The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

15 June 2005

Bow-Tied Analyst Has Yet Another TV Talk Show

All Tuckered Out

Do Viewers Really Want More Tucker Carlson?

From the universe of annoying liberal habits, here are two that consistently jump off the page:

--- When our viewpoints are intentionally misrepresented, to suit their cartoonish horns-on-heads images of conservatives.

--- When they use their still-considerable mainstream media muscle to hire phony, weak, or otherwise ineffective "conservatives" for radio, television and newspaper gigs, in order to make our side look foolish.

That likely explains how lightweight pundit Tucker Carlson has landed yet another TV talk show, this time on MSNBC, after a troubled background that includes failed CNN and PBS programs.

What kind of audience demand will Carlson generate now, that he couldn't get before?


Carlson's MSNBC debut was boosted by the
Jackson verdict,
read just hours earlier.
from TV Newser.

I'm clearly not the only one wondering how he jumps to new networks and programs every time the last one bombs. Just check out what conservatives have to say on Free Republic's discussion boards, it isn't pretty.

When writing about Tucker previously, I noted his intelligence and superb writing talent, consistently thoughtful and well-reasoned.

On television, however, it's a different story. He's just never had the authoritative, commanding presence, necessary to be a credible host. Nor is he entertaining.

The New York Post's Adam Buckman challenged his thin skin for performance-related criticism:

WHEN I interviewed Tucker Carlson on the phone last week, I was fully dressed.

If this surprised him, he didn't let on. I expected him to be stunned. His opinion of TV critics is so low that he once described us, in a book he wrote, as "hack journalists who spend their days in a darkened room eating ice cream in their undershorts in front of the tube."

So what if we do? I wondered. What's it to him?

I'll tell you what the problem is, Mr. Buckman, it's that he can't handle the heat. Too bad it's not a good business for sensitive people.

There's really no reason to put him on television, save one: he's an ineffective, quasi-conservative placeholder that leftist news programmers can be sure won't threaten their media dominance.

Worse, Carlson and MSNBC honcho Rick Kaplan, took bad advice and made the new program, "The Situation" a mellow, non-confrontational, "talk lite" affair, where everybody gets their say, even if everyone else falls asleep.

Is it really because of Tucker's soul-searching over "Crossfire", that he felt was too nasty, or is it set up this way to protect him?

situation2.jpgLogo for Carlson's new show (from TV Newser)

More suspicious is the addition of two sidekicks, one a liberal extremist and the other a fuzzy conservative, like Carlson. Sixteen people tested for the positions.

Air America host Rachel Maddow, who must have at least 12 or 13 listeners during her 5am-6am program, is the liberal, while (supposed) political consultant Jay Severin functions as the conservative.

Maddow, a lesbian activist from Castro Valley, Calif., grew up in the eighties around big-haired Motley Crue fans in bitchin' Camaros, while the East Bay community was still a blue-collar white enclave.

She was "out" before her classmates had any concept of the term.

Later, she was a Rhodes Scholar, strangely deciding to move into NPR radio production, an odd choice, given her educational background.

Not too many radio people, on or off-air, have doctorates from Oxford.

Of course, there's a good reason: higher education has no bearing on a person's ability to generate audience appeal. This is the entertainment business.

WTKK-FM's Severin, on the other hand, is a controversial figure in Boston radio circles, not for what he says on the air, but from where he's saying it: while never mentioned on-air, he actually broadcasts from home in enemy territory, New York's Long Island.

In Boston, that's unforgivable.

Recently, rival talker WRKO has been poking fun at this daily, dishonest omission of fact, in promotional advertising.

Severin often describes himself as a political consultant, but doubt has been cast on that, as well. Would he care to provide a recent list of clients? That would clear the confusion up in a jiffy.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to list Jay as a talk radio host? Is there some reason not to?

What, if anything, Maddow and Severin can offer Carlson is unclear.

In broadcasting, there's a term for this kind of program setup, it's called having a crutch (two of them here). It suggests the host can't carry the program alone.

To the Radio Equalizer, what sets off the alarm bells, is when early praise emerges from certain liberals, who feel Tucker is "raising the level of cable TV discourse", i.e., being boring.

They're the same sort of love letters Sen. McCain receives daily from the left.

Carlson received a gift from the heavens for his Monday evening debut, with the Jackson not-guilty verdict having been handed down just hours earlier.

Cable news channels, MSNBC included, had tremendous ratings spikes that hadn't even begun to calm down by the time his new program debuted.

You don't get better first-day luck than that and the ratings weren't half bad as a result. According to TV Newser:

The premiere of The Situation with Tucker Carlson averaged 177,000 viewers in the 25-54 demo that MSNBC covets. The show averaged 452,000 total viewers, compared to 1.7 million for CNN and FNC. But the show's ratings were up significantly from May 2005's 9pm averages for the network...

Not bad for the first night, but let's see where this goes in the next few weeks, when the summer doldrums are in full swing and there are no celebrity verdicts to provide ratings surges.

In the Radio Equalizer's view, the future of cable talk is in the high-energy, rough-around-the-edges displays from CNBC's Jim Cramer and Nancy Grace of Headline News, not CNN/PBS retreads like Carlson.

Update: Drudge says Carlson ratings down about 50% for second night of show:

TUESDAY 06/14/05

FOX O'REILLY 2,722,000
FOX HAN/COLMES 2,016,000
FOX GRETA 1,864,000
FOX S SMITH 1,563,000
CNN LARRY KING 1,277,000
CNN P ZAHN 718,000
CNN A COOPER 618,000

Drudge Report figures

Not a good showing, considering all of the recent promotional attention, plus no carryover benefit from Jackson ratings spike on Monday. Is a quick exit possible?


  • I have long held a similar opinion about the popularity of Robert Novak. I'm convinced he is featured as the "conservative" on so many TV programs because his appearance is so typical of the way leftists see us: dark, glowering, hateful, plotting the overthrow of All Things Good. Just to look at him makes you hate him. By having him appear as a token, the MSM can then claim "balance".

    As an ex-jock, I appreciate your comments on the industry. Keep up the good work.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 15 June, 2005 16:28  

  • It's a little distasteful but Jay Severin should never appear anywhere near a camera of any kind. There can be no more peculiar and disturbing looking fellow than Severin. Makes you chuckle at his sexual bravado on the air, realizing just how ugly he is.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 15 June, 2005 19:37  

  • Mr. Baloney,

    No where in your blog did you mention what Jay Severin's political leanings are or what his ratings are in Boston?

    Your stil being very petty and dishonest in your blogging, indentifying facts that serve your message or ignoring facts that don't.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 15 June, 2005 23:55  

  • Severin is generally considered to be a conservative. I don't have the breakouts for his particular show, but WTKK's overall numbers have recently been sliding.

    I think Severin has a decent following in the Boston area and I have nothing personal against him.

    I do think he needs to come clean on the issue of from where he broadcasts. It's not right to pretend to be in Boston every day when you're really in NY.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 16 June, 2005 01:02  

  • I watched the 10pm PT rerun on Thursday night.

    "The Situation" seems eerily similar to the ill-fated Dennis Miller show, trying to be too hip and trying to do too much in one hour. Carlson will likely join Miller, John McEnroe, Tina Brown, Phil Donahue, Deborah Norville and others in the MSNBC/CNBC scrap heap.

    In the various "debate" segments, Rachel Meadow, the butchy-looking lefty from Air America, got in many cheap shots with little retort from Carlson and Jay Severin. As was mentioned above, Severin is indeed a "peculiar and disturbing looking fellow." The other segments also didn't work, especially Carlson's interview with a guy promoting Hillary's candidacy on the web.

    In summary, "The Situation" is a boring hour that provides little information or entertainment. Unfortunately, it is a complete waste of Carlson's literary and creative talents.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 17 June, 2005 12:12  

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