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.


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?


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.

Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jan. 26, 2011

January 27, 2011

By the Los Angeles Bureau Chief

I love this fucking show.

When people criticize Charlie Rose for being too back-slappy, too glad-handy, not journalistic enough, you want to take them out back, tie them down, and force them to watch a segment like Sir Anthony Hopkins from last night.  And then maybe, as Tony Kornheiser would say, you want to beat them over the head with a snow shovel.

The reasons are simple.  (a) Charlie always manages to wring something personal, unexpected, and GENEROUS from his guest.  And, (b), he always manages to have a ball doing it.

I had no idea Anthony Hopkins (looking resplendent in a geometric gray sportcoat [and a lot like my dad (which seems to be a theme around here)]) was such an angry young man.  I had no idea he had run away to California because he “didn’t belong” in England.  I always figured he was as Classically British as they come.  I had no idea he was an alcoholic. I had no idea he was a born-again Christian.  I had no idea he doesn’t take acting “seriously” anymore, yet still reads a script “500 times” to prepare because it’s “fun.”

Now, a lot of this is because I just don’t know all THAT much about Sir Anthony Hopkins other than the fact that he was awesome in The Elephant Man.

But a lot more is that Charlie transitioned a conversation with another good actor about another bad movie into a whole meditation about faith and art and, ultimately, life.  Sure, Sir Anthony was nominally talking about his born-again Christianity because he’s playing a psychotic priest in a shitty thriller.  And, sure, if the shitty thriller didn’t exist, Sir Anthony wouldn’t have flown all the way to New York to appear on The Charlie Rose Show.  But, watching it, one got the sense that both of these old, wise men were saying, “as long as we’re here, we might as well make the most of it!”

I have grown to feel sorry for David Letterman.  Here’s this genius, maybe the most talented comedian of his generation, forced to sit and listen to stupid actors prattle on about their stupid movies night after night.  Of course (a) Lettermen gets paid a ton of money, and (b) Letterman takes perverse and consistent joy in undermining the standard go-on-a-talk-show-to-shill-a-movie format.  In fact, most of his humor is generated in the exagerated eye rolls and mock confusion he slips into stupid banter about a stupid movie that somebody stupid is trying to sell.  Still, he doesn’t look very happy up there.*

Charlie, on the other hand, always seems to be having the time of his life.  As he admits in an empathetic moment with Sir Anthony, people often write to him, “the thing I love about your show is (a) the diversity, but (b) the sense that you look like you’re having so much fun.”

Now, I probably would have thrown Charlie’s tortured relationship with the English language in there too.

But, the point stands.  When Charlie has fun, I have fun.

And Charlie has fun every night.

*(whereas he used to looked thrilled when he was throwing watermellons off buildings).


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