Set ’em up. Pull the trigger. Knock ’em down. Start over.

It sure feels like ducks in a penny arcade, this business of watching celebrities tumble. Marv Albert is the latest. Finished now. A good sportscaster, a pioneer in many ways, gone, history, see ya. And while I have no doubt, after a week’s worth of kinky stories and gasping courtroom revelations, that Albert is, as they say in the sex biz, a freak, I’m still not exactly sure what he’s guilty of.

Oh, he admitted to something. He admitted to assault and battery, a misdemeanor. Actually, he plea-bargained to that, and plea bargaining often isn’t as much about guilt as it is about avoiding something worse. The something worse for Albert might have been more women marching up to that witness stand to talk about him wearing panties and garter belts.

And when this is all said and done, that’s what people will recall, isn’t it? That Marv Albert likes to dress in women’s underwear. The crime he was charged with, the serious one, forcible sodomy, is nudged to the background. Marv in women’s undies. There’s your picture. Marv coming on to a female hotel worker, dressed like a French maid, the woman yanking off his toupee before she fled.

“MARV FLIPPED HIS WIG” one of the New York tabloids wrote.

That’s the picture.

But that’s not what he was on trial for.

Court of ill repute

Here is the problem with American courtroom drama: We are so entertained by deviance and misery, we often push those things to the front of the stage and forget the simple principles behind crime and punishment.

If this woman who charged Albert with forcing her to have oral sex was really interested in putting a deviant away so he couldn’t harm anyone else, then she failed. By accepting — or even suggesting — a plea bargain, prosecution lawyers give the impression that what was important was a victory. And perhaps making Albert suffer.

He suffers all right. His career is history. His money flow is shut off. His reputation is a joke. Maybe that’s enough for the accuser. Maybe her plan was to make something stick in criminal court, then go after his cash in civil court. Who knows?

But what happened last week doesn’t necessarily prove her charge. The woman’s own credibility was severely crippled when a tape was played of her offering a cab driver money for corroborating her story. A cab driver? A payoff? You get the feeling everyone in this mess was part of some bad “Dallas” episode.

And there’s the danger. This is not a TV show. It’s real life. If the legal system is to be taken seriously, it shouldn’t become some sort of X-rated
“People’s Court.”

How do you stop that? Good question. We all congratulated ourselves on our newfound sobriety after Princess Di’s death. Tabloids were exposed as bloodsuckers. We promised never to peek again.

But a few weeks later, here we were, drinking at the trough, lapping up Marv in the garter belt, Marv in the panties, Marv calling the hotel desk saying
“I’m having trouble with my fax, could you come up and help me?” Marv emerging from the bathroom dressed like Marlene Dietrich.

You could almost see the “Saturday Night Live” skit forming as you went along.

Butt of many jokes

Now, kinky sex is nothing new. I promise you, many of the people in the entertainment business who are clucking their tongues at Albert today have themselves done things just as wacko behind closed doors. Maybe even gotten rough. The only difference is that one of their partners didn’t turn them in.

Yet Albert is fired from his two TV jobs — ostensibly because he lied to his superiors, insisting that there was no credibility to the charges, then shattering that with his own admission of guilt.

But the fact is, TV didn’t want him anymore. Not once he’d become a caricature out of the movies. Who could take him seriously? In a way, NBC was lucky he plea-bargained. If he had maintained his innocence and had been found not guilty, then the onus would have been on the network to stand by a man whom it knew had become the butt of office jokes across America.

What’s ironic is that Albert makes his living announcing the feats of athletes, some of whom regularly dip into freaky sex waters, some of whom even have been convicted of sexual assault. Yet they are out there on the courts and fields.

Albert is not so lucky. He’s in the image business. His image is shot.

And so is he. Down goes another duck. Maybe this was the right outcome, maybe this was the only outcome. But with all the cameras, jokes, lewd details and racy headlines, it doesn’t feel very much like justice. More like target practice.

Mitch Albom will sign copies of “Tuesdays With Morrie” from 7:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Border’s in Novi. To leave a message for Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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