John Feinstein and Craig Robinson, April 1, 2011: Previewing the Final Four

April 4, 2011

By the New York Bureau Chief

Every so often, readers have questioned the sincerity of this site’s love for not just Charlie Rose, the program, but Charlie Rose, the host. He is, after all, a man who deploys stilted phrases like “the annals of quarterback this year,” can’t pronounce a French name to save his life, and loves nothing more than plugging the specialness of his own program. If just about anyone else had such fascinating high-profile guests, this line of thinking goes, he would be able to put together a killer program.

Wrong. For the last week, Charlie has been vacationing in Bali, and not one of the guest hosts has shown even a glimmer of his wit, charm, or skill. There was pompous dweeb Jon Meacham orating a ridiculous Homer-referencing introduction to a segment on baseball. And for much of the week there’s been Bloomberg News’s Al Hunt, a colorless journo who transforms the broadcast into the dullest hour on television.

For this episode—a preview of Saturday’s Final Four match-ups and tonight’s National Championship game—Hunt sits down with Washington Post scribe John Feinstein in Bloomberg News’s very generic, very un-Charlie-like offices. It’s a polite conversation, bland as can be, and I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear that everything that is said has been said at least 100 times before on every program that has ever covered college hoops. The only moments worth mentioning are 1) Al Hunt throwing all of his chips in with Feinstein by calling him, “America’s premier sportswriter,” and 2) Feinstein correctly picking tonight’s National Championship game of Butler v. UConn. (For the record, Feinstein picks Butler to win the whole thing.)

Luckily, our Los Angeles Bureau Chief, a longtime devotee of the WaPo’s stellar sports section (pages that produced not only ESPN personalities Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon but also New Yorker editor David Remnick), has chimed in with some juicier background on the man they call “Junior:”

- Feinstein is the ULTIMATE Dookie.

- Feinstein probably wrote another book in the time it took me to write this.

- The Feinstein – Coach K – Bob Knight connection is pretty interesting. Feinstein, of course, wrote A Season On The Brink about Knight, so Knight hates Feinstein. Feinstein went to Duke, so he and Coach K love each other. Knight was Coach K’s mentor at Army, so HE and Coach K love each other.

- Feinstein earned the Tony Kornheiser–bestowed nickname “Junior” because his temper in the Washington Post newsroom circa 1982 rivaled only that of John McEnroe (who was nicknamed “Junior”).

- Feinstein knows about as much about theater as our own Chicago Bureau Chief. Check out this little section of his Wiki: His father was heavily involved in the arts having been the General Manager of the Washington National Opera from 1980 to 1995 and was also the first Executive Director of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

After Feinstein’s appearance, Hunt turned to First Brother-in-law and Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson for a four-minute run-down of the tournament. The less said about this the better. By all accounts, Robinson is a smart, stand-up guy; but he’s only been asked to appear on the show because he’s related to Barack. Al Hunt mentions Robinson’s presidential-connection twice, and Robinson—for obvious political/familial reasons—sticks to bland talking points and won’t even play along when Hunt rags on POTUS for picking a terrible bracket. Robinson, it turns out, isn’t a particularly compelling conversationalist, and, really, it would be better for everyone’s dignity if he was left to coach his team in peace and Charlie Rose picked its basketball commentators on the strength of their skills as analysts. Also, the man needs to grow a beard. He looks way too much like his sister right now for everyone’s comfort.


CharlieTech

March 14, 2011

By the Chicago Bureau Chief

This is a story about Charlie Rose.  This is a story about technology.  This is a story about stories.

A Thought Experiment

Let’s imagine for a second that you are Charlie Rose.  You’re the doyen of Manhattan Society.  Why?  Because you know everybody.

You count among your friends the world’s millionaires and billionaires.  Yet you pay yourself a wage barely sufficient to maintain respectability in their circles.  You run your broadcast on a shoestring budget, and even that you have to go begging and schilling for.

You own little: a few tailored suits, an oak table – not even a pair of cuff links.  So what’s your most valuable asset (aside from your charisma)?

Thousand upon thousands of hours of filmed conversations with the greatest thinkers of the past twenty years.  You’ve invested your entire life into them.  You own the most interesting real-life stories narrated by the people who lived them.

There’s little doubt that you want – nay, deserve to convert such a coveted asset into bankable cash.  When TV was the only game in town, there was little you could do about it.  Your broadcast is hardly broad enough for widespread commercial syndication.  Plus, you’re on PBS.  The best you could do was to sell transcripts, VHS tapes, and then DVDs of your conversations.

But then the internet came around.  You’re Charlie Rose.  You’re no dope.  You’re obsessed with technology, to the point that you’re willing to sacrifice your body for a gadget.  You’re aware of every impending development, and you’ve asked all the right people what each advance means for your future.  You know, for example, that online streaming video could mean big business for a man in television.

But let’s not forget: you’re Charlie Rose.  You’re almost a public intellectual.  You’re a celebrity, but only among celebrities.  You come from humble roots in North Carolina and you yearn to cast a wider net.  Maybe it’s not the Common Man who you want to include in your discussions, but it’s sure as hell every last Good Ol’ Boy you can find.

You yearn for popular appeal.  You yearn for elitist inclusion.  Which wins out?  What do you do?

Here’s what the real Charlie Rose did:

A Chronicle of Recent Internet Technology as it Relates to Charlie Rose

January 25, 2005: Google Video is launched.  Its primitive functions offer only to searches the closed captions of various TV programs as well as the TV schedules in local markets.

April 23, 2005: The first video is uploaded to YouTube.

August 9, 2006: Charlie launches his YouTube channel with a five minute “Preview of Interview with YouTube Co-founders“.  It is a provocative move on Charlie’s part to publish this new material on YouTube two days before it airs on PBS.  Maybe.

The project of uploading episode previews, always CR’s primary YouTube strategy, continues to this day.

August 11, 2006: The full interview with YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen hits the PBS airwaves.

October 9, 2006: Google purchases YouTube.

Sometime during 2007*: Charlie Rose’s first upload of a full-length broadcast to video.google.com.  He continues uploading his archive to Google Video for the next two years, clearly feeling that he has finally found a home for his vast fortune of material.  Viewing is free to the internet public.

*video.google.com obfuscates the details such that we are unable to provide an exact date for this upload.

August 24, 2007: Through a special arrangement, Charlie Rose begins uploading full-length episodes to YouTube.  Curiously, this begins with a 1996 interview with Harry Belafonte.  The quality of the uploads is decidedly mixed, the audio consistently losing sync with the video about a quarter of the way through each broadcast.

The effort of uploading full CR episodes to YouTube seems to be abandoned just a few days later, after a total of about 10 episodes have been posted*.  No rhyme, reason, or strategic thought can be discerned in the choice of episodes for this experiment.

*The editors of BATT.com, however, do recall there being many more full interviews on YouTube at one time.

September 20, 2007: The first inter-bureau e-mail including a link to a CR interview on Google Video is sent by the Los Angeles Bureau Chief.  It announces a particularly combative interview that Charlie conducted with Francis Ford Coppola in 1994.

January 14, 2009: Google Video announces that within a matter of months it will no longer allow user uploads.

We Know Not When: charlierose.com launches.  It includes embedded video clips.

July 7, 2009: The first inter-bureau e-mail to include a direct link to charlierose.com is sent by the New York Bureau Chief announcing an interview with Guillermo Del Toro.  It is hosted by Google Video.

July 21, 2009: Charlie interviews the stunningly obnoxious-yet-entertaining Chris Anderson (the WIRED Mag guy, not the other one).  During their boisterous conversation, Charlie laments his ability to monetize his media holdings.

July 31, 2009: Charlie Rose’s final upload to video.google.com

August 1, 2009 – a few weeks later: Charlie Rose goes silent on the internet, Google Video’s 7-month warning proving insufficient notice for his staff to locate a new server*.  The blogosphere bemoans the loss.

*We suspect it was insufficiently personal as well: would it have killed Sergei to call Charlie personally?  Even a text would have been helpful.

August 3, 2009Charlie interviews Jason Kilar, CEO of hulu.com.  He mentions that Hulu has approached the CRS about being included on the site.

Sometime in August 2009: charlierose.com adopts Flowplayer for video streaming.  Flowplayer, a technology that had just gone public in March of ’09, is a free, open-source software which allows streaming of videos hosted by the client*.  It is also used by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Internet Movie Archive, and Spunkvideo.com.

August 21, 2009: The first inter-bureau e-mail to include a link to a charlierose.com interview with the flowplayer technology is sent by the Los Angeles Bureau Chief announcing a new interview with BATT favorite Quentin Tarantino.

January 3, 2011: Charlie interviews David Carr, technology writer for the New York Times, about technological developments to come in 2011.  Charlie publicly states that one of his technology goals is to create a forum to “continue the conversation” beyond the walls of his studio.

January 7, 2011: BackAtThisTable.com is born, a web forum dedicated to continuing Charlie’s conversations where he left off.  It is the passion project of three geographically scattered Bureau Chiefs with a penchant for e-mailing one another links to Charlie Rose episodes.

February 25, 2011: hulu.com begins offering regularly broadcast Charlie Rose episodes.  Each episode is preceded by a commercial.  Commercial-free episodes are still available on charlierose.com.  The future is uncertain.

Postlude

In the end, this was a story about love.  About Charlie’s love for technology and for his audience.  About our love for Charlie.  And like so many love stories, it’s not clean or clear-cut.  In fact, it’s a total mess.

In addition to charlierose.com, Google Video, YouTube, and hulu, there’s a gaggle of secondary hosting sites all over the world that now hold CR broadcasts.  There’s also the fact that Google Video crapped out before Charlie could get around to uploading all of his old videos, and that Mr. Rose (or Ms. Vega) seems to have no interest in finishing the job.

Like all great love stories though, this one lives on happily ever after, day after day, as we all bask in Charlie’s grace.  Because honestly, he never even had to upload that first YouTube video in the first place.


This…is not Charlie Rose.

March 10, 2011

By the Bureau Chiefs

Let’s say Charlie Rose has another heart attack.*

Who would we want to replace him?

Over the years, a bunch of famous** people have filled in for Charlie.  Wes Anderson was boring (if you just clicked on that link, we know, we know – amazing on paper).  Al Hunt wore a watch.

But who would be better?  Who would both capture the essence of The Charlie Rose Show AND bring something of their own personal brand to “the table?”

The Back At This Table Bureau Chiefs posed this question to one another in the hopes of (a) having something to write about (b) making fun of famous people and (c) trying to, as ever, answer the essential question of this blog: why do we love Charlie Rose so much?

Here’s who we came up with.

* or, another really terrifying heart valve episode

** or, New York-famous

The Chicago Bureau Chief:

Björk. She made for a terrible interview, but I think it’s because she’s more of a listener than a talker.  Plus, I’d be really interested in her selection of guests.  She did this amazing documentary about Arvo Pärt.  Shit’s real.

Dick Cavett. As veteran an interviewer as they come, but with an altogether more genteel style than Charlie.  Great rolodex to work from there.  Plus, Charlie said he could guest host whenever he wanted.

I want to say Slavoj Zizek, but what I think would be better would be a series of directors interviewing Slavoj Zizek about their own movies.

The New York Bureau Chief:

Barack Obama. Most politicians would be bad hosts; they’d make the show all about them. Bill Clinton has loads of curiosity, ravenous tastes, and the reputation for holding conversations where “you feel like you’re the only person in the world.” But Clinton’s also a Southern slickster pol and it would be really tough to trust his intentions or his integrity as an interviewer. (I never really thought about the importance of trusting Charlie before, but man, I really do trust Charlie.) Obama has Clinton’s intellectual appetite, but he’s a much more retiring sort. An open-minded consensus seeker—perhaps to a fault—he’d nail the politics and economics segments and hold his own on the arts coverage. My one complaint: he’s not a good old boy.

What about our cherished friend QT? He would be electric with the right interviewee, although it’s pretty likely it would end up being mostly about Quentin.

The Los Angeles Bureau Chief:

Tony Kornheiser. He’d bring a lifetime of interviewing experience to “the table,” he wouldn’t be afraid to insult his guests, he’d spend the whole episode whining about the craft service in the greenroom, he would probably end all the interview segments a few seconds in and just start prattling on about his own life, he would give shout-outs to Wilbon, and he would make sure there was extensive animal revolution coverage.  AND The show tapes almost exclusively in New York and Washington, DC, so Mr Tony would never have to get on an airplane.  AND he shares Charlie’s love of both golf and good old boys.  In fact, the show’s format would hardly change at all.  It would just be an angry old Jewish man leading you through that format, rather than a silky-smooth southern charmer.

Magic Johnson. Just kidding.

Keith Richards. He and Charlie have a similar relationship with the English Language.  And he’d keep the table safe from any intruders.  And, unlike Charlie in this hypothetical, Keith Richards is immortal.

James Taylor, Feb. 16, 2011

February 18, 2011

By the Los Angeles Bureau Chief

I want to hate James Taylor.

But I can’t.

Taylor’s soothing, dulcet-toned, post-hippy, uber-yuppie, rich kid, pre-pre-cool dad, humble bragging public persona is pretty well defined at this point.

But, he was once addicted to heroin (so, he’s authentic) and he once wrote, like, five amazing songs about it (so, he’s actually good).  And he was in Two-Lane Blacktop.

And he’s a damn good conversationalist.

He says things like “eventually Peter Asher brought my demo to Apple Records and played it for Paul,” but he manages not to be obnoxious about it.  Because he also says thing like his life as a “cartoon” is “amazingly self-centered.”  And when pressed about the 10 million copies that a greatest hits album sold, modestly counters, “I wasn’t there for each sale.”

He’s just really self-aware.  And kind.  And those things are tough to hate on.

Charlie, for his part, hammers the North Carolina connection just about as hard as he can (from my notes: “every time I see you, I feel good.  Because we have this life that is sort of interconnected.”  Jesus, Charlie – buy him dinner first.)  He gently allows Taylor to name-drop, and expertly probes about Taylor’s current marriage to an “amazing” woman named Kim, and about a former collaborator, “someone named King.”

Charlie also seems to have found someone who looks just as much like a bird as he does.  Or maybe all middle-aged men with angular faces and dramatically arched eyebrows look like birds to me.  Who knows.

In short: a pleasant, smart, entertaining interview with a pleasant, smart, entertaining man.

Happy Friday.  Watch this.


Dick Cavett, Feb. 15, 2011

February 17, 2011

By the Chicago Bureau Chief

The Interview

Much like his recent tête-à-tête with Babwa Walters, this interview finds Charlie face to face with an interviewer whose legend rivals his own.  So it’s no surprise when the subject of interviewing people comes up.

Here’s where it gets really interesting.  Because the following transpires:

Cavett: You know what I think it is – the “you” that does the show is not precisely the “you” that goes home.

Charlie: I know you say that but I don’t believe that.

Cavett: Well, you may be the one exception, but…

And there you have it folks, the essential difference between Charlie Rose and every other interviewer.  Charlie IS the same guy on and off the screen.  How do I know?  Well, I don’t really, because I don’t know him off the screen.  But I sure as hell know when he’s grumpy, or tired, or bored, or happy in the studio.  He lets it all hang out.  Every bit of charm that he exudes on your television screen is genuine, never Dick Cavett’s “auto-pilot”.

A lot of this conversation is eaves-dropping on two colleagues talking shop.  There’s also a dick-wagging competition inherent in the meeting of these two men.  Cavett, a rakish 74 years young, was smooth in ways that Charlie could never (and would never) hope to be.  Plus, even though Cavett’s got only 6 or 7 years on CR, he was a major player at a young age.  Ergo, he interviewed people that Charlie literally will never get to, because they’re dead.  As such, the name dropping is profuse.  Better watch y’all’s heads.

There’s a fairly lengthy discussion of how easy it is to forget who you were just interviewing a few hours ago, even though it may have been someone famous and interesting.  I guarantee you Charlie won’t forget that he interviewed Cavett on Feb. 15, 2011.

The coda of this interview is an amazing display of magnanimity: Charlie tells Cavett point-blank, that if there’s ever anyone he has always wanted to interview but never got to, Charlie will put his studio at Cavett’s disposal, sit back, and watch the broadcast.  Now that’s class.

Overall Score: 55 points

Sartorial Analysis

Charlie’s Suit: Gray DB, RL
Charlie’s Tie: Metallic periwinkle
Charlie’s Shirt: Crisp white, button cuffs; Cuffs again distinctly unbuttoned.


Tom Friedman, Feb. 10, 2011: Being There

February 16, 2011

By the New York Bureau Chief

Writing a column is a tough gig. A columnist doesn’t need to dirty his hands with the grunt work of reporting, but he does face a rigorous intellectual task: generate new arguments almost constantly that support your worldview while continually surprising your readers. A columnist who doesn’t do this risks writing the same 800 words twice a week, which would make him a repetitive bore. You’d think such a columnist wouldn’t last; Surely, he’d get yanked off his post within a few months. Wrong. May I introduce you to tonight’s guest, Mr. Tom Friedman?

The renowned world-is-flat-er has ridden the same mumbo-jumbo about democratization, technological utopianism, and “innovation” to three Pulitzer Prizes and a few best-sellers. Friedman should have been a politician. He stays on message without fail; he reduces complicated ideas to pithy slogans; and he so enthusiastically parrots the free-market–boosting Wall Street-Washington consensus that you’d be forgiven for thinking that he actually came up with these ideas himself.

The above is a pretty standard critique of Tom Friedman, but it’s not what really bothers me about him. What bothers me is Friedman’s arrogant assumption that simply being in a place means understanding it. Friedman likes to trumpet his Mid-East credentials—he reads Arabic; he studied in Egypt; he talks with “people in the street;” he can rattle off the names of every minor ethno-political group in the region—but he’s too proud of his résumé and he let’s it blind him. Friedman says of the Egyptian revolution that “if you’re not here, you just can’t understand it” and “you have to really have lived in the Arab world to appreciate this,” implying not very subtly that he understands what’s going on and that we don’t.

Bullshit, I say. If Friedman were the kind of journalist who lived with working families and society’s downtrodden, learning their culture and their hardships, I’d give his words more weight. But Friedman is no Ryszard Kapuscinski, the great Polish reporter and chronicler of Africa who lived in a slum in Lagos and—according to his official author bio—was “sentenced to death four times.” Friedman jet-sets around the world meeting business elites and finds it shocking and inspiring that everyone in the world shares his belief in the power of free-market innovation. A columnist’s most tempting sin is laziness, and while Friedman is far more than an arm-chair commentator, he still suffers from the La-Z-Boy intellectual’s self-satisfaction and lack of curiosity.

Oh, right, and he appeared on Charlie Rose. And man did Charlie look exhausted.


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