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Friday FTW: One CNN talking head off the air?

Joe Thomson

Picture via Twitter

Smug Brits the world over will have to find a new spokesman. Sources say CNN head Jeff Zucker is “actively looking for a replacement for Piers Morgan.” 

Generally, conducting interviews with the disposition of a snooty butler is not something people like to watch. But if you like your issues served up with a side of Geoffrey from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, don’t cry yet because the decision is not near official.

However, this could be a victory for believers in the purity of the interview format, if CNN showed some guts and did something different—and, after all, at least we’re getting rid of Morgan.

Morgan seemed to believe an interview was simply a conduit for snappy clips of outraged guests, or public shamings. That the only value to be found in an hour long format could be benign admissions or pointless sentimentality. Splash in a multi-coloured set and you’ve got yourself a show.

He also seemed to believe that people would watch his show to “see what ol’ Piers says next”. An opinion evidently driven by a massive ego and steadfast belief that he was the show, not his guests. Not the topics they discussed. Self importance can be an interesting tactic for an interviewer to use to shake things up, if he/she has the intelligence to back it up. He does not. Ultimately he’s condescending and prickly when it comes to fluffy or fun topics and waaaay out of his element concerning serious, nuanced issues.

I love the interview format, especially in its stripped down, long form iteration. It is a pliable form that can fully capture the essence of a person, their beliefs or their work, often making the esoteric palatable, the tactful candid.

Yet, I get it: the move away from this type of show is understandable in an era where television executives have to compete with other forms of digital media. They compete by throwing more, brighter, buzzier options at viewers (hence the Piers Morgan set). This is a mistake. Less is more, and right now less is different. Extremely different.

Katie Couric is rumoured to take over the spot that craggy old buzzard Larry King made famous. Have you watched her current show? Unless you’re interested in an interview where Katie maternally condescends to Miley Cyrus and then promotes her new album after they drink cocoa together, you’ll probably have to look elsewhere for ‘less’.

Why can’t we get someone like Charlie Rose, instead? Rose is the undisputed Substantial Interview Heavyweight Champ. Being equally at ease with writers, politicians, entertainers and intellectuals is a quality that sets him apart, but it’s not his versatility alone that makes him great. It’s his ability to extract from each person he talks with the thing about them that makes them interesting. So why don’t more people steal from him? Probably because it’s too difficult and the idea of giving someone time to build a rapport with the audience through consistently thought provoking interviews isn’t something CNN, or other networks, is particularly interested in these days.

Unfortunately, this is hardly any different in Canada. What, really, do we have to offer in terms of television interview options? Um, not much.

At the top we’re stuck with the perpetually squinting Peter Mansbridge, who’s buttoned up and very serious. Too serious. He has the demeanor of a concerned principal chaperoning a school dance. (“That’s not dancing” Peter says to himself placing an index finger to his temple.) Most of his interviews have him cocking his head thoughtfully, as if he’s “really learned something”. And, you know what’s worse than a buttoned up, serious Peter Mansbridge? A letting- his-hair-down Peter Mansbridge. This is when he takes the form of grass-roots politican rolling up his sleeves, loosening his tie and “getting back to the people”. He and the subject take a stroll and “just talk” and he gets at truths that the buttoned up Peter never could have. Yuck.

Amanda Lang, who everyone likes as a foil to cartoonish Gordon Geckophile Kevin O’Leary, conveys far too much empathy with every question in her interviews — pausing on every word to let the audience know she’s taking this seriously. But it often comes across as out of place and sometimes disingenuous.  Then, there’s George Stroumboulopoulos, who is (kind of by default) the best television option we have for the one-on-one format, but the show is thoroughly flawed. Stroumboulopoulos or Strombo as he’d like you to call him reminds me of the university professor who thinks he’s cool—not like the other profs you might find around this stuffy institution. This persona, that either Strombo or whoever’s in charge at the CBC has fabricated, gets in the way of an engaged, interested interviewer that consistently allows his interviewee’s to shine more often than not—a skill that I think is very important and seemingly elusive.

Jian Ghomeshi is interesting but probably won’t ever be right for TV. He currently holds the record for most consecutive whispered questions in a row at 1.7 million and counting. He’s very prepared and asks thoughtful, interesting questions while keeping things semi-conversational, but seriously what’s with the whispering? It’s too bad because a more forward Jian Ghomeshi could be extremely compelling to watch, particularly in a stripped down, extensive, limited interruption format. He may be our best hope for a Canadian Charlie Rose , Q has experimented with video content recently, but if it’s this difficult to find substance over style on Canadian Government subsidized television how can we expect to find it on profit driven platforms?

Oh and Steve Paikin is a thing that exists I guess.

Am I missing anyone good?

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