January 06, 2005

Bye-bye, bowtie.

Jon Stewart 1, Tucker Carlson 0.

As if it wasn't embarassing enough for Tucker Carlson when he and CNN Crossfire co-host Paul Begala were on the receiving end of a full-on dress-down from the Daily Show's Jon Stewart in November, the bowtie-sporting conservative pundit has been let go by the TV network (sorry, "out of respect for him and his talent [they] thought it would be best to let him explore opportunities elsewhere") as they allegedly try turn over a new leaf (or re-turn over an old leaf?) in news television. Driving in the knife was CNN CEO Jonathan Klein, who actually evoked Jon Stewart in explaining the move. From the Globe and Mail:

"I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," Mr. Klein said.

He said all of the cable networks, including CNN, have overdosed on programming devoted to arguing over issues. Mr. Klein said he wants more substantive programming that is still compelling.

"I doubt that when the President sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up to date on all of the issues," he said. "I don't know why we don't treat the audience with the same respect."

The New York Times reports more "it's not you, it's us" mollifying (Dana Stevens writes in Slate: "One natural disaster, and suddenly it's all about dignity at CNN") as well as further Jon Stewart-affirmation by CNN's CEO:

Mr. Klein said the decisions to part company with Mr. Carlson and to end "Crossfire" were not specifically related, because he had decided to drop "Crossfire" regardless of whether Mr. Carlson wanted to stay on.

Mr. Klein said, "We just determined there was not a role here in the way Tucker wanted his career to go. He wanted to host a prime-time show in which he would put on live guests and have spirited debate. That's not the kind of show CNN is going to be doing."

Instead, Mr. Klein said, CNN wants to do "roll-up-your-sleeves storytelling," and he said that was not a role he saw for Mr. Carlson. "There are outlets for the kind of show Tucker wants to do and CNN isn't going to be one of them," he said.

Mr. Klein said he wanted to move CNN away from what he called "head-butting debate shows," which have become the staple of much of all-news television in the prime-time hours, especially at the top-rated Fox News Channel.

"CNN is a different animal," Mr. Klein said. "We report the news. Fox talks about the news. They're very good at what they do and we're very good at what we do."

Mr. Klein specifically cited the criticism that the comedian Jon Stewart leveled at "Crossfire" when he was a guest on the program during the presidential campaign. Mr. Stewart said that ranting partisan political shows on cable were "hurting America."

Mr. Klein said last night, "I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart's overall premise." He said he believed that especially after the terror attacks on 9/11, viewers are interested in information, not opinion."

Whatever the motives and nature of CNN's positioning, the network sure didn't take long to purge Carlson's existence from their website.

Carlson came under Canadian (cross)fire in early December after this Crossfire episode and this one and an interview, hosted by Wolf Blitzer, in which Carlson somehow managed to be more obnoxious than ex-Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish (who had a relatively quiet day). Wolf Blitzer quaintly described Carlson's antics as "tongue in cheek."

For the full dose, check out "duelling banjos" Carlson and the always-offensive Ann Coulter in this clip.

While Carlson may qualify for some sort of "last laugh" if he lands a prime time slot at MSNBC, it's hard to get past the "ouch" factor of his exit from CNN.

Posted by anatole at January 6, 2005 09:30 PM

That Klein acknowledges Stewart's point does not necessarily mean that Stewart can take the credit for CNN dumping Carlson. Here's how I'd score it:

Political Discourse 1, Tucker Carlson 0
(Scored by Jonathan Klein, assisted by Jon Stewart. Shorthanded.)

Posted by: Alasdair at January 8, 2005 02:20 PM