Reggie Jackson, Willie Geist, Kostya Kennedy & Guest Host Jon Meacham, March 31, 2011: A Hijacking.

April 1, 2011

By the Los Angeles Bureau Chief

Charlie Rose did not host The Charlie Rose Show last night.  This was a problem.

Charlie Rose’s stock-in-trade is wide-eyed Southern Wonder at The Big City.  He approaches every guest and every topic with the enthusiasm of a four-year-old*.  He feigns stupidity a lot, which means he can get away with a lot.  It’s why he’s fun to watch.  He doesn’t presume to know anything about anything. He’s curious.  He’s enthusiastic.  He’s not pretentious.

This works so well because Charlie Rose often interviews high-brow people about high-brow things.  Nuclear energy policy.  The intricacies of the secondary mortgage market.  Brains.  To approach these topics with a condescending sense of intellectual entitlement would be to alienate his audience.  He’s on our side.  He knows just as much as we do.  Even if he knows much more.

But how about when the topic is low-brow?  Movies?  Sports?  Movies about sports? Then, Charlie does sometimes run into trouble, as we’ve discussed in this space before. But AT LEAST he doesn’t mutter down his nose at these topics.  At least he still brings his trademark enthusiasm, energy, and sense of wonder.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of last night‘s guest host Jon Meacham on the topic of baseball.  You see, Meacham is what Tony Kornheiser calls a Baseball Poet.  One of those horrible people who drone on and on about the “elegiac symmetry” of “the emerald chessboard” (Mr. Tony was, once upon a time, a brilliantly funny writer). The sort of person who calls baseball a “metaphor for life.”  Over and over again.  With a straight face. The sort of person who quotes Bart Giamatti, “Renaissance scholar, president of Yale, and seventh commissioner of Major League Baseball” (in that order?) as saying that “like The Odyssey,” baseball “is an epic of rejoining and putting things aright.”  This was Meacham’s intro.  I’m not kidding.

Fortunately, blog culture has rendered most of the Baseball Poets obsolete.  Places like Deadpsin and the late, great Fire Joe Morgan, rightly paint Ken Burns-style myth-making as silly at best and cynical at worst.  But it’s good to know there’s still a forum for old white men to excuse the fact that they enjoy watching a children’s game by quoting The Odyssey.  This… Is…. Charlie Rose.

Except that it’s not.  Because Charlie wasn’t there.

Fortunately, Meacham’s guests blow past his pretension immediately.  The first thing Geist does is call him on his shit (“didn’t know we were going to be talking about Homer, this evening.  Getting a little deep here, John.”)  And the first thing Reggie Jackson does is actually talk about baseball.  Not The Odyssey.  Not Bart Giamatti’s CV.  Baseball. Mariano Rivera.  Justin Verlander.  Baseball.

The closest Charlie’s Interloper comes to talking about real-life, present-day, on-the-field anything is to say, “because Charlie Rose tapes in New York, we note that the Yankees won a 6 to 3 victory against the Detroit Tigers.  And the world is right again.”  Fuck you, buddy.

Look, it’s a fine, lively episode, made all the more fine and livelier by the guests (Jackson in particular—an honest, charismatic, intelligent human being who at least had the stones to pick the Braves over the Phillies in the NL East this year).

But I couldn’t help constantly wondering: What would Charlie do?


Trey Parker and Matt Stone, March 25, 2011

March 30, 2011

By the New York Bureau Chief

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a hot new Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, and they’ve been promoting the show with an old-fashioned whistle-stop tour of the press junket. There was the Daily Show appearance in which Jon Stewart said, “there is a song in this that will be celebrated when the aliens come, thousands of years from now.” (Here’s betting he was talking about “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” a phrase that translates to this.) There was a great video for NYMag.com in which Parker, Stone, and their collaborator Bobby Lopez discuss rhyming. There were print/video interviews with outlets like Entertainment Weekly. It goes on. Parker and Stone were on a balls-out promotional blitz—more Hollywood than Broadway. Even most blockbusters don’t get this kind of exposure.

So when the writing partners made their way onto the set of Charlie Rose, it was worth wondering if they had anything left to say. Charlie often receives guests in the midst of media campaigns. Sometimes he wrests something original out of them. Oftentimes the professional interviewer meets the professional interviewee, and they agree to put on a merely satisfactory performance.

That was the case with Parker and Stone. We learn that they wanted to do a traditional music, that they consider it a pro-Mormon show by non-Mormons, that they collaborate in lots of different way. They’ve said all of this before.

Charlie, sensitive to the uniqueness of his broadcast, cuts the interview to feature a lengthy discussion of the role of Scott Rudin in Parker and Stone’s career. It’s different, but not particularly illuminating. Rudin found them, gave them tough love, and has been their ardent champion ever since. Parker compares him to Bill Parcells. Charlie, who has never had Bill Parcells at his table, likens Rudin to the Tiger Mother.

For a blog dedicated to celebrating and critiquing Charlie and his show, about the only moment worthy of discussion comes at the very end of the interview, when Matt Stone jokes (we think) that he wants to replace Charlie as the broadcast’s host.


Stone: Well I’ve been told other people are gunning for your job; but when you’re ready to hang it up, I’d love to be The Charlie Rose Show…
Charlie: (Laughing) You’d take the table…
Stone: …with Matt Stone.
(Laughter)
Parker: He’s been talking about that for a long time.
Stone: I really have.
Charlie: Have you really?
Stone: Yeah, yeah. Sounds like. I mean this is. This is.
Parker: And he will. He did say, he will keep it.
Charlie: Would you do it just the way I do it? Would you do it here at the table? With the…
Stone: Yes…
Charlie: With the black background?
Stone: …It’ll be The Charlie Rose Show with Matt Stone…
Parker: He’ll keep it The Charlie Rose Show
Stone: …in real tiny type.
Parker: …starring Matt Stone.
(Laughter)
Stone: The Charlie Rose Show. That would still be your show.
Charlie: I’m ready to retire.
Stone: Let’s do it.
Charlie: Let’s make it happen.
Parker: Switch tables. Switch seats.
Charlie: I’m going to Bali. I’m going to Bali. If I don’t come back, it’s you.
Stone: Charlie, how..Welcome back to The Charlie Rose Show.
Parker: With Matt Stone.
Stone: How was your trip to Bali? I’m Matt Stone.
Charlie: Beaches, just think beaches. (Beat.) This is great. Um. thank you for coming.
Stone: Cool. Thank you. It’s always fun.
Charlie: Um.
(Music)

Someone got a little carried away with that transcript. We obviously should have featured Matt Stone in our discussion of possible Rose replacements. That wasn’t the real reason, though, that I pointed you toward this gleeful exchange. I wanted to underscore this closing thought: Every Charlie Rose interview is edited and many of them get cut down for running time quite dramatically. That’s the case with this segment, which comes in at just over 17 minutes. You’d think Charlie and his producers (that’s you, Yvette) would want to cram in every last minute of Book of Mormon content, but instead CR decides to dedicate nearly a minute to having a guest praise the idiosyncrasies of The Charlie Rose Show.

This kind of thing happens all the time on the broadcast. At the end of his interview with Amy Chua, Charlie says, “probably this table has been the subject of more conversations with more people—five nights a week, twenty years—with more people of achievement than anywhere.” In his interview with J.J. Abrams (who, incidentally, saw The Book of Mormon the same night I did), Charlie rejoices when the filmmaker talks about dreaming of being on Charlie Rose. Like few other TV shows, Charlie Rose is openly in love with its mystique and reputation. I think I speak for the other bureau chiefs when I say that I wholeheartedly endorse its self-adulation.


Julian Schnabel, March 24, 2011: Wildcat

March 29, 2011

By the New York Bureau Chief

In The Royal Tenenbaums there’s a scene in which a hotshot writer (played by Owen Wilson) appears on an interview show that looks a whole lot like Charlie Rose. The Charlie stand-in—in characteristic Charlie fashion—challenges Wilson’s character by asking him why his last novel was a critical failure. Wilson says that it was “written in a kind of obsolete vernacular,” then slowly repeats to himself the the title of the book, Wildcat. He’s like a kid stalling for time on a multiplication drill. It’s clear he doesn’t even remember having written Wildcat.

Julian Schnabel’s not a drugged-out dummy, but I’d peg him as the CR guest most likely to attribute the failure of one his projects to an “obsolete vernacular.” Quite simply, he’s the most pompous man in New York—though he’s not stuffy at all. The Pasha of Downtown Manhattan lives in an outlandish high-rise castle in the West Village (from which he’s made an absolute killing), burns through beautiful women half his age, and, as a celebrated painter and filmmaker, considers himself the ultimate artiste. He might be the only person in the world who could get away with wearing sunglasses on Charlie Rose.

Schnabel appears on Rose to plug his new film, Miral, the story of an orphaned Palestinian girl during the First Intifada. The film has gotten generally negative reviews, and while I can’t comment on its merits, I can on its premise. Is there anything more irritating than a multi-millionaire bon-vivant artist weighing in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? It’s as if he wants to live out the ultimate cliché of limousine leftist self-congratulation, opining to CR, “I don’t care about the movie. I care about what’s going on in the Middle East.” (I hear an echo of another corpulent genius-asshole: “this film isn’t about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.“) Charlie, in case you were wondering, tells us at the beginning of the show that he and Jules are friends.

But you want to hear about the women. Schnabel’s last movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, featured his then wife, the Spanish model Olatz López Garmendia. Schnabel’s new movie, Miral, is based on a book written by his current girlfriend, Rula Jebreal. Charlie doesn’t mention their relationship in the interview (although given the fact that Jebreal is Pam Grier–hot, you have to wonder if anything’s cooking), but Schnabel makes a wonderful slip that reveals all.

CR: “Did you make this film in part because you met her and fell in love with her story?”
Jules: “…Absolutely had nothing to do with me falling in love with her.”

Indeed, Schnabel doesn’t seem all that committed to Jebreal’s story or its cause. During a discussion of the film’s advertising slogan, “The movie they didn’t want you to see,” Charlie sensibly asks, “Who doesn’t want you to see this movie?” Jules backtracks immediately. He claims that, had he been in charge of marketing, he would have plugged the film with the limp phrase “the movie we were waiting to see.” Then Jules throws down and calls out the haters who don’t want you to see his film. They are “the people who haven’t opened their hearts and minds to empathy.” Bam! A four-siren alert just went off on Drudge Report.

Jebreal, who also appears on the broadcast, is less cautious. She calls out the American Jewish Committee, which asked the UN to cancel a screening of Miral, and seems on the verge of making a bigger political statement when Jules shuts her up: “most of the people who worked on this film were Jewish.” When did Pasha Jules become so cautious? And why, based on this interview, do I not believe him when he says, “I think people are scared of this material?”


March 17, 2011: “Limitless”

March 19, 2011

AWKWARD!!


 

Charlie: I’ve had – he’s [Robert DeNiro] been here this table, and, and he was wonderful talking about a movie he directed.  Uhmm…

Bradley Cooper: I saw that – “The Good Shepherd”

Charlie: Exactly.

Bradley: Yeah, that’s right.

Charlie: Yeh.  The amazing thing about him is that, for all that talent, he’s not crazy about talking about the craft -

Bradley: – That’s right -

Charlie: - And yet, you want – and I tried to get… Brando to do the same thing, ’cause Brando watched this show – religiously – and would call me up and ‘d tell me up and tell me what he thought about something, and if I was, if I was doing… movie stars, he would say, you know, “Why aren’t you doing science?” – which, this movie’s about, ya’ know – “why aren’t you doing science?”

But what’s interesting, you couldn’t get him to talk about the craft of acting.  De Niro’s hard… you know, to see those kinds of people come to a table like this…

Neil Burger: Well, he’s not into – interested in small talk -

Charlie: Right.  Well this is not small talk – we’re talking about craft talk -

Neil: Well he doesn’t like talking about himself and things like that…

***

Burn.  But sometimes that’s what happens when you get derailed on a name-dropping spree and end up in a cesspool of your own self adulation, Charles.

OK, that’s not fair.  It’s not Self Adulation – it’s Table Adulation.  Because you’ve got to – GOT TO – love how Charlie uses “the table” as a proxy for himself: “To see those kinds of people come to a table like this.”  It’s a round piece of wood.  And so much more.

This seems like a pretty crappy movie, quite honestly.  Only Charlie could have gotten 30 minutes of decent conversation out of it.

By the way, we’re more than glad to overlook Charlie’s enthusiasm for this film’s concept – that a pill could let you access 100% of your brain’s potential instead of the “usual 20%” – even after his 12 part brain series.

Overall score: 17

Sartorial Analysis


Charlie’s suit: Double-breasted, Ralph Lauren, plain black.
Charlie’s tie: A festive plain green.  Happy St. Patty’s day Charlie!
Charlie’s shirt: Plain white, button cuffs – which, shockingly, are buttoned.


Chris Matthews, February 18, 2011

March 11, 2011

By the Los Angeles Bureau Chief

Chris Matthews is an Irish carnival barker.

He’s loud, he smirks a lot, he interrupts a lot, he wears a preppy haircut, he brags about being Tip O’Neill’s right hand man, he says things like “Nancy Reagan…good friend of mine,” and he apparently has a raging, unironic, uncritical, fanboy hard-on for Bill Clinton’s post-presidency.

As has happened on more than one occasion, I went into the interview wanting to deeply dislike the guest.  But goddamn if the guy wasn’t smart, articulate, and, most of all, passionate about the thing he was there to talk about: politics.  In this case, he was promoting a documentary he had just shot about the Clinton Global Iniative.  And, like I said, he all but fellated Clinton on-air (“genius” “like Winston Churchill” “could get elected president of Ireland tomorrow”).  But it somehow came off as charming.

Because along with all the obnoxious stuff came amazing stories about Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill (after Reagan was shot, O’Neill visited him in the hospital, “he nealt down next to Reagan…and together they recited the 23rd Psalm together, these two old guys, two old Irish guys, and then he kissed him on the forehead after they were done praying together, said ‘I dont want to keep you.’”)  And he calls people things like “the purple bear of Boston, the old shamrock, who went to the can.”  And he compares Barack Obama to Michael Corleone (“you know that scene in The Godfather where he lights the cigarette outside the hospital and you realize he was born for this?”).

So, all in all, a total charmer who I’d love to sit next to at a dinner party.

Charlie might disagree.  ‘Cause there’s a jealous tension that runs through this one.  Charlie passive-aggressively chides Matthews for “running around with the President.”  He says “you must have asked that question” of Clinton, when he know very well Matthews didn’t.  And he closes with a very tired, bored, “Chris Matthews…”  As if, “yeah, I know, I’m sorry, but at least you didn’t have to be in the same room with him.”

It’s odd.  Charlie’s an accomplished man and an accomplished journalist.  Is it just pure professional rivalry?  Personal dislike?  Does Charlie envy Matthews’ fame and access and pedigree and maybe even his energy?  Is Chris Matthews taking viewers away from Charlie Rose?  Are Chris Matthews types taking viewers away from Charlie Rose types?

Whatever it is, Charlie’s a little pissy.  And I like it.


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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