Sunday, February 23, 2014

Alec Baldwin explains MSNBC for you.

In the midst of a lengthy confessional/rant/explanation /denial of homophobia on NEW YORK magazine's website, Alec Baldwin has some interesting, potentially controversial things to say about his short-lived MSNBC talk show.  The full Baldwin article can be found at Without further delay, here's the pertinent excerpt:
My “career” as a talk-show host started with a perfectly simple ambition. In my WNYC podcast, “Here’s the Thing,” I wanted to conduct interviews based on appreciation of my guests and their work. Or, in the case of those like George Will, a respect for their careers, whether I agreed with them or not. To think that something as uncomplicated and innocent as that led to the MSNBC debacle is still surreal to me. My goal was always to take a talk show to the network. I never wanted to be on MSNBC. My contacts at the network said to me, “We don’t have a slot for you on the network right now.” And I told them that was fine. And they said, “Maybe you go on MSNBC for a year and we’ll hone and refine the show?” And I said okay.
I watched MSNBC, prior to working there, very sporadically. Once I had signed a contract with them, I wanted to see more of what they were about. It turned out to be the same shit all day long. The only difference was who was actually pulling off whatever act they had come up with. Morning Joe was boring. Scarborough is neither eloquent nor funny. And merely cranky doesn’t always work well in the morning. Mika B. is the Margaret Dumont of cable news. I liked Chris Jansing a lot. Very straightforward. I like Lawrence O’Donnell, but he’s too smart to be doing that show. Rachel Maddow is Rachel Maddow, the ultimate wonk/dweeb who got a show, polished it, made it her own. She’s talented. The problem with everybody on MSNBC is none of them are funny, although that doesn’t prevent them from trying to be.
My pitch to them was: I’m going to bring the WNYC podcast to MSNBC. And that show is going to be eclectic—guests who don’t often get the microphone. I want to keep it simple. I get somebody in a chair and I shoot the shit with them for an hour and a half and we cut it into a one-
hour show. Dick Cavett was my hero who allowed there to be pauses in the show. He put ­people on who were somewhat unconventional.
So I’m going to go on MSNBC, and people are speculating, “Oh, here he comes! Crazy liberal! And what’s he going to do? Is he going to try to give Bill Maher a run for his money? Is he going to try to give Jon Stewart a run for his money?” And I think, Are you out of your fucking mind? Those men are stars of established, highly successful shows. That’s never going to happen. My show was meant to be as harmless and inoffensive as could be. There was one theme to the 52 episodes of the WNYC podcast and only one way it worked—the show was about appreciation. I wasn’t out to get anybody or make anybody look bad, because I know what that’s like.
MSNBC assigned a producer to me, Jonathan Larsen. Like (Dan)Sullivan with  (the short-lived Broadway revival of the play) Orphans,  Larsen didn’t get me or the show and didn’t want to be there. When I told him I wanted to interview Debra Winger, Larsen looked like, We’re here on a set, with an expensive crew and studio time, and you want to talk to Debra Winger? There was nothing less interesting to him. Most of the guests I suggested—Ellen Barkin, Neal Barnard from PCRM, JFK-conspiracy icon Mark Lane—he couldn’t care less. As we went along, Larsen would simply stare at me after everything I’d suggest and say, “Well, let’s see what Phil says.” Larsen was sent there to babysit me.
Phil Griffin is the head of MSNBC, and when I saw that Griffin didn’t have a single piece of paper on his desk, meeting after meeting after meeting, that should have been my first indication there was going to be a problem. Phil is a veteran programmer who knows well the corridors and chambers of television programming—and couldn’t give a flying fuck about content. All he wanted to talk about was Giants tickets, Super Bowl tickets, restaurants, movies. The conversations about the set, about the physical production of the show, cameras, lighting—it seemed like he wanted to get those over with as quickly as possible. He didn’t care. He had four monitors on the wall. They were all on, muted. He never listened to them. He never watched them.
The meetings with Phil were brisk and convivial. Eventually, however, we got to the point where he asked, “So you really meant it when you said you wanted to do your podcast on the air, on TV?” And I told him, yes, that was my idea. That was when he explained to me that TV, with its visual component, was different. When viewers turn the channel, they want to see something. They want to see Robert Redford. They want to see Justin Timberlake. TV “captures” the audience with the visual.
He said that we needed to change it up. At first I thought, This is not working. It was a mistake and I need to get out of here. And I told Phil so. Then I stopped and I said to myself, They might be right. I would try it their way.
The first name they came up with was Rob Lowe. They said, Rob Lowe’s going to be in the building. Do you want to interview Rob? I said, “Not particularly.” Rob’s a famous star of films, TV. He’s Rob Lowe. He’s famous. But there’s no shortage of outlets for him. And they looked at me like, You really don’t get it. I think they thought, You should have just said yes, simply to play the game.
I should have simply said, “Sure, bring in Rob Lowe.”

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