HBO’s “Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth” promised a revealing look at former WFAN morning radio personality Craig Carton. During the documentary, the former “Boomer and Carton” host — who was recently released from prison for his involvement in a multimillion-dollar ticket-resale pyramid scheme — said he was repeatedly sexually abused at a sleep-away camp as a child.
But “Wild Card” goes the teaser route with that bit of information, with Carton initially vaguely mentioning childhood “trauma” before going into detail a bit later in the feature-length film. The time between setup and payoff, if we may borrow terms generally used for far less serious matters, may make viewers feel like they may not get specifics — but boy, do they.
“That was a purposeful decision,” Marie McGovern, who co-directed and produced the doc with her StreetSmartVideo partner Martin Dunn, told TheWrap.
“For folks that might not know who Craig is or have never listened to ‘Boomer and Carton,’ what we wanted to do was at least set up who he is, why you should maybe want to hear his story or stay for the rest of the documentary,” she explained. “Why is this person important and who he was in his place in the entertainment world. So we thought it was important to kind of lay that out.”
“And to sort of put on record up front that there was a serious issue in his life, but then … explain properly how he got to the very top of the radio world,” Dunn added.
In “Wild Card,” Carton said that his abusive past was originally meant to be a chapter in his 2016 book, “Loudmouth: Tales (and Fantasies) of Sports, Sex, and Salvation.” However, publisher Simon & Schuster did not believe the very serious revelation fit with the otherwise sophomoric material, Carton said, and so it was edited it out. (Dunn and McGovern said they fact-checked that bit of information with Simon & Schuster. It checked out.)
So the public disclosure of the personal trauma, which was first revealed to a judge ahead of Carton’s sentencing, was instead saved for the documentary, providing what Dunn called “a very, very moving and poignant moment for us when he produced that chapter that had never been published.”
“When he read that chapter [on camera] it was very, very clear how deeply affected he was,” Dunn continued. “There were moments when he had to catch himself, there were moments when he couldn’t quite go on.”
That’s the moment when you see “the real Craig,” McGovern said.
Through the making of this intimate documentary and their earlier collaboration on a potential TV series that never got off the ground, McGovern and Dunn know the real Craig. They also know his wife, Kim, a bit.
Kim Carton is noticeably absent from “Wild Card” — as are hers and Craig’s children. Omitting the kids, which Carton addresses up front, makes perfect sense. A spouse’s lack of presence is a bit more glaring when a documentary subject contends to be an open book.
That was “the one agreement that we made,” McGovern told TheWrap.
“Kim was never a part of his public radio life. He might refer to them by name every now and again, but you never saw pictures of [Craig’s wife and kids], you never saw them being paraded around. She’s notoriously private and so we had to respect that,” McGovern said.
“Wild Card” charts the rise and bizarre fall of prominent New York sports-radio personality Craig Carton, the host of former WFAN 660 morning show “Boomer and Carton.” His running mate from that No. 1 program, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, is prominently featured in the doc — as are several of Carton’s other colleagues from those days on top.
Through a series of first-person interviews with Carton and others, “Wild Card” reveals how the radio host’s secret insatiable gambling addiction — financed by an illicit ticket-broking business — brought his career to a sudden halt when he was arrested by FBI agents and charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud on Sept. 6, 2017.
Carton, who was sentenced to up to 42 months in federal prison for his ticket scheme, was released early in June 2020. He is currently serving house arrest.
“Wild Card” debuts Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO platforms.