Sunday, February 23, 2014

2 Less Brits in Basic Cable's Court (Ava and C.I.)

The show Piers Morgan Live is soon to be no more.  In January 2011, the show began broadcasting.  It was the replacement for The Larry King Show which had aired on CNN since June 1985.

Larry King now hosts Larry King Now (on Hulu and RT) and, on his CNN talk show, he offered celebrity interviews, gossip and topical topics.  Topical means the OJ Simpson case.  It does not mean what's happening today in the Ukraine.  Yes, you might hear a topic like overpopulation   discussed but it would be during his celebrity interview with Jane Fonda (then Mrs. Ted Turner, wife of then-CNN owner Ted, Jane was the United Nations Population Fund Goodwill Ambassador at the time).

This is not to insult King who still knows how to do a lively talk show (and his interview with Penny Marshall last year was probably the best celebrity interview of the year).  It is noting what CNN viewers had expected from the time slot since 1985.

Piers Morgan didn't give them that.

The tabloid editor fancied himself a real reporter and acted as if he was slumming by appearing on CNN.

He felt the need to lead -- and even kick-start -- 'cultural wars.'  His ignorance was on full display whenever he attempted to go historical or legal about the United States because he just didn't have the knowledge base.

That shouldn't be surprising since he was British and had spent the bulk of his life in England.

Tina Brown's British as well.  When she came to the US, she remade an ailing Vanity Fair and turned it into a must-read.  Since she left, it's failed to alter the formula or even tweek it, it's still the magazine Tina made.  She had less success with The New Yorker which, in retrospect, had more to do with the stuffy ways of the staff and the alarmism of NYC media.  Talk was a failure but it failed at a time when every magazine was. Who knows, in a better economy, what it might have done?

Tina's now over The Daily Beast -- a website that came along when the country was already saturated with websites.  Everyone was expecting a Huffington Post knock-off, but Tina created something unique and original and, most important in terms of finance, popular.

Why has Tina succeeded when others from her country have failed?

Because she's taken the attitude of, "Oh, look what they do!"

It's not said in a judgmental way, it's expressed out of fascination.

Tina is embraced by America because she seems amused and fascinated by America.

Piers Morgan?

England may, for example, have its own gun laws.  That's well and good.  And you might work that in a time or two.

A time or two.

Instead, any shooting crime in America resulting in major press coverage led to Morgan lecturing Americans on guns.


Rosie O'Donnell, an American citizen, got into trouble hectoring on that topic.  This was when she was supposed to be "The Queen of Nice" and hosted her own successful  talk show (the syndicated daytime talk show The Rosie O'Donnell Show).  She invited on pro-gun actor Tom Selleck and proceeded to explode at him.

That was an approach that she would later recreate (successfully) on The View.

But as the sole host and the sole voice?

Viewers felt she'd crossed a line and she issued an on air statement about the incident.

When it happened, Rosie was beloved.

And the bulk of her viewers happened to agree with Rosie's position.  The ones objecting were objecting less about her position and more about her tone.

Piers Morgan did not have the goodwill Rosie had earned from an audience.

He came to America with a list of scandals trailing him across the Atlantic -- including the photo scandal that got him fired from The Daily Mirror and the phone hacking scandal that is still being explored and investigated in England.

While Rosie banked good will with star turns in films like Sleepless In Seattle, A League Of Their Own, Beautiful Girls,  Harriet The Spy, The Flintstones and Now and Then, Piers was no one to most Americans.

So when he started hectoring, they had no reason to see him as anything but a judgmental foreign scold sneering at their country.

Who the hell is this guy?

That's a thought those following his Twitter feed had as the talk show host was forever Tweeting to announce he had banned another person from ever appearing on his talk show.  Among the most famous of the banned were Madonna, Hugh Grant  and Kelsey Grammer. Some of the bannings were announced before the show even started airing.  The day his show was set to begin airing, Kimberly Nordyke (Hollywood Reporter) noted  that, along with Madonna, the host had also banned Howie Mandel, Heather Mills (ex-Mrs. Paul McCartney), Keith Olbermann, attorney Cherie Blair (wife of War Criminal Tony Blair).

To be clear, Piers didn't invent banning.

Johnny Carson banned a number of people from The Tonight Show.  Well, not "people."  He tended to mainly just ban certain women.  In the sixties, his biggest ban was on the author Jacqueline Susann.  She used Bette Davis (who was hoping to play Helen Lawson in the film of Susann's Valley of the Dolls) to get her best seller mentioned on the show since her ban meant Susann couldn't plug the book herself.  (He would drop the ban only when Susann threatened to sue NBC over Truman Capote saying she looked like "a truck driver in drag" on The Tonight Show. To make peace, the network strongly encouraged him to have Susann on as a guest.)

Most know Joan Rivers was banned in the 80s by Carson.  (And finally invited back to The Tonight Show by Jimmy Fallon last week.)  But Joan wasn't his biggest ban.

While the bulk of his bans were done relatively quietly, Carson announced his biggest ban on air: Barbra Streisand.  On the July 8, 1975 broadcast of The Tonight Show, Carson declared;

I was informed prior to going on the air that we'll have a cancellation tomorrow night.  Barbra Streisand will not be with us.  We don't know why.  Nobody has been able to reach her.  [. . .] Although she doesn't owe the show anything in particular, we thought it only fair to tell you, so when you tune in, you don't get mad at us.  I would rather you get mad at her.  Streisand will not be here Wednesday night -- nor will she be here in the future. 

Of all his bans -- and there are a lot more women Johnny Carson banned from The Tonight Show -- the only one he ever publicly announced was Barbra.  He started hosting the talk show in 1962 and didn't announce a ban until 15 years later.

Contrast that with Piers and all of his banning that took place -- and that he announced publicly -- before his show ever even aired.

Piers image was also harmed by Martin Bashir.

That British talk show host began hosting his own MSNBC talk show a month after Morgan's had started airing.  Being an MSNBC host means you talk more than your guests, you talk louder than your guests, you give commentaries that go over the top and then over that new top and then . . .

Piers Morgan never should have touched on his political opinions.  No one cared, for starters.  Second, he should have realized he was a guest in the country and conducted himself accordingly.

Because he was a Brit doing an American talk show at the same time as Bashir, the two were going to be linked and the two were going to be confused.  The best way to avoid that would have been for Morgan to have acted like a host.  CNN didn't demand a circus, that wasn't their approach.

MSNBC did demand that and Bashir's departure is sad (he left the network in December).

He made some uncalled for and disgusting remarks about Sarah Palin.  They might have gone over in England (they might not have) and certainly he was using British history as he attacked her.

But he was in America.

And it was really the last straw.

To his credit, he did apologize.  And it's really sad that he lost his show because he was doing what the network wanted.  MSNBC's recent problems are the fault of MSNBC.  They're encouraging -- requiring? -- their hosts to be attack dogs.  Then, when someone's gets bitten, MSNBC's answer is to put the host down.

The hosts are probably not the problem.

If the network didn't encourage them to whip the audience into a frenzy each night and day, the hosts would probably offer some valuable programming.  Chris Hayes offered some early on before the network made clear that facts weren't important to them but Chris being an entertainer was.

Bashir's attack on Sarah Palin was only his latest attack on air.

And your average cable TV viewer couldn't tell you the difference between Piers Morgan and Martin Bashir.
That's too bad.

And it's too bad that Morgan waited until CNN was very nervous about the program (he had become their most disliked host among viewers) to start attempting to book guests with a different ideological bent than his own.

We honestly believe (as CNN does now, but we felt that way all along) that the talk show to replace Larry King was going to have to be a fair one and an inclusive one.  We honestly didn't think the host should be going into politics.  He could have guests who did but, to be the every person host for CNN, viewers didn't need to know his political opinions.

But he never kept them to himself.

And some at CNN were wrongly convinced that this would prove ratings gold.

We talked about Rosie earlier.

We like Roise.

We like political Rosie.

We were damn happy that Rosie was there on The View to cut through all the media garbage.

Though never given credit for it by the likes of The Nation magazine, Rosie was a strong voice for the left when she was a co-host on The View.

The Nation was happy to plaster smutty and sexist Howard Stern on their cover and present him as the hope of the left.  But they ignored Rosie who took The View to higher ratings and who offered a left critique.

And let's be clear on that.  Whoopi Goldberg is a co-host of The View today.  She's not very informed politically and when she's political she's just repeating Democratic Party talking points.  Her political opinions are knee jerk and not well thought out.

Rosie put plenty of thought and time into her opinions.  And she could and can back them up.

Even with all of that and her huge popularity, she suffered negatives as a result of her time on The View. Let's be clear that she delivered viewers and that's all ABC, Barbra Walters and Bill Geddie should have cared about.  But in terms of her own image, expressing her opinions did hurt her popularity.

And she was fine with that because she was addressing important issues (like the Iraq War).

And the beauty of The View is that, with multiple hosts, you can usually find someone to agree with.  If Rosie ticked you off, maybe you agreed with Elizabeth Hasselbeck?  Or with Joy Behar?  Or with Barbara?

But when you watched Piers Morgan, you were left with just Piers.

And way too much of him.

Too much of his opinions, too much of his talk, too much of his sneering, just too damn much.

And even if he'd been an American it would have been a challenge.

We'll be kind and not name her but everyone knows a daytime talk show that debuted last September continues to flounder because the host tried to make it about her and viewers just didn't care about her or the made over her or the rebranded her or the . . .

Like Piers, most Americans had never heard of this woman until she tried to be a talk show host.

It's not easy being a talk show host.

Arsenio Hall is a good one.  He did a great interview with Diahann Carroll recently and Arsenio's smart enough to realize he needs to offer something more than other shows which is why he's doing seven nights a week of shows on The CW.  Ellen DeGeneres is a talk show smash and she's become that by listening to her guests and having fun.  Jimmy Fallon took over The Tonight Show last week and his ratings defied even the highest expectations.  Jimmy's approach is like Arensio's or Ellen's or Tavis Smiley's or Rachael Ray's -- they all treat the viewer like the most important guest on the program.

Tavis hosted a program recently featuring three guests (including US House Rep Maxine Waters) as they reflected on the life and meaning of the late activist Nelson Mandela.  Was there a better TV discussion of that topic?

We don't think so.

Moving to a less important topic, Christmas cookies.  No, they're not life shattering but weren't Rachael Ray, Bill Bellamy and Trisha Yearwood like excellent guests to have in your home on that episode of Ray's show back in December?

Good hosts deliver.

These are talk shows.

People doing them?  A lot of the hosts confuse themselves with news anchors.  We don't mean they give you headlines or do any reporting, but they refuse to admit they're talk show hosts on TV and nothing more.

Lying to themselves probably helps the MSNBC crew lie to you.

Keith Olbermann.  "You praised him?  I can't believe you!"  That's an e-mail Ty told us about when we knew we were going to have to write about talk shows again.

Earlier this month, we wrote "TV: Big Ed of the Little Mind" and observed:

MSNBC has demonstrated other things over the years as well -- such as it's not TV.
Don Imus, Michael Savage, Rachel Maddow, John Hockenberry, Mike Barnicle, Ron Reagan Jr., Monica Crowley and Alan Keyes were among the on airs who came from radio.
And they did their programs as if they were still on radio.
In fact, the only MSNBC host who ever developed strong visuals for their show and explored the visual format was Keith Olbermann.
The history of MSNBC has pretty much been one radio program after another recorded by video cameras.
Occasionally, viewers might endure some cheap graphics with all the originality of clip art.
But mainly, MSNBC is radio for those too lazy to create their own mental images.

We didn't realize the sentence containing Olbermann's name was going to be controversial when we wrote it. If we had, we might have gone into even more detail.

Olbermann was deeply sexist on his program.  We've noted that many times in many other pieces.

But our focus in the section quoted above was on the cheap look of MSNBC.  The only exception to that was Keith Olbermann's show.

We didn't write that sentence because we love -- or even like -- Olbermann.  We wrote it because we believed it was true.

And on the topic of Olbermann, we'll also argue he served a purpose in 2005 and 2006.  A real purpose.  We didn't promote him.  But we were aware he served a purpose.

During that same time, Rosie did more on The View, in our opinion.

But Keith was a lone voice on cable.

And that's why some of his theatrics worked.

But by January 2011, they didn't.

They'd stopped working years before.

And that's why these vile talk show hosts -- like Piers, like Ed Schultz, etc -- don't work.

Rosie could transform from The Queen of Nice to a firebrand political voice and have it work when it did because she was the voice for those not in power.

Bully Boy Bush occupied the White House, for example.

These talk show hosts who think they're being brave by attacking various people on Barack's behalf aren't brave.  They come off like classroom kiss ups, little kiss asses trying to curry favor with teacher.

Rosie was never that.  And wouldn't be that.  Again, she forms her own opinions.  She's not repeating talking points faxed over from the DNC.

When Bully Boy Bush occupied the White House, many of us on the left looked askance at Fox News.  We could stomach a lot of it and laugh but, at the root, the disgust wasn't that they lie (most of the networks lie) but that they would whore themselves out for any one, let alone Bully Boy Bush.

We were so proud, back then, to think we'd never do that.

We could think that because, throughout the 90s, the left had no trouble calling out the Democrat in the White House, President Bill Clinton.

So, on the left, we didn't have these stupid little crushes or this hero worship better left to Stalinists or Maoists.

Or so we thought.

Along came Barry and how he did bury the independence of so much of the left.

We bring that up because it's important.

MSNBC is a low ranked network that's not going anywhere.

And Piers Morgan aped them and only ended destroying CNN's ratings.

The right is about conservatism, conformity, structure, et al.  So it is in keeping with their nature to have hero worship.  If they want, Fox News can start slobbering over George P. Bush (who's launching his political career in Texas currently -- and the news coverage includes that he may not be conservative enough for some conservatives).  And the right will embrace that, they'll see it as the Bush heritage carrying on.

But on the left, we're not inclined to conformity.  So when a Democrat's in the White House and Rachel Maddow and others spend all their time attacking governors or faded rock stars or some other minor target, it doesn't please the left.  There's no reason to watch that crap.

And the main reason is, pay attention, their talk show is no longer a talk show, it's a propaganda piece.

Tavis, Rachael, Ellen, Rosie, Arsenio, Jimmy, all the good hosts make you the most important piece of the show.

MSNBC doesn't want guests, they want converts they can program.  They're far closer to being a cult than they are to being something resembling a talk show.

The most important element for good television?  It's not turning Chris Hayes into an 'entertainer.'  A trained monkey can be entertaining -- probably more entertaining than the bulk of MSNBC's hosts.  But, for talk shows, good television is serving the viewer first and always.

When you fail at that, you end up off the air.

Ask Piers Morgan.

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