. You’ve got it all. You’re a triple threat. If you change your career, you should be on television acting and singing and dancing. And I mean, Fred Astaire and Dean Martin, all those guys have nothing on you, right?

 

Ron:

Oh, hey, well, I’m available just cast me in one of your reality TV shows. Hey, but I want to tell you for the record years ago, I did watch cheaters. And when I would mention that to some of my friends, they would say, Oh, I don’t watch that trash. It’s as bad as Jerry Springer. I said, Well, what they just told me was that they bought watch both of them but did not want to admit it. So I was gonna say, how can this show be running for 20 years and syndicated in more than 100 countries if nobody watches it? So tell us how Cheaters came about.

 

Tommy:

Yeah, Ron, let me give you a fun little story. The fact is, people forever didn’t want to mention that they watched now like they’re coming out and I remember I was doing when Cheaters blew up really big and people couldn’t understand how we could do a show like this. And I was on the Today Show with God rest her soul Florence Henderson.

 

Ron:

Oh, yeah.

 

Tommy:

And Florence was, you know, was an all American Mom.

Yes, this is live television. And Florence is just beating me up ripping me up one time. I can’t believe you could do a show like this. And it’s not right. And then we go to break to commercial. And she looks at me. She goes, ‘Hey, this one episode. I just loved it.’ Tell me and she’s like, describe it. What are you talking about? You just blasted me on television. ‘I’m the American Mom, I can’t actually tell people I watched this.’

 

Ron:

Well, I’m a Christian author. I shouldn’t be telling you either, except I’m doing research, researching for my new projects.

 

Tommy:

Yes. Well, here’s the thing, Christian author, the Catholic Church supports what I was doing on cheaters. They said, Listen, you are doing what we’re doing. They shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife. You’re just hitting him over the head with a hammer while you’re doing it. You know, on national television, we do it a little bit more subtle in the confession booths. Right?

 

Ron:

That’s right. That’s right.

 

Tommy:

We’re bringing the confessional booth out to the world. But there’s a show there, Ron, I think we can do that. Oh, okay. National booth. Yeah, we put hidden cameras in with the priest. Oh, yeah.

 

Ron:

All right. Actually, I got to know you after you were the host of Cheaters. And we’ve been friends for a number of years now. But, you know, we we talk a lot about a lot of things and we haven’t talked a lot about cheaters because I didn’t want to admit that I knew much about it, cuz I’m a Christian author and all but I wanted to know… Did you actually have boots on the ground kind of guy sneaking around seedy motel parking lots in the middle night with the cameraman?

 

Tommy:

So, you know, the interesting thing is, yeah, I got down dirty with it. And I believed, and I was committed to this project 110%. And I was never quite sure what we were going to run into. But mainly our detectives were out there filming. But early on, I got my hands dirty. I wasn’t scared. I got out there. And we filmed and I wanted to see, I learned really fast that I have to protect my life, above all, yeah, and when you are confronting people and putting them in a bad situation, all kinds of hell can break loose.

 

Ron:

Oh, yeah.

 

Tommy:

So I learned as an I taught the detectives, when you’re filming make sure that you’re getting all the things that I need to make sure that they’re not carrying knives, guns, let’s really focus on you know, look at their waist, zoom in on the waist. Let’s see if you see any silver flashing, there’s a gun or knives or let’s watch them. So we really, I created a technique to make sure that we were safe now, many times there were, you know, other instruments pulled out bats, tire irons, and all kinds of crazy stuff. I did have to take a gun off a guy once, and several knives. So I have some friends in law enforcement and that were and some Navy SEAL guys that really taught me how to handle myself in those kind of situations. And so, you know, it led to some really interesting problems. The biggest problem was, if you’re in a house and you’re doing a confrontation, and you see them run for the kitchen, you know, you got to stop and I think what you’ll do when he comes out with that knife. And yeah, I’ve had to take a few knives off people. You know my security guys. And if you watch close, no telling who you’re going to see with cheater security. So you’ll see Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks, you’ll see all kinds of different celebrities as security guards. So if you see a security guard on the show go the other direction is probably one of these friends of mine. Like for the Cowboys. I run on the other way this guy has a gun. So it’s kind of fun.

 

Ron:

Yeah, did you take any martial arts courses or anything to prepare for that stuff?

 

Tommy:

I didn’t take like formal classes, but I had some navy seals and some guys to teach me. One guy works for the government and CIA showed me some techniques and things to watch for, and how to take a knife away or a gun away from somebody and what I tried to do is more preventive as well so I didn’t get myself in those situations. But you know, when you’re in a, in a war zone like that, things can come from all different directions. So you almost have to be able to feel what’s happening behind you as well. You know, I’ve had people, girlfriends or people that I didn’t know that were part of this relationship come with, you know, beer bottles and, you know, try to hit us all kinds of different situations and women, you see these women with the big spike heels, those do more damage than anything. So going out for her shoe. Immediately we are we’re getting on top of them and making sure they don’t take those heels off because those babies hurt.

 

Ron:

Well, it’s obvious that half the people on the Cheaters hated your guts. So I know that some of them had to come out for dinner, or ever put out a contract on you?

 

Tommy:

Most people, when they got themselves into that situation, they knew it was them. You know, all I was doing was documenting what they were doing, right. Oh, yeah, the bottom line is, luckily, I didn’t have any problems. I had problems from people that were cheating but not on the show. And they would get so angry when they would see me. And because they were guilty. And it was like, you know, I’m not even filming you, you know. And it was really funny as I’d walk into restaurants at times and you’d see couples getting up and leaving. And you knew there was something going on? Because they thought cheater cameras were coming in.

 

Ron:

Was it mostly filmed in the Dallas Fort Worth area, or did you go all over the country?

 

Tommy:

Well, we mostly filmed here. We did do a little filming in New York and LA we tried to test those waters. But it was very expensive. These cases they take a few weeks to kind of flush out so I you know there was more cheating going on in DFW than we could you know we could shoot for a lifetime and never catch all the cheaters..

 

Ron:

I can’t believe it it’s just heartbreaking.

 

Tommy:

Oh yes, anyway yeah that was kind of the deal.

 

Ron:

I want to know one of my big money questions today is how did a kid from Corpus Christi, Texas, get to Hollywood?

 

Tommy:

You know, when I think back then I’m going you know talking about crazy but I was a little boy with a dream and grew up watching Bob Hope, Mr. Fred Astaire and Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett and I watched the big stars and Frank Sinatra sing and dance like you? And I wanted to sing and dance and be an actor and make movies. And so that was always my goal. And I knew through my childhood, where I was gonna go, and there wasn’t anything gonna really stop me from that. And so as I was building stepping stones along the way, that was the plan. And I didn’t realize how crazy it was being from South Texas a kid trying to do that. But, you know, at the age of 9-10 years old, I was making little movies. That was kind of a thing and I never kind of let loose about them and did as much theater as I could and shot films and raced motorcycles and played, you know, just whatever as doing normal things that kids do, but I was always shooting something.

Tune in to the episode to hear the rest of my amazing interview with Tommy Habeeb and get a sneak peek about his next project!