Saturday, December 10, 2011

Political Talk Shows? More like Blah Blah Blah Shows

News and political talk shows are all over TV and are an industry all of their own.  Channels like CNN, Fox and MSNBC load up their programming with an almost endless lineup of shows often recycling the same guests over and over; I am talking to you MSNBC’s Howard Fineman, Michael Steele, and John Halpern. Heck, I am not sure why Chris Matthews gets two shows per day sandwiching the Reverend Al Sharpton’s Politics Nation.  Upstart Current TV now features former MSNBC bad boy Keith Olbermann and the berating bully Cenk Uygur.  On the network side, you have the Sunday porpoutti of This Week, Face the Nation, and Meet the Press.
With all of these talk shows, which hosts are the best?  How do you measure good hosts from bad hosts?  Leaving the partisan biased aside, what are the qualities of a good political talk show host?  Let’s start with a definition; Host - one that receives or entertains guests socially, commercially, or officially (Merriam-Webster).  Here is the Diggaprototype for the perfect host:

1)      Manners: The good host treats guests with respect.
2)      Intelligence: No host will be an expert in everything.  But the best host had done his homework and his staff has performed the necessary research.
3)      Preparedness: Linked to #2, the best host will also be prepared to challenge a guest if he or she goes off topic.
4)      Firm: Guests on political talk shows love to use their allotted time to plug as many talking points as possible.  The good host will politely interrupt his guest if they wander off topic.
5)      Specific: Avoid speaking in generalities and be specific in questions and rebuttals.
6)      Role: Know you role.  The show may have your name in the title, but we see you every broadcast, let the guest speak.
7)      Apolitical: Yes.  Even on partisan networks, the host must be truly ‘fair and balanced’.  And don’t try to overcompensate.
8)      Educate: Make sure your viewers learn something during the broadcast.
9)      Control: Since most shows like to balance segments with opposing points of view, the host must exert polite control of the debate else it ends up like a shouting match.
10)   Self-deprecation: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

So there are the criteria I would look for in a new talk show host.  But how do current prominent hosts stack up and is there anyone out there who gets the five diamond rating?  Here is a partial non all-inclusive analysis:
A)     The gold standard is the late Tim Russert.  Looking at the list above, it is hard to see where the iconic host of Meet the Press would come up short, and because of that, current host David Gregory will never fill the shoes.
B)      Jon Stewart.  Yes the Daily Show is a comedic fake news show, but Stewart would be successful as the host of any news talk show.  Further, when he has guests like Condoleeza Rice, Bill Kristol, and Bill O’Reilly, he treats them with respect even though he disagrees with their beliefs and opinions.
C)      Amongst the current crop of show hosts, I would elevate Rachel Maddow and Fareed Zakaria to the top of the list.  As politically charged as Maddow is, she still treats her guests with respect.  Those that decline her invitations to appear, do so because preparing for an appearance on her show would be like preparing for the bar exam.  Zakaria is a brilliant man whose political leanings are evident in his My Take commentary, but when interviewing guests he exhibits no ideology.
D)     The next rung would include Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Wallace.  Both are very political and appear on very partisan networks. That being said, they are typically well prepared and will challenge all guests.  I would throw CNN’s Candy Crowley into that mix as well.  A solid host who can be tough but fair.
E)      From there, you have:
a.       Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer: Lobs too many softballs, won’t pitch inside.
b.      Keith Olbermann, Ed Schultz, Bill O’Reilly, Dylan Ratigan, and Cenk Uygur are egocentric  bullies. 
c.       Sean Hannity and everybody else on Fox is a GOP spokesman
d.      Erin Burnett makes vanilla look plain
e.      David Gregory couldn’t moderate a debate at his kitchen table.
f.        Christiane Amanpour should be reporting, not hosting.
g.       Chris Matthews can’t shut up and never lets his guests say a word.  Mancrush on JFK is a distraction.
h.      Joe Scarborough’s ego disqualifies him.
i.         Al Sharpton is the anti-Fox for MSNBC.
j.        Lou Dobbs is still crazy.

Now I need to find out to who I should send me resume.
In the meantime, for most of you: STFU.

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