The son of the former leader of the Free World rushes to his front door wearing only a pair of shorts. ''We're having an emergency,'' Ron Reagan says. But it quickly becomes clear that this is something less than an international incident. ''The pilot light's gone out on the stove,'' he explains. ''I've got to relight it before we blow the place up.'' Reagan resolves the crisis, restoring the flame with a single match.
With equal aplomb, Reagan has been starting fires of a different sort five nights a week on The Ron Reagan Show (syndicated to more than 100 stations), a surprise critical hit in a month when nothing much usually happens on TV. Though ratings since the Aug. 12 debut have been merely decent, Reagan's nimble wit and amiable skewering of guests on topics from AIDS to political comedy have reinvigorated a format that seemed tapped out by Phil, Geraldo, Oprah, Joan, and Sally Jessy. The sparks on Reagan have less to do with sensational topics than with the clash of ideas. For example:
In an episode about AIDS, an angry man in the audience accused Reagan of being a ''liar'' for denying rumors he was gay. ''Do you know me?'' Reagan snapped back. ''Have we ever met? Then where do you get off calling me a liar?'' When the man then criticized Reagan for not pressuring his father to do more about AIDS, the ex-President's son said he'd talked to his father ''plenty, but how would you know that?'' As his accuser stammered out an ''I don't know,'' Reagan retorted, ''Well, then, what are you talking about? Come on, you don't know anything. You don't know anything.''
In a discussion about the marketing of athletes, Reagan took Nike spokeswoman Liz Dolan to task because the company kept baseball star Dwight Gooden as a spokesman after his much-publicized cocaine troubles but won't touch athletes who might have used steroids. ''What's the distinction then?'' he asked. ''Do a little nose candy, it's okay, but try steroids and you're out?''