While many people disagreed with the comments of Don Imus on his MSNBC morning show program about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team, it can hardly even be said that this was the worst thing he’d ever said. Even about such an age of girls; even of a predominantly ethnic minority (which, coincidently did not play into his humor that day; the fantastic thing about his ultimate fate was that these were seemingly remarks which could have been swallowed on any other morning; while it could be argued that he mused, it wasn’t even as though he belabored the point.)
However, fired he was and immediately the folks in programming at MSNBC had to begin to consider a replacement. With their ever revolving door of guests and co-hosts, it’s a little early to judge on their own personal dynamic (it’s not like this group had years of practice on the radio to hone their own voices, as did Imus) but as the primary moderator; Joe Scarborough needs a little help.
I’ve never really thought all that much of his own Scarborough Country program on at 9PM though it was not without having given him half a chance. In fact I’d watched him quite a bit just because of his guests or his topic, but the simple fact is that it takes a special type to host any program. At one hour in the evening, Scarborough Country was a cherry picking of the days events and commenting on them after they’d already happened and been reported on. When you’re hosting a morning show program there is a different skill needed. You’re introducing the day’s events and at three hours in length, you need to have a certain foresight to be able to converse with guests who will still have something to talk about when they’re on the air and the nimble mind to be able to illustrate your understanding of their importance and how they fit in the overall scheme.
Modeling themselves after the Imus program, Morning Joe hasn’t even come close to hitting the same sort of stride that the now defunct former host did and the meandering circular perpetuity that Mr. Scarborough and his other hosts go through during the morning rush is dull, historical, and purely academic, thus far. Hosting a morning show is difficult; particularly a morning show program that’s as open and full of verve as the Imus program was. Mr. Scarborough and his Morning Joe needs to find their own voice and fill the airwaves with what works for them rather than being dictated to or attempting to mimic what was.
Take, for example, his evening program. On Scarborough Country, Mr. Scarborough, by himself, interviews a cadre of personalities who will offer up opinions on current events for the host to either agree with or respectfully disagree with. This has been the formula for many of these news television program shows whether at CNN, MSNBC, FOX NEWS, or anywhere else; such has been the formula that’s worked and so it did for Mr. Scarborough. Having a little bit of a different slant than his broadcasting school graduate contemporaries on the TV newscaster circuit made his plaintive cry more legitimate and interesting to watch. Mr. Scarborough was a four-term Florida congressman which gave him the unique insight as having been to DC as he tries to cut through the noise. This was an efficient and viable working formula for his one hour, PM show Scarborough Country, where he had only a few minutes with every guest or every topic and then he had to move on.
Working on a morning show is different. Even if you know the answers to your questions you need to pull them out of your guests, in an attempt at eliciting some sort of candor. This is where the Morning Joe show falls short. While his show has matured a bit in the PM timeslot and may continue to if he remains on in the morning, the fact is clear that he still strives to be the loudest voice in the room. As a morning show host you need to be the orchestrator; Imus knew that; but clearly Scarborough considers his time on the MSNBC mornings as still more in keeping tune with his own thoughts and opinions.
He also gives away too much. While MSNBC could be considered as “fair-and-balanced” as Fox News in the polar opposite political direction, the fact is that’s what made Scarborough Country always such a switch from Chris Matthews and Keith Olberman; he has different ideas and opinions; opinions which are totally lost on the Morning Joe show. A “conservative Republican” he consistently seems to be trying to steer towards this amenable middle of the road which is evidently so falsified that it’s a wonder why he even tries. When you’re in Scarborough Country “only common sense is allowed,” was often his tagline into or out of commercial; yet when you’re at the breakfast table with Morning Joe, the java, the conversation, and opinions of this larger than life host become somewhat tepid.
While it remains to be seen who will take the place of Imus and company, it’s clear that it won’t be this incarnation of Mr. Scarborough. His intentions are well placed and seem to have found a fit on Scarborough Country. But morning show host is another story. Radio, where Imus cut his cloth, is a different medium and Mr. Imus had a clever way of inclusion of everyone because he knew that, in radio all people have got is their ears. His transition to television was seamless and just used his same style of inclusion which Mr. Scarborough needs to get a handle on. Mr. Scarborough also needs to get back his voice which he never had problems articulating on Scarborough Country for his Morning Joe program in order to be effective.
Without, of course, upsetting the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team and stirring the ghosts of the personage of Mr. Imus.