Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Unlikely Success of Tucker Carlson and Willie Geist

By Lars Trodson

One of the most painful aspects of listening to the radio or watching television news broadcasts is having to suffer through the unscripted banter of the on-air personalities. It's one thing to go along with the "bits" or "gags" that are the mainstay of morning radio "crews" -- usually two men and one woman whose on-air laughter is often like the sonic equivalent of spontaneous combustion. But when it comes time to fill a little air time off book, watch out. You sit in the car cringing.

This is no more apparent than on local TV news broadcasts. When it comes time to segue into another segment of the broadcast, your congenial hosts always start to oversmile. When one host must hand over the broadcast to another, the dialogue is invariably excruciating. This is no more apparent when the anchorperson either "thanks" or "blames" the meteorologist for the weather we're having.

(Break into scripted uproarious laughter here.)

Unbelievably, the one oasis in this on-screen torture is the Tucker Carlson/Willie Geist pairing on the MSNBC chat show "Tucker." It shouldn't necessarily work, but it seems to work like a charm - sort of like Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in "Papillon." Sometimes you can't explain things. There is a smoothness and ease to the on-air chat between these two TV personalities. Geist (son of a CBS newsman) has loosened Carlson up a bit - he's a little snarky, but not overly so, and he always has a retort to something Carlson says. It keeps Carlson on his game. And the main host has shed his stiffness, his proper Conservative attitude, and has become an entertaining interviewer (although he could widen his guest base), and he is learning to do something most interviewers never do, which is followup something stupid a guest has said with a challenge. He could do it more -- while others on TV could just start doing it.

Here's a kudo then to what I can only hope is a trend in TV chatter -- two hosts who seem to actually be listening to each other, and who don't get a deer-in-the-headlights look and start to offer leaden clich├ęs as soon as the copy on the script in front of them runs out.