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My Wakeup Call Is Mr. T

By RD Heldenfels Published: July 13, 2006

I'm in the same meeting room where Ted Koppel's message came via satellite yesterday, only the messenger is a little different this morning.

It's Mr. T, and he is rolling as he talks about his new show, ''I Pity the Fool,'' which premieres in October on TV Land. The gold chains are gone (he thought they were just wrong after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina), replaced by a suit and tie (and white sneakers). The Mohawk is still there, just a lot thinner.

I was a little weary when I came in here but you can't stay drowsy for long when that raspy growl of a voice is rapid-firing aphorisms -- ''You pity the fool because you don't want to beat up the fool'' -- and explaining how his show will be different from Dr. Phil's. (He'd tell the tearful folks on ''Dr. Phil'' that ''you're a fool, that's what's wrong with you!'') Not to mention his repeated references to his mother, or his description of watching ''The A-Team'' late at night: ''Look at me,'' he'll think, ''I was something!'' Or his fondness for the show generally: ''We shot a thousand bullets and didn't kill nobody.'' And I've lost track of how many different things T has said the T stands for: tender, tough, time, temperature (because he brings the heat)...

Of course, T has been giving inspirational speeches for a long time. But he seems to have changed from the ''A-Team'' days; I remember him being surly at a press conference touting a guest turn on the show by Culture Club. (Yes, I was in a room with Mr. T and Boy George.) T insists that some of that was him being in character. And some of it may also have been that he didn't like the questions reporters asked in the old days -- and surly was better than smacking. ''I might have saved the guy who asked the question by walking away.''

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