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.

The Greatest Film We Have Ever Seen

March 1, 2011

By the Bureau Chiefs

Kid’s got his priorities straight.


From Geek to Chic to Freak: Tarantino on Rose

February 4, 2011

By the Los Angeles Bureau Chief

Quentin Tarantino is a failed actor.

This core, essential, immutable fact makes Quentin Tarantino a brilliant interview.

Because he is simultaneously showy (the “actor” part) and self-aware (the “failed” part).  Both: always On and too On for his own good.  Unlike a lot of actors who come on Charlie Rose (with a few exceptions), Tarantino actually has something to say.  He can expand beyond, “it was hard but it was fun.”  He’s oddly vulnerable in a way lots of actors aren’t when they’re off-screen (one presumes because they use up all their vulnerability at their day jobs).  And, of course, he’s the guy who made Pulp Fiction.

Throughout the years, Tarantino has acted out a variety of characters on Charlie Rose.  He’s always playing the part of Quentin Tarantino, of course.  But, each time, he’s playing Tarantino playing a version of Tarantino.  He goes from QT As Geek –> QT as Critic –> QT As Actor –> QT as Historian –> QT as Writer –> QT as Party Boy –> QT as Master.

Join me, wont you, as we explore this evolution.

QT as Geek: October 14th, 1994

This is the version of QT that made QT famous.  The irrepressible “movie geek” with the De Palma scrapbook.

Wearing a loud blue sports coat and a bright green tie with some sort of space creature on it, Tarantino is the kid who’s spent his whole life in the bedroom, dreaming of this (and, let’s be honest, probably jerking off a lot).  Charlie mis-pronounces “Travolter;” Tarantino stares at him and rubs his fingers together.  You will KNOW me by the end of this, Charlie Rose.

It’s a spectacular interview.

So good, in fact, that Charlie re-aired it twice.  Even Tarantino later said “I’ve always considered that the best filmed interview I’ve ever done.  I mean, far and away, actually.”  Tarantino spins sordid tales of growing up Movie Geek (“my mom took me to see Carnal Knowledge and The Wild Bunch when I was a kid”), riffs on his favorite directors (Hawkes, Fuller, Scrosese, Godard, Melville, most of all De Palma), and weaves a self-congratulatory success myth (“eight years of NOTHING working out”) to prove he’s earned the moment.  He’s energetic.  He’s unique.  He’s smart.  He’s young.

And of course Charlie looks delighted to be (a) scoring the hottest thing in Hollywood and (b) just talking to this…creature.  This creature that is so happy to show off and dish and riff and rant and critique and prescribe and mythologize.

At the end of the performance, Charlie shakes Tarantino’s hand, a rare sign of physical respect.

QT as Critic: December 23rd, 1997


The first QT-CR interview might have gone too well.  Because Charlie invited Tarantino back to his table three times in seven days around Christmas of 1997 to promote Jackie Brown.  This one was by far the most ill-conceived.

A Charlie-generated farce, the segment positioned QT as a Holiday Movie Critic in a roundtable discussion with three other critics (Janet Maslin of the NYTimes, David Denby of NYMag, and Richard Corliss of Time).  The fact that one of the holiday movies was QT’s own made it all pretty awkward.

The “real” critics clearly think QT doesn’t know his place.  They sneer down at him, threatened to the core by this living embodiment of everything they both destroy for a living and (presumably) yearn to be.  But of course, they have to make nice because it’s just sort of rude to slam a movie that’s not as good as Pulp Fiction in front of the guy who made it.  Denby (thumbs up) and Corliss (thumbs down) both weigh in on Jackie Brown, while Maslin, who was famously buttered up by QT at Cannes before her Pulp Fiction review, nervously abstains altogether.

It’s a bizarre, herky-jerky situation best summarized by the following clip:

My Best Friend’s Wedding

And by this section of my notes: - Oh no.  Charlie just tried to pronounce the name Djimon Hounsou.  Oh God (20:58) “am I saying that right?” – No, Charlie, you’re not.

Tarantino was never meant to be a critic.  Or even, it turns out, play one on TV.  He’s far too interesting.

QT as Actor: December 26, 1997

Three, not-unrelated, elements are striking about this interview.

1.) The mock turtleneck.

2.) The extensive use of Jive.

3.) The fact that Tarantino appears to have finally had sex.

This is QT at the height of his Ego.  This is QT’s idea of Chic.  It’s not pretty.  But it’s certainly entertaining.

Having always said he wanted to be an actor (from the 94 interview: “all through my childhood I said ‘I wanna be an actor, I wanna be an actor’”), QT finally had the cultural juice to make it happen.  But along with being an actor came all the trappings of being an actor, at least in QT’s mind.  Namely, “cool” clothes, a pompous distance, and a hot, famous girlfriend.  Yup, QT spends most of the interview alluding to how amazing his sex life is with Mira Sorvino (“I’m, just, a man now”).  That’s of course when he isn’t talking about ordering Pam Grier (in Jive) to drop every project she might be working on (“screw dat mess”) or convincing Charlie that he, QT, is an apostle (“at the end of the day, there’s just some people that God touched and just said, ‘you’re supposed to make movies.”).  Or, of course, talking about what an amazing actor he’s going to prove to the world that he is.

QT’s eager beaver grin from the 1994 interview has morphed into a malicious pissing contest glare.  His proud amateurism has given way to haughty professionalism (of directors who shotlist: “you gotta leave the bedroom at home”).  He now has to Deal with people asking him whether he feels lucky (“I’m not going to pinch myself for living my life”).  It’s all pretty silly.

The ridiculous celebrity wankfest reaches its height when Charlie asks about Spike Lee and the n word controversy.  QT first “DEMANDS” the right to use whatever words he wants to as a writer.  Then drops the n word a few times.  Then says: “I’m the maddest at the fact that he didn’t call me personally.”  Of course you are, dude.

It’s instructive to watch Charlie during this interview.  He can often be seen wearing a sad, tired smile that says, “I’ve seen this movie before, and it’s not going to end well.”

This iteration of QT, that of him as Actor, is the only one that he really FAILED at in real life.  It still makes for a great interview, but there’s a painful edge to this one.  He really has overstepped his bounds.  His ego really is out of control.  It really was too much too soon.  QT really has no business going on Charlie Rose to play the part of an actor going on Charlie Rose.

QT as Historian: December 29, 1997

There are only two important points to make about this interview.

1.)  This is how QT would act if he were just a normal nerd, and not a psychopath.  In that: he doesn’t talk very much, and when he does, it’s the smartest thing that anyone will say for the next ten minutes.  He’s intelligent and persuasive about 70s black culture and Pam Grier’s place in it.  He’s thoughtful, he’s done his homework, he knows more about it than you.  QT’s always been something of a historian (in the 1994 interview, he said he did well in history at school because it was like movies), and he makes good on it here.

2.) Pam Grier is absurdly hot.  Like, out of control, you can’t believe she exists, extra terrestrial hot. (from my notes: HOLY FUCK PAM GRIER is HOT.  HOLY FUCKING LORD.  and she’s like 80 here.) Whatever. Just watch it.  She’s ridiculous-looking and sounding and acting.  I love her.

QT as Writer: April 22, 2004

Seven years is a long time.

Between 1997 and 2004, two notable events occurred in the life of Quentin Tarantino.  One, he failed at his acting career so spectacularly that I feel bad even linking to this.  Two, he failed at writing his masterpiece, a Dirty Dozen-style war movie called Inglourious Basterds.  The first of these events clearly humbled him.  The second seemed to focus him.

This is the QT that I would actually want to hang out with.  Dressed in a simple, almost devotional, green polo, QT is angry, bitter, funny, smart, sharp, wise, vulnerable.  He’s actually cool, and not some silly movie version of cool.  He seems to have realized what he’s good at, Writing.  So he’s accepted and embraced it.

Early on in the interview, Charlie tells a wonderful story about sitting across from QT on an airplane and watching him scribble away all night at something in long hand.  It turned out to be Inglourious Basterds.  And when Charlie asks QT what he’s been doing all this time, QT replies simply, “I was writing.”

Whereas in 1997 he was totally devoted to the language of the actor (getting a movie “up it on its feet”), now he speaks in the language of the novelist.  He said he personally had to address “the writer in me; deal with me.”  He says when he’s writing scenes he should “be like a court reporter,” just listening to his characters.  He says he “just couldn’t get away from my desk.”  And he says, flat-out, that Inglourious Basterds became his “never-ending novel” and that he wanted to treat it “like a novelist does.”

Now, he’s still COMPLETELY OUT OF HIS MIND ARROGANT (“half the reason I do believe in God is because I guess believe in God given talent – it’s easy for me, alright? – the stuff that’s easy for you, it’s obviously not ME doing it”), but, in this interview it somehow comes off as painful and charming and necessary, and not like some circus act.

Because he’s there to promote Kill Bill 2, QT spends a lot of time talking about Uma Thurman.  Uma of the “silver screen nitrate film glimmer” and the “legs that are all kneecaps” and the famous dad (“Bob is cool, alright?”).

But, really, this interview is all about QT presenting himself as the tortured, suffering, humbled Writer.

QT as Party Boy: April 5, 2007

But Quentin Tarantino can only stay humbled for so long.

This entire interview screams: slumming.  It’s second-rate Tarantino-Rose (tellingly, only 24 minutes).  Just as the movie QT is there to promote, Death Proof, is second-rate Tarantino.

QT has come dressed up as an Austin Party Boy, and along with his Austin Party Boy buddy Robert Rodriguez, seems to have spent most of the last few years having a good time.  That’s OK.  But it’s not that interesting.

What is interesting?  Charlie pronouncing the name Rodriguez as “Er-ee-kiss.”  It’s stunning.  CR’s had his share of linguistic fuck-ups before, God knows, but this one’s pretty intense.

Two other things of note.  One, that QT claims to have “lost” the acting bug, “kinda glad to lose it actually.”  And two, that QT pitches what, to me, sounds like the greatest movie ever: A biopic (which QT says he usually can’t stand) about “my favorite American of all time,” “the only white man who has earned his place on black history month calendars,” the man who “single handedly ended slavery:” John Brown.  Of course, QT says he wants to PLAY John Brown in the movie, thus proving that he hasn’t entirely lost the acting bug.

But, baby steps.

QT as Master: August 21, 2009

This was the first QT-CR interview to be embedded on the charlierose.com FlowPlayer platform.  All the rest were Google Video.  I consider FlowPlayer to be the essential signifier of Modern Era Charlie.  And, fittingly, this is QT as we know him today.  An original.  A legend.  A fucking freak.  The kind of fucking freak who would make a joke of The Holocaust.  And make it really well.

(NOTE: I highly recommend watching the first 20 seconds of ALL of these interviews with the sound off – just as the camera pushes slightly into Quentin basking in Charlie’s sycophantic intro – this one is particularly special)

Dressed in black from head-to-toe, like Luke in Jedi, QT now has total and complete command.  Of history, of story, of filmmaking, of interviewing. He has nothing to prove.  Nothing to supress-wild-insecurity-with-wild-theatricality about.  He’s happy just being a genius filmmaker 20 years into a spectacular career.

And to me, that makes him a bit of a freak.  He’s NOT normal.  Normal people can’t make movies like Quentin Tarantino.  Normal people can’t say things like, “an Audie Murphy type of fellow, but for Nazis.”  Normal people can’t pull off “Kosher Porn.”

This the most straight-ahead of the QT-CR interviews.  The most Mature.  It’s Just About The Work.  Part of that is because he’d been at Charlie’s table fairly recently.  But a bigger part of it is because he’s just kinda grown up.  He’s actually a “man” in the way that he said he claimed to be 12 years ago.  And that man happens to be a freak.

Freak, in this case, equals genius.  And Quentin Tarantino is, without doubt, a genius filmmaker.

Crucially, he’s no longer anything BUT that.  He’s not a newly minted pop culture icon.  He’s just really good at making movies.  That’s it.  That’s all he needs.  It’s NATURAL.  It’s INHERENT.  It’s INTERNAL.  He CAN’T HELP IT.  He’s just a fucking freak.  No one GAVE this freakdom to him (except for God, if you ask QT).

He’s just a guy.

A guy who happens to have one special thing.


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