Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Dish

“I've Heard Things. I've Heard Things!”

Here in New York City, the media/TV community is a rather smallish one, incestuous in the respect that everyone knows everyone, and when a controversial or buzz-worthy project is being worked on, the industry folk in town hears all about it in short time. You also hear about the internal scuttlebutts at various studios and soundstages, newsrooms and green rooms, and control rooms and executive suites—little things that make you go “Hmmm.”, and big in-house things that make you scream “Oh shit!”—in your head at your “cube”, and out loud in rest room gossip sessions.

I know several people who work at NBC's New York headquarters and have written before about internal goings-on at 30 Rockefeller Center, particularly during the Imus debacle and how the building's e-mail system that day went bonkers from a mass near-mutiny of staffers tap-tap-tapping back and forth between each other in anti-Imus indignation directed at the management.

About a month ago I got wind of some information that I was tempted to go with here at GNB, but refrained from doing so because it could have exposed some people I know to serious scrutiny as sources, and also because so much of it was so-called “Inside Baseball”, in-company whispering that it seemed kind of trivial.

But one piece of the puzzle fell like a lead brick into place a couple of weeks ago, and if you're a semi-close MSNBC viewer, you've probably picked up on something funky in the process of going down on air anyways—so what I'm about to tell you will serve only as confirmation of what you've already gleaned.

Our long, national nightmare that is the execrable, “nails-on-a-chalkboard-piped-through-a-speaker-punctured-P.A. system” “Tucker” show is nearing its end. Now, that's not the puzzle piece yet, merely the picture on the puzzle box of the completed image, so bear with me.

If you read Atrios with any regularity, or the website TV Newser, you've no doubt seen the awful ratings grid indicating the viewership numbers—or lack thereof for Carlson (Not to mention his buddy at the peacock, Chris Matthews, and Headline News' brush-haired waterhead, Glenn Beck).

A visual aid shows the numerical carnage best: (CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Carlson's numbers have been so horrific that his airtime has been drastically diminished in recent months. After the failure of his show's original “prime” incarnation “The Situation” with Tucker Carlson (where he was thrown up against Jon Stewart's “Daily Show” with all of the fairness of a drunken Verne Troyer going one-on-one against an out-for-blood Lebron James), he was demoted to late afternoons with the simplified “Tucker” program, running first at 4 p.m. and then repeated at 6 p.m. Those numbers cratered so deeply that the Network jettisoned the 4 p.m. first-run hour, leaving him with the 6 p.m. show alone. How bad were the numbers? They didn't replace him with another personality—just a continuation of the afternoon live news anchor wheel. Worse yet, there are NO repeats at all for Tucker's show, while Countdown, Hardball, and even Abrams' shows all get late night (between midnight and 4 a.m.) second showings.

The reasons for this are clear to anyone.

Carlson scans as shittily as any cable news personality going. Bill O'Reilly comes across as more personable (!) in comparison to Little Lord Tuckleroy. The words that come to mind in describing him? Smarmy, Snippy, Jerk, Disingenuous, Hypocritical, Spiteful, Whiny, Putird Hack, and yes...a Dick.

Years ago, I was on a debate team, and had a teacher who grew so frustrated with one kid's annoying, self-pitying style that he just stopped the class cold, slumped his shoulders and sighed at my lame-ass classmate, almost moaning “Young man...I-I don't know what's worse...that you argue in such bad faith—or that you argue in bad faith so damned badly.”

That is the “Carlson Problem”. His style is so pedantic, so off-putting, and so transparently mean-spirited that his frustration shows through and alienates him from the viewers.

Which leads us ever closer to that puzzle piece: Air America's Rachel Maddow.

Now Rachel was a frequent guest on Tucker's show, routinely showing up as his Liberal foil—except for one huge problem: she tended to make Tucky look bad on his own show almost every time she was on. She always came off as well-versed, passionate, verrrrrry affable, physically attractive, non-threatening, and most importantly—quick with a response without coming across as a churlish, nyah-nyah-ing prigunlike her host. And for a while, she was something of a semi-regular guest, mainly because of the Globetrotter (Maddow) versus the Washington Generals (Carlson) entertainmant of an alleged competition that's actually a showcase for a predictable, but fun-to-watch ass-whipping.

Trouble is, the show itself isn't hosted by the ass-whipping Globetrotters—rather, it's a vehicle for a petulant, and increasingly embarrassed “Washington Generals squad”. So with that, Rachel's appearances on the show dropped to almost nil. But other shows on the network picked her up—like a reluctant Chris Matthews, a very receptive “Countdown”, and a “seeing-the-writing-on-the-wall” Dan Abrams.

As if merely icing her out was the magic panacea for all that ails the increasingly puffy-faced former “pundit-kind”.

You see, the quality-level of his guests has hit bottom faster than an anvil in a two-story elevator shaft. The guests you see on these shows for the most part (unless they're promoting a book) rent themselves out relentlessly as talking heads. An Edwards, a Huckabee, a Richardson, go on these shows when they have a message to get out—but they don't go on shows where the ratings are so awful, or the scope of influence is so narrow that it isn't worth a damn.

This is why Tucker's big “gets” are the likes of Dick Armey (who no one thinks enough of any more to even pun on his name) and Tom Tancredo. These are the under-the-barrel, scrap-noshers, and Tucker's dim, dank alley of a show is where these losers feast.

Now, back to Ms. Maddow.

You might have noticed recently that she has become almost as ubiquitous on the network as her polar opposite Pat Buchanan. She's on at least three nights a week in segments mainly on Countdown or Abrams, and there's a reason for that—viewers like to see her, as well as her ability to hold her own against even multiple ideological opponents (Something you like to see in a host—heh-heh!). In fact. it seems as though someone was trying to ascertain a “Q” rating for her because of plans to...I dunno, maybe do something special with her.

And then, a friend gave me the following news, which I sat on because as much as it had been rumored about town, people knew it would ruffle some feathers as the network was kind of shady in how they set the whole thing up...

Rachel very quietly taped a pilot for MSNBC. And the site TV Newser broke the news publicly.(via Crooks & Liars)

I myself had heard the story several days before (right after Thanksgiving) from a “tech” person over at Peacock Central and that feelers were already going out to the D.C. set to see what the guest “base” could be like for such a show, (which would be co-hosted by the prime-time VP Bill Wolff.)

Needless to say, the members of the MSNBC He-Man Woman Haters Club are NOT happy with seeing their little mascot Tucky about to be wished into the cornfield. The slimy Joe Scarborough is supposedly all pissy about it, and the pan-faced lout Chris Matthews is openly angry about it, as it indicates a further shift from his “Playboy Club—but no icky girllllz unless they're in bunny suits!” idea of a network. Deep in his mayonnaise-clogged gut, you know it ain't just her progressive status gnawing at him. Her also being an out, proud and very telegenic lesbian really flies in the face of his archaic template for cable news punditry.

Note how dismissive and pissy he gets with her in this post-pilot segment from last week when she dares take a slightly snarky, but truthful opinion he doesn't want to even hear:

MATTHEWS: (TO MADDOW) “You are causing trouble here. Because you don't—I would like to put you on—I would like to waterboard you right now because there's no way on God's earth you believe that! Let's go to Matthew for a straight answer!”

How dare you not play along with my masturbatory little game of “I, Kingmaker...interloper!” Matthews is notorious for his constant mewling about safe spaces for asshole-ish, locker room camaraderie and banter, and seeing a fellow unctuous, neanderthal fuck curb-kicked galls the shit out of him. Here's how he feels about that sort of “fun” and how he defends it:

MATTHEWS:  Can you be Imus without being Imus?  Can he be the brilliant interviewer that he is?  Can he be the guy that‘s very thoughtful on certain things, certainly the expert on music and sports and a lot of other areas?  Can he be that interested political person and still—and get rid all the Vaudeville and the minstrel show and all the bad stuff? 


MATTHEWS:  Can you still be naughty without being naughty?  That‘s the question.  Can you still have that wonderful male craziness that men love.  I‘ve got to tell—I don‘t know if women love it.  Men love it.  They get out of the house in the morning.  They‘ve been with their wife.  They love their wife.  But they can‘t wait to get in the car and listen to a bunch of crazy guys cow snap for an hour on the way to work.  It‘s a locker room environment.  But I think the show can work without some of the bad stuff, because I would hear the bad stuff and I would say, oh, am I doing this show?

All Chris needs is the white, short-sleeved shirt, the fine Haband slacks, cheap tie and horn-rims and the look'll be “Falling Down” complete. He's already got the poor, besieged White guy victim act down like a mother-fuck.

In the doubly sweet ironies of the sword of Damocles' descent upon poor Tucker's laddish mane, munch on these:

1.) Maddow's pilot co-star is Bill Wolff, the former producer of “The Situation”, present MSNBC Prime Time VP, and recent daily guest for the last segment on “Tucker”. Can you all say it in your very best Fred Armisen from SNL voice?—“Awk-ward!”

2.) Maddow and Carlson have a wee bit of a grudge/history thing going back a few years when Maddow first came on Air America with Lizz Winstead on the morning show “Unfiltered”. Shortly afterward, Carlson would debut with yet another failing single-season TV vehicle on PBS...entitled “Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered”. There was more than a bit of zinging back and forth between his and Maddow's camps over the “biting” of monikers. Now, something beyond a mere moniker may be “bitten”.

3.) In noting the ratings jump of the network as it does seem to be offering itself as a more progressive alternative to the scrape-knuckled Fox and the wheel-stuck CNN, there has been a bit of a turn in the tenor of chunks of the programming—particularly the one-time, sure-as-gravity wingnuttiness of the network's GM and after-Olbermann air personality Dan Abrams. He's a friend of Tucker's, as is virtually everyone in the media—or rather, a friend of Tucker's dad, a former news anchor, ambassador, Beltway insider (USIA director), and top dog at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and with that friendship came the patronage and protection of the remnants of Tucky's show in spite of his “Babes”-on FOX-level ratings. But Abrams has had to turn his back on the ideals that his dear friend Carlson holds so close to his shriveled heart, as evidenced by his new administration-ragging regular segment “Bush League Justice”. Abrams along with Wolff as execs (in addition to their on-air personality hats) have found themselves responding to the changing tide and new demand to see more progressive viewpoints and lesser batshit winger nattering with the promotion of Maddow and David Shuster, while whittling T.C.'s airtime down from prime, from two hours to one, and from one repeat to zero. Friends are friends, but when your ratings are down 10% while the network's is up 30%, you are a drag, dead weight, a boat anchor...a “black hole” that corporate cries out to get fixed. The little twerp, sensing the “Turk's” call (“Coach wants you...and bring your playbook.”) even stepped out for some CYA time. If you watch the show (“If” being the operative word), you may remember Carlson doing a series of shows from Los Angeles a few months ago. Well...he was there shooting a game show pilot for CBS.

Didn't Ted Baxter do the same thing on Mary Tyler Moore, prompting Lou to derisively taunt Ted with the line “I'm a QUIZ-master!”? How deliciously apt. From newser to schmoozer. “Ted and Tucky sittin' in a tree, S-H-I-L-L-I-N-G!” That'll lay an egomaniac low. Really low.

Thus, we saw this flippant, pissy sign-off to one episode of his daily train derailment over a gorge last month:

Tonight, as he was signing off, MSNBC's Tucker Carlson closed by saying, "That does it for us. Thank you for watching as always, we mean that sincerely to all eight of you. We'll be back Monday. Up next, "Hardball" with Chris Matthews. Have a great weekend."

A TVNewser tipster tells us "MSNBC management [is] infuriated" at Tucker's flippant sign-off.

See, Conan O'Brian can make that joke because when he does it, he's being self-deprecating, and playing the populist geek vibe while knowing that he does have a huge popularity and the numbers to back it up. When Tucky does it, he's openly grousing and sticking it to the network that's on his ass by calling attention to a failure. And my sources tell me that “pissed” isn't the word. They're throwing around “unprofessional” and “baby”. Yikes!

But that's okay, because the swirling rumors have triggered—the birth, or rather...stillbirth of a “Save Tucker” online cam-oh, Goddamn! Ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!-cam-cam-paign!

And as the writing's not just on the wall, but scrawled in smoke across the sky and freshly painted in white in the middle of Main Street, we thus see...Rachel's pilot.

My grapevine originally had it a month ago with Tucky being gone by New Year's. the date I'm hearing now is post the Iowa caucuses.

Will it be Rachel taking the slot? Perhaps not a direct 6 p.m. replacement, but the more likely scenario involves a shifting of the schedule, with the “new” show filling the resulting hour-long gap.

However it turns out, there's been a shift of affections over at the peacock—from the failure-magnet “Ted McGinley” of cable news to the peppy, likable, smart and attractive (Yes, I think I have a crush on her—how perfectly un-attainable.) Maddow.

This should be fun to that fucked-up, “voted-off-the-island” reality-TV kind of way. I just wonder where Tucky's gonna land next? Dancin' on “Soul Train” and workin; the scramble board? Naaaaaah, they finally cancelled ST a couple of years ago. Somewhere on FOX? Sadly, he's so shitty I don't think even they would have him. That game show pilot? Yeah, but only if it's called “Let's Dunk The Jerk”, and Carlson sits over the tank. Where, where, where?

I suppose there's always YouTube. :)