Friday, September 23, 2005

Sunday Chat & Chews

Cause there ain't no cure for the Sunday Chat & Chews

NBC's pushing the new premium content of the New York Times. That's the only "wrinkle." Otherwise the topic remains Hurricane Katrina with an eye on Hurricane Rita.

Let's start with NBC's Meet the Press because they have their act together in terms of booking. (ABC and CBS are still scrambling.)

NBC's running an ad for the New York Times and calling it a "roundtable." The calling card for this community would probably be the inclusion of Maureen Dowd. Don't get your hopes up too high, though.

You can have Dowd, but there's no ordering a la cart. The meal comes with David Brooks (ugh, those teeth) and Thomas Friedman (who will bring along his mythical fan base).

Betty wrote a hilarious thing about David Brooks trying to wear a sock (we're not speaking of footwear). But I think her funniest moment worth quoting here (due to Meet the Press' guest list) is this:

Thomas Friedman makes up many things. He makes up cabbies, street vendors and assorted other characters who all claim to have read him. He makes up original feelings regarding the Bully Boy and how he said "all along" that the Bully Boy would destroy the nation despite the fact that Thomas Friedman yelled louder, tossed the pom-poms higher and, in the words of Maureen Dowd, spread his legs far wider than one would assume a backseat in a Chevy would allow.

So let's look at this roundtable. I'm sure the community would have gone with Dowd, Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman as their choices. Instead, you've got Thomas Friedman and that hideous mustache sitting through the interview, looking as though he's taking great pains to consider his every word (or else just looking like he's suffering from a really bad case of gas and waiting for the moment when the segment ends). You'll also get Davey Brooks doing that nervous laugh (it's practically Bully Boy-ovian) and putting his tongue to his upper teeth (ugh, those teeth) every time he's nervous which is every time he speaks which means you'll get that weird tic Brooks has which might work well for a supporting actor playing a "wacky inventor" but is it really chat & chew material?

I ask you, is it really?

Watching the Sunday chat & chews, in years past, a friend and I used to play a game where we'd attempt to figure out which pundit would be what in the animal world? William Safire was obviously an otter. (Apologies to otters.) Applying that game to the Times roundtable, Dowd would be a fox (a fox meaning the animal, we're not evaluating her looks), Thomas Friedman would be a sea lion. What would Davey Brooks be? Who has that kind of nervous energy in the animal kingdom? Not even a humming bird. Maybe Brooks results from some cross-breeding?

Here's the thing to watch for, for those watching Meet the Press (you have had your flu shots, right?): how much will Dowd speak? Friedman, if he's feeling really "weighty" (say if he wants his words to reflect the pounds), will eat up time with his pace. Since Brooks rate of speech (like his tics) screams speed addict, he'll almost make up for the glacial pace of Friedman. So watch and see when Dowd gets to speak, when she's cut off, when she's spoken over.

Russert will probably toss to Dowd because, unlike many of the female guests he has on, he's comfortable with her. But watch and see if Thomas Friedman attempts to turn the segment into his own personal op-ed and treat Dowd (and Brooks) as so many unnamed cabbies in his columns.

If you're going to watch (really, you have had your flu shots, right?), that's a game you can play. Or, you can fall back on the animal kingdom and attempt to crack The Davey Brooks Code.

Who are the other guests?

Silly question, when you've got three op-ed columnists for the Times, you apparently don't need to announce! (A murky pool of federal, state and local officials to comment on the hurricane/s.)

ABC's This Week is playing their hurricane coverage murky as well. (Reporters from the area -- unidentified -- will take part.) Their declared guests will . . . send viewers over to Meet the Press. (I'd like to say, "cause people to turn off the TV sets." But week after week some people delude themselves that they're really getting honest discussions on a broad range of topics from a wide range of voices and perspectives so . . . .) Atoning for Bill Clinton's appearance last week (not for his statements, just for bringing him on), they feel the need to provide "balance" this week on This Week.

What's "balance" without an effort to prop up John McCain as "centrist" and "knowledgable."
He plays The Good Son so well. So much better than Macaulay did. I'm waiting for the transformation scene that takes place when the air kisses stop. (I know, I'm waiting in vain. He's Saint McCain of the Conventional Wisdoms to the press corp.)

Child stars seems to be This Week's theme this Sunday. You also get Shirley Temple all grown up, Kay Bailey Hutchison. The best that can be said of KBH (a popular photo subject for the New York Times) is that she's the Priscilla Owens who remembers to wash the cream rinse out of her hair. (Someone should really talk to Prissy Owens about that.) KBH graduated from The Mary Matalin School of Charm. Which means she smiles a lot when planning to smite small villages, and winces when topics like poverty arise. George Steph will throw her many softballs so don't expect questions about Karl Rove to arise.

Considering the close relationship (professional, in the words of Mama Cass, "Shhh, no rumors.") between the two, KBH should always be asked about Karl Rove. If he comes up at all, it will be from KBH who'll swear that golly gee, one time they were all having Hurricanes and the booze ran out, Karl knew just where to find more, so he's perfectly suited to handle the relief effort! (Said with the trademark, blank smile that Matalin's taught so well to the Polyester Crowd.)

Which brings us to Face. CBS's Face the Nation. They've got a topic. They just don't have any guests. They advise you to "check back Saturday."

Ladies & gentleman, Bob Schieffer, the Dean Martin of the Sunday Chat & Chews. Playing it by ear.

On Schieffer, rumors abound that a replacement for the replacement may soon be announced by CBS Evening News. I'm not fond of Schieffer but I will pass on that he's credited with raising the morale in the CBS news department and won over detractors (even those who were calling him "Blinky" when he began his replacement duties).

If negotiations fall through, plan B is for Schieffer to remain in place while they wait for the other main choice to be free. (Plan C is just plain crazy.)

I'm not fond of Schieffer (I do think he's the only adult hosting a chat & chew) but I'm getting pressure from friends to pass on the good things he's accomplished at CBS Evening News. Earlier, long ago, we'd noted the difficulties he was having in the role as well as the people being considered for the anchor (the real anchor, not the person temporarily filling Cinderella's shoes). He had bumps in the road and suffered a lot of internal criticism but he's won the respect of some of his loudest detractors so we'll note it here. A few of the people he's won over feel he should be in place for when "the book" (as they're calling it) comes out and CBS faces criticism. But the opinion from above the CBS news department is that the best way to counter "the book" is to have a clean slate on The Evening News.

How worried are they about "the book"? Statements are already being prepared. Along the lines of "Look, I don't want to talk about the past. Mistakes were made, we dealt with them and moved on, obviously she hasn't." They're up against the time clock with "the book" due to be released the second week of November. Calmer heads are attempting to point out that a "fresh face" may allow for "we've moved on statements" but a "fresh face" may not be able to defend the news department as well as they now think Schieffer could.

(For the record, the sources above hope "the book" lets individuals at CBS have it. With a special emphasis on the invasion of the news department by outsiders and the "colonization" -- as one wag describes the marriage no one likes to talk seriously about to the press. And, sidebar in a sidebar, weren't they pathetic trying to yuck it up last Sunday? And whether they'd fought on the way or not, the tension between them was also remarked on. Repeatedly. Best line that can be noted here in full: "Oh, that's why CBS keeps Yes, Dear on air.")


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(*Prediction that one friend at CBS wanted put in. If it comes true, we'll note it and decode it then.)

(NOTE: Typos corrected by Shirley.)