He was one of Connecticut's most recognizable, and lovable, TV personalities: consumer advocate Mike "Bogey" Boguslawski, the plain-spoken everyman whose doggedness and rough-around-the-edges style made him a fixture on our televisions in the 1970s and '80s. Titled in honor of Bogey's signature catchphrase, "He's In Your Corner!" from the February 1981 issue of Connecticut Magazine profiles the irascible reporter, from his childhood on "the wrong side of Bristol," through his time on the Bristol city council and at the Department of Consumer Protection, to his self-invention as a champion for "the little guy."
In this interview you can see hints of restlessness in Boguslawski, an awareness that he's an oversize talent in a media market too small to contain him. Years after this profile, in 1988, he had a falling out with WTNH and left Connecticut for greener pastures. Working at Pittsburgh's WVIT-TV offered bigger paychecks and led to some national exposure, including an appearance on Phil Donahue's show; next was a stint in Orlando, and an eventual return home. Bogey was back on Connecticut TV and radio in 1999 when he was "discovered" and recruited by a Los Angeles network affiliate (a turn of events foreseen by WTNH's then-news director at the end of this article). The boy from Bristol made the big time out West, but through it all Bogey remained Bogey — a loud, bigger-than-life, and gloriously unpolished defender of the little guy. Mike Boguslawski died in March 2019 at the age of 78 in his hometown of Bristol.
This article is being posted to the web in February 2021 as part of Connecticut Magazine's 50th anniversary celebration.
INSTANTLY YOU KNOW HE IS NOT like the others. His teeth are crooked; his hairline receding. He explodes the initial“p's” on words like “protect,” “payment,” and “problem,” popping them into the microphone, crackling them out of your TV. He knocks you off balance—the dependable pacing, the pauses and inflections that make newscasts so easy to parody, are somehow off when he;'s on the air on Channel 8.
His mannerisms are not right either. His face is expressive; his gestures dramatic. He is excited, unpolished, and curiously attached to the words he is speaking. He looks funny; talks funny; he acts funny. Mike Boguslawski is no ordinary newsman.
Television news is not just news anymore,’' explains Peter Orne, general manager of the New Haven-based station. "Television news is information. Consumers have the need for information and part of that need can be filled by exploring consumer problems publicly. That’s what Mike does.”
Saying Mike Boguslawski explores consumer problems is like saying George Steinbrenner owns a baseball team. The facts are there, but the story doesn’t come across. If you’ve not yet experienced Boguslawski, don't tune in expecting Bess Meverson.
They don't want to talk to Mike just because he’s easy to talk to. With twenty-one years of interest and experience in solving consumer problems he’s good for some sound advice—often involving substantial monetary savings for the advisee.
Boguslawski’s "In Your Comer” segment is as entertaining as it is informative. One night he's in a garage talking car repair rip-offs with a mechanic; the next night he's standing on someone’s roof warning of unscrupulous home improvement contractors. One night he was in Joe Gabriel's driveway
“You’ve heard me say over and over, make sure you get a warranty with your product. Well tonight's consumer complaint comes from Joe Gabriel of Bethany. He purchased a 1977 van. He had problems with it from the very beginning."
The camera cuts to Joe, standing in front of his van, telling of the trauma of owning this uncooperative machine. Problem upon problem, repeated trips to the garage, finally stopping payments, collection agents threatening his wife, letter to General Motors...and still no results. Cut back to Boguslawski.
His enunciation and usage are sloppy, but he is sincere. He is somewhat pedagogic, more than brushing on paternalism. His style, though, is more peculiar than offensive, and sometimes, for the viewers that allow themselves to feel it, he arouses in us that part of our souls that tingle when the little guy takes on the bully, and seems for a change, to have a chance at winning.
“Now this is Joe Gabriel's file. I just got done reading it. It’s amaaaaazing. I'll tell you what I’m gonna do. I'm gonna immediately contact the chairman of the board of General Motors Corporation. I’m also gonna contact the finance company. I’m gonna ask them both to personally investigate Joe's complaint.
"Now this is a good example of a consumer fighting back for his or her rights. Just don’t sit down and say ‘I can't do anything about it.’ Because you can. Fight back! And I’ll tell you what. You’ll win your case. And if you don’t...you always have me to turn to.”
Then comes the familiar ending. “I’m Mike Boguslawski" (pause for dramatic effect) “and I’m in your corner" (emphasis on “your" as the forearm snaps down, extended index finger, like his eyes, directed into the camera).
Above: A fierce defender of "the little guy," Mike "Bogey" Boguslowski was a fixture on Connecticut television in the 1970s and '80s.
Boguslawski’s workday is much more than preparing another two-minute consumer dish for the information smorgasbord that is our local evening news. Much of his time is dedicated not to journalism, but to reading letters and talking on the phone—trying to resolve the scores of complaints that land on his desk every week “Mike's not here so much for the ratings as he is for the service he provides," explains WTNH news director Tom Kirby. "I see him more in the role of keeping viewers rather than attracting them. He must save our viewers millions.” Kirby’s notion is not consistent with General Manager Orne’s. “Mike is here for the time he spends on the air," says Orne. “Any side benefit that comes from resolving complaints is purely that."
Side benefits or primary task, no one disagrees that Boguslawski handles a lot of consumer complaints. Most of the ones he resolves never reach the airwaves—there’s too little time, or it’s too routine, or they just did one like it last week. Sometimes he goes on the air with problems he couldn’t solve, using as examples people who failed to get written estimates or read contracts thoroughly. Sometimes he gets taken to task by the very people he is looking out for, like the time he forced the shutdown of the Restland Trailer Park in Wallingford because the park was not up to state codes. “The twelve families that were forced to move weren't happy to say the least," Boguslawski says. “They even called corporate headquarters to complain. But I was protecting their safety. I know what I’m doing."
“I read every letter that comes in here,” Boguslawski says as he takes a seat behind his desk in a former weatherman's headquarters in the basement of Channel 8's College Street offices, “and I get a lot of mail."
Letters are revealing. They tell the tale of the inability of great organizations to relate to individuals, of widespread ignorance of the most basic “do’s" and "don’t’s” of buying goods and services, of people without the social skills to get along with their neighbors and coworkers. They reveal, too, the traits of Boguslawski’s image that viewers find most appealing
“Dear Mr Boguslawski:” begins one. “I’m a senior citizen in need of honest help." Another: “I’m writing you, Mike, because I know I can trust you.”
Boguslawski’s trust-inspiring image is not the work of Madison Avenue media technicians. “People can spot a phony a mile away," he says “That’s really me out there, and people write to me because they need someone they can trust, someone who doesn’t use $80 words or talk like a Philadelphia lawyer.”
His enunciation and usage are sloppy, but he is sincere...and sometimes, for the viewers that allow themselves to feel it, he arouses in us that part of our souls that tingle when the little guy takes on the bully, and seems for a change, to have a chance at winning.
His speech is not put on; it is rooted, like much of his nature, in his working-class upbringing on the wrong side of Bristol. The son of a Polish father and an Italian mother, Boguslawski recalls too clearly the sense of impotence that gripped his neighborhood.
“I came from a pretty hard neighborhood. Constantly seeing people ripped off, being abused, taken advantage of. I constantly fought all my life. Fighting for the rights of people, even when I was a little kid. You know, big bully picking on a little kid...big company picking on a poor consumer. I'm taking the fight for all those people who don't have the money, who don’t have the education ”
A mishmash of a career led him out of Bristol briefly. After graduating from St. Anthony’s High School in 1957, he moved to Wellesley, Massachusetts, where he attended the Elm Bank Stigmatine Fathers and Brothers Seminary. He dropped out after a year, returned to Bristol, and took a job with the Wallace Barnes spring shop.
Though he had been personally involved in consumer issues for a while (dating from the day he cracked his own molar on a surprising cherry pit in a scoop of ice cream), his first “official” act as a consumer advocate came as a result of his election to Bristol's city council. Seeing first hand how the complexity of the city government bewildered his constituents, he wrote and published a directory of services that listed explicitly what agency to call for which kind of problem. It's one of his most proud achievements.
Boguslawski's efforts attracted the attention of Robert Vicino, Bristol representative to the state legislature and sponsor of the state's fundamental consumer protection legislation. When Ella Grasso was elected governor and appointed Mary Heslin as consumer commissioner, Vicino boosted Boguslawski into the executive assistant slot.
Boguslawski’s position with the Department of Consumer Protection provided him access to the slate’s media. His flamboyant style and germane topic (everyman’s pocketbook) made him a natural for radio talk shows. Though appearing on a number of stations, he became a regular on the Brad Davis show on WDRC, a Hartford area station, advising consumers who would call in with their problems. Davis dubbed him “the Polish Rocket.”
After four years with the state, Boguslawski accepted an offer from Miller Foods to serve as vice-president for public relations. He stayed only six months. (“It wasn't for me,” he says.) He then tried to parlay his knowledge of consumer advocacy and his repute from the radio talk shows into a profit-making venture. He printed up hundreds of leaflets advertising the new business—the Polish Rocket Consumer Service. For $5 he pledged to resolve consumer complaints, satisfaction guaranteed, money cheerfully refunded if the complaint was not resolved.
Boguslawski contends the service flopped as a business venture because he set the price too low, not for lack of volume. "Every time I solved a complaint I lost money. It invariably took more than $5 in phone calls and postage to solve a problem." Seeing that the Polish Rocket Consumer Service would never support himself and his family, he began to look for a way out.
At the urging of his wife, he began calling radio and TV stations to see if they would be interested in hiring a consumer advocate. Channel 3 turned him away, but Brian McFarlane, news director at Channel 8 at that time, invited him to New Haven to discuss the matter. Though rocky at times, the marriage enlivened WTNH’s news shows while providing Boguslawski the forum he sought to preach the gospel of consumerism.
Boguslawki is proud of his life and his accomplishments, and delights in talking about himself, often, and characteristically, exaggerating for effect. "I’m a walking book of knowledge from the shoulders up,” he spouts. “I'm one in a million,” he says matter-of-factly. “I don’t know what they did around Channel 8 'til I came.”
If Boguslawski is intensely proud, he is also intensely personable. He answers his own phone and revels in the caller's astonishment. (“What? You think Mike Boguslawski’s too good to answer his own phone?") Despite his long working day, he listens to and advises consumers at his Manchester home, and about everywhere else—whether it’s the coworker who drops by his office in the afternoon for a few words about his girlfriend's panty hose or the woman in the toll booth that catches him each night on the way home.
They don’t want to talk to Mike just because he’s easy to talk to. With twenty-one years of interest and experience in solving consumer problems he’s good for some sound advice—often involving substantial monetary savings for the advisee. The cards, the thank-you's, the artwork, and the certificates that line the yellow, perforated acoustical tile walls of his office are testimony to his effectiveness.
Boguslawski’s workday is much more than preparing another two-minute consumer dish for the information smorgasbord that is our local evening news. Much of his time is dedicated not to journalism, but to reading letters and talking on the phone—trying to resolve the scores of complaints that land on his desk every week.
Boguslawski does not solve consumer complaints by threatening to use his air time to badger a business (it is policy not to use names of offending businesses on the air). He resolves complaints with a hodgepodge of techniques. He checks that the complaint has traveled the proper corporate channels (if you can't get a problem worked out, go straight to the president, he advises). His list of the self-policing associations that industries have established (like the Magazine Action Line and the Mail Order Action Line) is extensive, and he exploits them fully (somewhat ironically sending them form letters with complaints attached) Drawing on his experience with the state government, he cultivates the regulators and studies the regulations. He has set up his own problem-solving networks that crisscross the state—inventively calling on consumers whose problems he has already solved to help resolve the complaints of others. And he uses his interpersonal skills to mediate conflicts, adroitly twisting arms and stroking egos, alternately blowing his top and passionately exhorting higher laws, bristling and wooing his way to compromise, even when the complaining party hasn't a legal leg on which to stand.
His approach is anything but punctilious. He does not log in each letter. He does not record the status of each complaint on some central ledger. He cannot document the percentage of complaints resolved nor the amount of money returned to consumers as a result of his intervention.
Yet his lack of discipline is offset by his vigor and his genuine concern. Despite a heart attack in the fall of 1979, the thirty- nine-year-old Boguslawski finds little time to rest. Every night he carries complaint letters home in the white canvas tote bag he keeps by his desk, every once in a while “pulling an all nighter" to catch up on his work. “People think I’m nuts,” he says with a crazed grin. He has, however, given up chain smoking and tries to spend a little time each day venting his frustrations on the pinball machine stationed in his basement.
(Above: A compilation of promotional videos for Mike Boguslawski's segments with KCSB-TV in Los Angeles in the 2000s.)
But Boguslawski cannot rest for long. He is a driven man—driven by the need to be needed, driven by the need to be loved, recognized, and appreciated. Still somewhat insecure in his new environment, his attitude about himself in his job fluctuates wildly. “TV is a tough business,” he confides. “One day you’re on top...the next day you’re out selling used cars.”
More often, though, he speaks from the niche he has carved at WTNH with his familiar self-effacing demeanor. "You know, I just started around here and I'm the only one that doesn't use a script or a teleprompter. I just get up there and talk I think it’s incredible,” he boasts.
Fellow staff members—they call him Bogey around the office—like him, though professionally, they seem as if they don’t quite know what to make of him. The anchors, who manage to announce expressionlessly the latest murders, rapes, and armed robberies, have occasionally openly flinched at Boguslawski's vigilance during his spirited spots on items like shelf-life pricing and the puppy law. He’s clearly of a different breed.
His distinctiveness has drawn several inquiries from other TV stations and his ambitions fluctuate as wildly as his self-confidence. One day Channel 8 is the only place he ever wants to work. “Connecticut is my home and Channel 8 gave me my big break. As long as they'll have me I’ll stay here.”
At other times he wants “to go network and make $4 million” or forsake the TV business for politics. “U.S. Senator Michael J. Boguslawski. Sounds good to me.”
Boguslawski’s only consistent wish is that he had studied to be a judge. Though he has no plans for formal training in law, he recounts nostalgically the day in high school when students sat side by side with public officials to see what their workday was like. "One kid was mayor for a day, another was fire chief. I was a judge. I've wanted to be a judge ever since.” In his mind’s eye, Boguslawski is the ultimate judge—fair, wise, compassionate with victims, merciless with wrongdoers. "I’d go after my mother if she broke the law,” he attests.
But for now, Boguslawki’s in the business of working as a consumer advocate for a local TV station. “You know, there’s always a need for Mike Boguslawski. I can’t be an anchorman. Don't want to be one. But they can’t be consumer reporters either.”
Boguslawski, who won the area Better Business Bureau’s 1980 Media Outstanding Consumer Award, currently earns around $20,000 a year. He says he’s now worth four to five times as much.
"I don't disagree with him,” says Tom Kirby. “If I were news director in a major market station in someplace like Los Angeles, $100,000 would be peanuts to pay for a guy like Bogey."
Though no formal contract has been signed, Kirby says he and Boguslawski have a handshake agreement on extending his current contract past its December 1981 expiration. "No one will be able to talk to him until 1983."
Fly-by-night contractors, mail order swindlers, rip-off mechanics, unscrupulous salesmen, and other perpetrators of unconscionable practices better keep on moving. The Polish Rocket is going to be around for a while.