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BOGEY'S IN YOUR CORNER! (AND IN YOUR FACE); TV ADVOCATE'S ABRASIVE STYLE SETS HIM APART.

Byline: Harrison Sheppard Staff Writer

Mike ``Bogey'' Boguslawski clenched his fists, pumped them wildly and then jabbed a meaty finger straight at the TV camera.

``And remember,'' he snarled, ``I'm Mike Boguslawski - and I'm in YOUR corner!''

With that signature catch-phrase, KCBS-TV's newest consumer reporter burst onto Los Angeles airwaves last month with a shtick so abrasive yet entertaining that even some of his critics tune in just to see what he will do next.

Rumpled, paunchy and balding, the 58-year-old Burbank resident hardly looks like a TV reporter, especially in Hollywood; nor does he sound like one, with a bellowing, gravelly voice spitting out his lines like a drill sergeant.

What makes Bogey appealing is that he represents the little guy, the aggravated consumer struggling with endless voice mail and tangled corporate bureaucracies.

``I don't have an agent,'' Bogey said during a recent interview. ``I'm not a big shot. I'm not a star. I'm a human being that tells it like it is. You either love me or hate me. That's fine with me, as long as you watch me.''

For certain, his in-your-face style has resonated with viewers, some 300 of whom write to ``Bogey's Corner'' every day seeking his help.

It also has annoyed viewers. A Channel 2 spokesman said the station gets about 15 to 20 calls a day from people put off by his aggressive tone.

And for the businesses he features, Bogey's knife-edged journalism seems to cut both ways: Some object to what has been called video blackmail, but others say they come off looking responsive by addressing consumers' concerns.

``He's always been great TV - like him or hate him,'' said Joe Amarante, television editor of the New Haven (Conn.) Register, who covered Bogey at stations in New Haven and Hartford. ``Whether or not he was great for TV journalism, I don't know. I've never quite known exactly what to say about Mike Boguslawski, except he's a character.''

And he's a character who will be seen nationwide starting next year.

CBS plans to rotate Bogey among most of its 16 network-owned stations from Boston to San Francisco to do local stories, according to John Severino, president of the network division which runs the stations.

``In Los Angeles, there are too many people who look like movie stars - and Bogey does not,'' said Severino, who also is general manager of KCBS. ``He doesn't look like your typical newsperson. He's a man of the people.''

News Director Roger Bell and Bogey declined to say how much he is paid.

Bully or bully pulpit?

Over the years, Bogey said, he has won back millions in refunds and free repairs for people, as a consumer advocate and during jobs as a public official.

``I'll go nose-to-nose with the mayor, the president, the chief of police. I don't care who it is,'' he boasted. ``I'm a gentleman, but you know what? People are my priority.''

For those getting the refunds, Bogey is a champ.

Samuel Kohn of Canoga Park, for instance, was seeking only an apology from a Dana Point hotel when he wrote Bogey recently. He and his wife were dissatisfied because their room was dirty and smelled of smoke, even though they requested a nonsmoking room. They complained and then wrote the company several times, but never heard back.

Then he wrote Bogey. The general manager offered to send Kohn a full refund.

``It was beyond what I expected,'' Kohn said. ``I just wanted them to say we're sorry this happened.''

But some businesses and critics call Bogey's tactics video blackmail, in which businesses knuckle under, even if a consumer's claim lacks merit, rather than risk bad publicity.

It's a charge Bogey denies.

``I don't just go and kick the door open like a Western gunslinger,'' Bogey said, but acknowledged, ``I used to be like that years ago.''

Bogey's targets: mixed reviews

Strangely enough, several targets said his approach was generally polite and more low-key than his on-air persona.

``I didn't feel any pressure,'' said Karl Boeckmann, vice president of Galpin Motors, which was recently featured.

The Galpin story involved a consumer who asked for help with a steering wheel that was oozing a black substance or possibly melting. The consumer did not purchase the vehicle from Galpin's and it was past warranty, but Bogey asked Galpin's what it could do. The company agreed to fix the steering wheel at a reduced rate.

Boeckmann said he would have felt justified refusing Bogey but decided to help because it was a safety issue.

An official of another Southern California business recently featured on ``Bogey's Corner'' said pressure is inherent whenever a consumer reporter calls.

``It's certainly in the company's best interest to take a close look - and potentially defer in favor of the customer, even if the company is in the right,'' said the official, who asked to remain unidentified.

He said Bogey handled a consumer complaint against his company about a service that the customer felt she didn't request. It could have gone either way, but the potential damage from negative publicity ``tends to put it in dollars and cents,'' he said.

Bogey says he does not agree with every consumer who complains to him and isn't afraid to tell them when they're flat-out wrong.

He also is adamant that if a company strongly disagrees with a complaint, he won't put them on the air just for the sake of embarrassing them.

No pretty boy journalist

Michael J. Boguslawski started resolving complaints as a city councilman in Bristol, Conn., then switched careers to consumer reporter to car hawker to state employee to radio host and back again to consumer reporter.

Bogey has spent most of his life in Connecticut, but he has also worked at stations in Orlando and Pittsburgh. He lives in Burbank, while his family remains in Bristol so his 17-year-old daughter can finish her last year of high school.

He is his best salesman. He's prone to hype, and often gets the subjects of his stories to plug him during his pieces.

He also may be prone to storytelling. A 1990 profile of him on the front page of the Wall Street Journal cited unidentified colleagues at a Pittsburgh station who said Bogey sometimes made up stories about himself, including that he pulled Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy out of the water at Chappaquiddick.

Boguslawski vehemently denies ever making the claim, calling the story ``absolutely nonsense'' and saying he's not even sure where Chappaquiddick is.

``Justice is not cheap,'' Bogey said. ``Guys like Bogey come one in a million. You don't find another Bogey around.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo: (color) Mike ``Bogey'' Boguslawski brings a gruff attitude to television consumer-advocate reporting.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 20, 1999
Words:1120
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