Back around 1985, the Lifetime Network, which had not yet branded itself as a channel dedicated to angsty women’s dramas, decided to dedicate an hour a week to a prime-time talk show called Hot Properties, featuring as its host a standup comedian named Richard Belzer. Of course it was many years before Belzer would cement his identity as the ubiquitous Detective John Munch, and anyone who’s seen his live act knows that Belzer, whatever his gifts and flaws, was not your typical standup comedian. His New York City edge, his rapid patter, his Reagan impersonation (which he used incessantly), and his affinity for conspiracy theories made him something like a cut-rate George Carlin for the cable TV era.
In effect, Hot Properties was a version of Late Night with David Letterman, except with no audience to speak of. The most interesting thing about it, really, was that it ran at 8pm on Wednesdays—the edge that Belzer brought to the proceedings seemed entirely out of place on the prime-time lineup. I tuned in whenever I could, but the show didn’t last very long. Detailed TV listings from the mid-1980s are hard to come by, but according to the Retrojunk website, the guest on September 18, 1985, was Quentin Crisp—pretty interesting guest! I can’t say for sure, but I think the show may have broadcast live. Anybody know?
There’s virtually no information out there about Hot Properties, but I cherished it (briefly) as an offbeat source of interesting programming. Insofar as the show is remembered at all, it’s for an incident that happened on the telecast of March 27, 1985.
Belzer’s guests that night, there to promote the first-ever Wrestlemania on March 31 of the same year, were Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. After a few minutes Belzer asked Hogan to show him a few wrestling moves; Hogan put Belzer in a kind of awkward headlock and Belzer fell to the floor; he had apparently passed out. The two crazy things about the footage are that just before Hogan tries his move, Belzer actually falls to the floor on purpose, as a joke, the idea being that the merest movement from Hogan would be enough to make a pencil-necked New Yorker like Belzer faint dead away. The other thing that’s weird is that after blacking out for perhaps five seconds, Belzer immediately bounds up and, quite full of energy, offers up a fairly professional bumper to the commercial. On the show a week later, Belzer would explain, quite plausibly, that he was in shock at the time.
Belzer ended up getting nine stitches. Belzer sued Hogan and the World Wrestling Federation (as it was then known), and the parties eventually settled out of court. There were rumors that Belzer received $5 million, but in a 2008 interview on Howard Stern he said that the number was a lot closer to $400,000.
In March 2012, I attended a birthday party for Jerry Lewis at the Friars’ Club in New York. Belzer, who’s close to Lewis, served as the MC. As I was leaving the party I happened to find myself walking next to Belzer—I took a moment to tell him how much I’d liked Hot Properties back in the day—certainly a fan testimonial he doesn’t hear every day. Belzer had hardly been listening but that got his attention; his head whipped around and he said something like “Boy, you remember that, huh?”
Hulk and “the Belz” tussle:
A week later, Belzer shows his stitches: