A New Door For Mother Love The Host Of Tv's "Forgive And Forget" Writes A Primer On Reconciliation.

Posted: October 12, 1999

NEW YORK — She may be talk TV's resident peacemaker, but Mother Love is no forgiver of time. Ten minutes for an interview is all she has. She's in between tapings - just enough time to nibble some fruit, change clothes and adjust her hair. And please, baby, no pictures, not in the dressing room. Not until she's on the set in full makeup. Because the camera, as everybody knows, can be unforgiving.

Not that she can't be conciliatory. Mother Love is in the business of forgiving. Through her syndicated talk show, Forgive Or Forget, shown in all the major media markets - locally it airs at 11 a.m. on UPN's Channel 57 - she provides homespun mediation for a motley crew of guests who come seeking resolution through forgiveness.

She has even written a book, Forgive or Forget: Never Underestimate the Power of Forgiveness, (Harper Collins, $22.95) a no-nonsense primer on reconciliation that mixes anecdotes from her show with her own life.

"I wrote the book to respond to everybody who watches the show," Mother Love says. "Everywhere I go, people want me to relive a story about how to get to a place of forgiveness. The book was the best way to respond to what I really want to say and be."

After varying careers as a stand-up comic, newspaper advice columnist and school bus driver, Mother Love, 45, has hit the mother lode with her new job. The world is fixated on forgiveness and closure. Just ask Bill and Hillary.

More important, ask Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who helped heal South Africa's racial divisions through his Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mother Love is doing a similar thing, in a more exploitative, sleazy way.

During the hour-long show, guests sit on a couch and confess to a misdeed, or tell of a bad thing that was done to them. He stole from his mother! Her sister hates her and she wants an explanation!

Drama comes when the guest walks to a door and opens it to see if the person wronged, or been wronged by, is waiting on the other side.

If they are, a teary reunion results. If they aren't . . . well, that's when Mother Love is at her hand-holding best, offering a box of tissue and a word of compassion.

Most of the time, Mother Love conducts the show with professional decorum. For instance, she won't allow audience members to get too spiteful with their comments to guests. But there are times when her warm and fuzzy alter ego is shed and Mother Love becomes Jo Anne Hart, the tough-talking homegirl from the Cleveland projects.

"When I see people going down the same stupid paths I have, when I see people who cheat, people who abuse their children . . . girl, there are times I want to slam that door myself! Lock it from the inside! Put a deadbolt on it!"

The show has had its touching moments, such as the time entertainer Melba Moore came on to seek an apology from her father, who had distanced himself from her when she was destitute and suicidal (he was behind the door).

But Vicki Abt, for one, isn't buying it. "That show is worse than Jerry Springer," Abt, a Penn State sociology professor who studies talk shows, says. "At least everybody knows Springer is a farce."

Abt, who said her 1994 paper, "The Shameless World of Phil, Sally and Oprah," contributed to Oprah Winfrey's decision to change her show's format from issues of "family secrets" to issues that affect the greater good, says Forgive or Forget is deceptive because it claims to be something it is not.

"Let me tell you something," Abt says. "They're not forgiving anybody. True forgiveness is digging deep inside a person. . . . The worst part of it is that people are being shocked in many cases. You don't know if that person is going to be behind the door or if they're going to tell you to go to hell. You don't shock people like this for entertainment. It would be like watching a public hanging."

Furthermore, Abt says, "We don't know what [Mother Love's] credentials are. If she's a comedian, why is she giving advice to people?"

For the record, a psychologist is available to counsel guests after they appear, Mother Love says. As for her credentials, she believes she is as qualified as any Ph.D. because she has learned how to do what many find impossible - to forgive herself.

She shares a story: "When I was a little girl, I was so bony they used to laugh at me. Imagine in a cold March wind, flying around like Sister Bertrille. My mother used to sew rocks in my pockets so I could stay grounded.

"Then I had my son and gained 96 pounds. I had to forgive myself for being thin, then forgive myself for getting fat."

She also forgave herself for going on welfare, and abandoning her plans to become a mortician, rather than allowing her baby's father, Kennedy Rogers, to support her and the baby. "Too much pride," she explained. Now she can't imagine life without Rogers, her manager and husband of 26 years.

Her Ohio State classmates had already nicknamed her "Sister Love"; she renamed herself Mother Love after giving birth. She worked a number of jobs in those lean years, including a stint as a school bus driver.

Even then, Mother Love realized she was destined to entertain. She'd try out her comedy routine on her fellow bus drivers and eventually got a job performing stand-up at a biker bar. She got her big break in 1985, when she landed an on-air gig doing the weather and answering "Dear Mother Love Letter," for WGCL in Cleveland.

That led to a late-night call-in show on KFI radio in Los Angeles, where she earned a reputation as a relationships expert. Her sassy style gave her an entree on the talk-show circuit, and that led to a TV spot on the now defunct Home show and guest spots on sitcoms.

Millions know her through her advice column in the tabloid weekly, the Globe. She increased her exposure in 1995 with her first book, Listen Up, Girlfriends!, an easy-lift reader on love and life.

"She practices what she preaches" says Tonya Bolden, her Forgive Or Forget co-author. "She's an extraordinarily intelligent woman and very wise. I think anybody who has read her life experience can see she has been through the process of becoming wise."

The assistant signals cut. Mother Love, mother confessor, author, and recently a spokeswoman for a plus-sized clothing company, has changed from a maroon silk pantsuit into a tasteful black skirt and gray cardigan twin set. She is big-girl glamorous, ready to meet her primed studio audience.

You heard it here first: Mother Love did invite Bill and Hillary "and Monica and her big-head friend, Linda Tripp," to appear on the show. "They all should have been on," she said. "[The White House] wrote back, saying he couldn't fit it in his schedule."

Would Hillary have been at the door?

"Absolutely," she says. "Because that's her husband and they're humans. She's Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton first."

And if Hillary didn't show, well, the President would surely feel better after Mother Love clucked sympathetically and handed him a tissue.

IF YOU GO Mother Love will read and sign copies of her book Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Winnet Student Life Building at Community College of Philadelphia, and Saturday at 1 p.m. at Borders Books, 17th and Walnut Streets.

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