Jesse Ventura is back for another stab at TV stardom, this time hosting a program that digs into conspiracy theories, including alternate views of what was behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the purpose of a sprawling research center in remote Alaska.
The former Minnesota governor, professional wrestler and Navy SEAL stars in "Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura," which premieres Wednesday night on truTV. The cable network, part of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., has ordered seven episodes of the hourlong weekly series.
Aside from his wrestling career, Ventura has not had a good track record on TV. His Saturday evening talk show, "Jesse Ventura's America," lasted only two months on MSNBC in late 2003 (his debut drew a small audience of 194,000 people).
Ventura declined to talk to The Associated Press, but he said on CNN's "Larry King Live" Monday night that his new show doesn't examine conspiracy theories involving the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy or the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but instead confines itself to the past decade.
"And believe me, the problem, Larry, wasn't finding conspiracies _ it was choosing which ones we wanted to cover," Ventura told Larry King.
Marc Juris, executive vice president and general manager of truTV, said Ventura is passionate about the show and brings "knowledge from the inside" of government.
"He's not doing this as an act or a gimmick. It's true to his heart. He's really looking for the answers," Juris told the AP.
The premiere episode deals with the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, a 35-acre compound of 180 antennas near Gakona, Alaska, that is used to study the Earth's ionosphere. Ventura and those he interviews question whether the government is using the site to manipulate the weather or to bombard people with mind-controlling radio waves.
"This thing can knock planes out of the air. It can control the weather. And it's a very dangerous, dangerous weapon," Ventura said Tuesday on "The Morning Blend" talk show on WTMJ-TV of Milwaukee. (The HAARP Web site says the research station does not affect the weather and was not designed for military purposes.)
On the debut show, Ventura talks to a team of "Conspiracy Theory" investigators about HAARP and makes an unplanned visit to the research station, only to be turned back at the gates.
"When I get denied something, I do the opposite of getting intimidated _ I get angry," Ventura fumes.
HAARP, which is managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research, is open to the public for one day every other year.
Jillian Speake, an Air Force spokeswoman based in Kirtland, N.M., said Ventura made an official request to visit the research station but was rejected, "and he and his crew show up at HAARP anyway and were denied access."
Future "Conspiracy Theory" shows explore alleged cover-ups surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks and whether there are real "Manchurian Candidate" assassins who are programmed to kill, said Juris. But he said the show is selective in which theories it investigates.
"We're not just running around the country and talking to anyone who has a conspiracy theory. We're actually looking for consistency in the types of stories we're hearing," Juris said. "We're trying to see if there's an element of truth to it."
Ventura, whose wrestling nickname was "The Body," has a tough-guy image that appeals primarily to a male audience, said Marisa Guthrie, programming editor of trade publication Broadcasting & Cable. That reliance on Ventura may be good or bad for his new show's prospects, she said.
"It will live and die with him. If he is likable enough or if he is believable enough, it will work. But that remains to be seen," Guthrie said.
Juris wouldn't say how much Ventura, who is also executive producer of the show, was being paid. Guthrie said she couldn't guess at his salary, but she said Ventura could reap a big reward if the show becomes a hit.
"You don't get a huge payday in the beginning," Guthrie said. "If the show is a hit ... that's when he really starts to make money."
Turner Broadcasting System is owned by Time Warner Inc.