Saturday, October 22, 2011

Show Notes - "Up With Chris Hayes"

I like Chris Hayes.  I like his manic energy, which if it was bottled and refined would drop our dependency on foreign oil by 50 percent.  He is an articulate defender of progressive causes and insightfully analyzes, deconstructs and sometimes debunks conventional political wisdom in a wonky way that people who drop words like "trope" and "herpetic" into casual conversation appreciate.  When it was announced Hayes was being given his own two-hour show on Saturday and Sunday mornings on MSNBC, I for one was quite pleased with the news.  

That is why it is so disappointing to report that the show, while better than the standard weekend fare on MSNBC, in my opinion, needs to be re-tooled.  The two-hour format is awkward and multi-segment conversations with the same panelists and topics sometimes feel like extended Algonquin Round Table discussions and book plug bonanzas.  More often than not, a token conservative is thrown into the mix to afford the panel "balance," but with 3, and more often 4, guests in addition to Hayes all vying for air time, most debates peter out, shift off topic or have to be cut off for commercial break, all of which limit the show's flow.  

While "UP" takes advantage of its extended format to delve more deeply into issues than occurs on the Sunday or weekday political shows, stretching discussion of, for example, Martin Luther King's legacy, was laudable, but became repetitive, particularly when the panel for that discussion was unchanging over a two hour period.  That is not to say Dr. King's legacy is not worthy of a two-hour show, indeed, it's probably worthy of a twenty-hour show, but it's to say that there was nothing particularly original or "must see" about watching the same 5 people pick over the same issues for two hours.  

Lastly, the show is oddly devoid of Hayes's essence.  The roundtable format turns him into little more than a moderator for discussion and emcee to tee up the topic.  While there are some brief intro segments that afford Hayes the opportunity to provide editorial comment, what made him such a strong guest on shows like Rachel Maddow and The Last Word is his incisiveness and intellect, which his own show strangely fails to highlight or emphasize.  

So Chris Hayes (or your producer), if you're reading, here is one humble fan's suggestions on how to improve your show:

1.  Ditch the pastries.  No one eats them, they were novel on the first episode, but are distracting and silly unless you are going to start having chafing dishes and omelet stations.  Seriously. 

2.  Think of your show as two one-hour shows, not one two-hour show.  Instead of noodling  a single issue to death over 4 or 5 segments, tighten up the subject matter for each show, rotate the panels and do more interviews and policy segments.  By doing so, the show will feel fresher while covering more informational ground. For example, there is no shortage of campaigns to cover/discuss right now - why not highlight, in a segment or two, the leading Republican campaigns and dissect their policy positions.  NBC has "embeds" with all the major Republican campaigns, there is no shortage of "analysts" employed by NBC who could discuss same and doing some research into the consistency (or lack thereof) of each candidate's policy positions would actually be ..gasp .. informative and helpful (imagine a political talk show doing that?). Similarly, you could highlight down ballot races and issues, either federal or state (i.e., Warren v. Brown in MA, Kaine v. Allen in VA, OH referendum on union stripping, etc .) that are of national interest.  By the same token, you could devote 2-3 segments to in-depth (think more Charlie Rose than Meet the Press) with not just politicians, but thought leaders, entrepreneurs and other public figures who drive what happens in our world.  Instead of stretching to fill 2 hours, which is what the show often feels like, why not embrace the fact that you have that 2d hour and the luxury it affords you to do deep dives into several different subjects in one show.

3.  Weekly Wrap-Ups/Weekly Look-Ahead.  I know you do a little of both of these things, but the Saturday/Sunday format lends itself to spending some time during the former summarizing the week that was and the latter teeing up the week ahead, which could include things like campaign schedules and major speeches, votes in Congress and economic news/announcements (e.g., unemployment rate, quarterly GDP, etc .)  On Sunday at least, this would be a natural extension of your segment that asks panelists to come up with a question for the guests on other Sunday morning talk shows.  This would also give you an opportunity to either highlight stories that might not have received a lot of attention during the past week but deserved it (which itself could be a segment) or to direct your viewers to be on the look out for stories in the coming week that might be flying under the Beltway radar screen.

4.  More Chris Hayes.  I follow you on twitter - you have a lot of interests (sports, particularly) that have not, for some reason, bled into the show.  It's *your* show, why not incorporate more of what you find interesting and absorbing into it?  You may want NBA players to come on your show to highlight collective bargaining or interview an author who may not be widely read because you think he or she has written something of importance.  I would also encourage you to do more solo segments that allow for your editorial voice to come through more clearly.  

5.  Improve show production.  Clips should be teed up and ready, not "can we check and see if we have this ..." The same for graphics and other add ons (quotes on screen) that do not always appear as (or when) they should.

No show is perfect from the moment the red light goes on and "Up with Chris Hayes" is certainly an improvement over the usual programming on MSNBC on any given weekend morning.  As the show evolves, incorporating the changes I suggest will improve on "Up's" promising beginning.

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