RICHMOND >> In between segments on their award-winning talk show, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan leave their chairs and get close to the audience that people at home see clapping and screaming. They talk with individuals and with the group, and they come across as sincere and down to earth. They like what they're doing. During one commercial break last week, Kelly remarked that it isn't always easy to be perky and funny when things don't quite mix.
The problem at that moment was that actor Mandy Patinkin had just finished an emotional segment about his encounter with Syrian refugees in Greece, and Ripa (obviously moved by his words) had to announce cheerfully that we would next get advice on innovative ways to light up our houses for Christmas.
"It's what's hard about a talk show," she told the audience. Her reality is segueing from the serious to the frivolous, and the audience has to do it, too. Interestingly, a bridge from fiction to fact was also what Mandy Patinkin felt he needed after he finished filming Showtime's "Homeland" in Berlin.
As he explained on the Kelly and Michael show on Thursday, he felt a strong urge to find reality, so he headed for Greece to meet with the International Rescue Committee on the isle of Lesbos, a place where Syrian refugees have been landing by the boatload. What happened after he arrived led to an emotional piece in The Washington Post and a gripping and politically oriented conversation on "Live with Kelly and Michael."
Only one family was at the refugee center when Patinkin arrived because stormy seas had prevented arrivals for a couple of days. Learning that this family needed 150 Euros for ferry and train tickets to get them to relatives in Germany, Patinkin had instant memories of his grandfather leaving Poland to escape the Nazis and his grandmother leaving Russian to escape the pogroms. He gave them the money.
The real drama came the next day when a boat arrived and Patinkin helped grab the ropes to bring it in. Memories of his past flooded over him again, and he wrote in The Post, "We cannot fight fear and hatred with more fear and hatred. We must not allow the horrific actions of madmen to cut us off from our humanity."
On the Ripa/Strahan show, Patinkin never paused for breath after answering questions about the finale of shooting "Homeland." Wanting to deliver his message, he went right into his experience in Greece, including that a father had handed him his small, very ill daughter while he turned to get his son out of the boat.
The show's stars were obviously riveted by his story, as was the audience, and it was, admittedly, a bit hard to concentrate a few minutes later, sitting in the second row, on how Led lights might change my life. Despite the encouragement of the people who give you the "It's your time to clap and yell" signals, my applause was probably inadequate.
Patinkin has a mixed history with me. Generally a major fan of producer David E. Kelley's work, I disliked his role in "Chicago Hope," which my husband and I called "Chicago Despair" in honor of its generally disaster-oriented scripts and despite the fact that some of our favorite actors were in it.
It was a relief to find in his Internet bio that Patinkin has since admitted that he refused to listen to the directors and says he "behaved abominably" while the CBS show was being shot. It was also interesting to learn, in terms of both "Homeland" and Patinkin's experience with refugees in Greece, that he left "Criminal Minds" abruptly because of the violence in the show.
So, in the midst of Christmas lights advice, a go-go dance competition and lots of hilarity, it was Mandy Patinkin who made me doubly grateful that I happened to be in New York that day and happened to be mother-in-law of the talented Donna Bass who had produced the Patinkin segment and gotten me a ringside seat.