If the sincerest form of flattery is imitation, Fox “News” must be pleased as punch that MSNBC has taken the round table idea of The Five—still the worst show on Fox “News,” if not all of tee vee—and perfected it in two different 2-hour shows on weekend mornings, “Up With Chris Hayes” and “Melissa Harris-Perry” at 8am and 10am respectively. These shows are examples of what The Five could be if only Fox “News” didn’t start with the assumption that it is broadcasting to the lowest common denominator.
NewsHounds detractors usually assume that when we’re not watching Fox “News” so you don’t have to, we are being indoctrinated by the bluish, leftist glow emanating from MSNBC. Truth be told: When I’m not watching Fox “News,” I am watching a documentary or some mindless entertainment. Overall, I caught about a dozen Keith Olbermann shows, but I found him too edgy. I caught Rachael Maddow’s first show and liked it enough that I watch it once or twice a month. And, that’s about it. I’ve never tuned in to MSNBC on a regular basis…until the launch of these two new shows. Now it feels like it’s not the weekend without them.
While similar on the surface, there are two major differences between “The Five” and the MSNBC shows: 1). The Five brings lots of heat and little light; few facts but a lot of shouted opinions. When there’s a disagreement about the facts on The Five, we never learn who is right, just who is loudest. Hayes’ and Harris-Perry’s shows are jam-packed with a lot of fact and some opinion, and with no fireworks, which brings us to; 2). Because there are 5 co-hosts on “The Five,” there is no one to direct traffic. It’s a messy free-for-all, with everyone trying to get their face time. On the other hand, Up and MHP both have hosts to keep crosstalk, arguments, and camera-hogging to a bare minimum.
When The Five was launched it was conventional wisdom that the show was a place holder after the toxic-to-advertisers Glenn Beck Program until something better came along. It was also thought that it would be a testing ground for many of the auxiliary Fox commentors already signed to contracts. That's why it also came off as an audition of the five on The Five. No matter, it caught Fox by surprise that The Five did as well in the ratings as it did. Consequently it’s been renewed and is considered a hit. On the other hand “Up With Chris Hayes” and “Melissa Harris-Perry” were no accident, designed to cater to the respective talents of the hosts, chief of which is they are both very intelligent people. Yet, neither is afraid to invite even smarter people than themselves on their shows. Harris-Perry jokes that the floor where the two shows share office space is Nerdland (which is the Twitter hashtag for her show; Hayes’ is #Uppers) and Nerdland is the perfect metaphor. It’s the most wonkish tee vee since Maddow and it outwonks Maddow in many respects.
While The Five is often a rehash of the Fox News memes du jour, the topics on Up and MHP are thought provoking and rarely heard on tee vee. For example, last week Hayes devoted 2 full hours to Atheism and no one was struck by lightening. Yesterday Harris-Perry decided to have a testosterone-free show and the panel consisted all of women. Harris-Perry’s report on the Trayvon Martin killing was one of the first on tee vee and was extremely powerful television, still worth watching several weeks later.
There is one more similarity between The Five and these MSNBC shows: none are really fair and balanced. The Five has 4 conservatives against the hapless Bob Beckel. The Harris-Perry and Hayes shows are tipped the other way, with a majority of the panel progressive with often (but not always) a lone conservative. However, that’s where the imbalance ends. Being in the minority on either of these shows doesn’t mean one gets cheated for time. Due to their sheer decency, I’ve seen both Harris-Perry and Hayes say words to the effect of, “We’ve been beating up on you pretty good, so why don’t you have at us for a while.” Yet, there’s really no beating up on anyone on these shows and it never gets loud. Respect is shown for other points of view. On occasion several people want to talk at once, but that’s where a host is helpful. Hayes and Harris-Perry appear have learned how to do this with a deft touch, something unseen on any Fox “News” show.
So, if you want to see some good, intelligent, tee vee take a peek at “Up With Chris Hayes” and “Melissa Harris-Perry” and we’ll keep watching Fox “News” so you don’t have to.
Where shoutin’, bullyin’, mike-cuttin’ and personal attacks keep the JeebusKrowd fillin’ their Depends.