Tavis Smiley, Week in Review: Part V

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AKIE BERMISS: At last, we’ve come to the end. I will admit, I haven’t watched this much Tavis Smiley in this little time since I was probably in high school. My parents and I liked to trot him out every now and again when I was home from college, but even then we’d spend most of the time talking when ever Tavis was. Is his the crucial problem with the show? Tavis is so unimpressive that you can only take the show semi-seriously in small doses. Otherwise, I find myself only tuning in for the longer interviews and even then I have trouble sitting through an entire show.

I had been looking forward, all week, to the Ed Norton interview. I’d be very interested to see what kind of person Norton is like. Never mind that the interview was more about the new documentary, By The People, about the Obama campaign (for which Norton was executive producer). I was happy, at least, that the interview wasn’t utter nonsense. Smiley seemed to be held somewhat at bay. I was worried we were in for one his excursions when the first few questions we completely about the New York Marathon. And maybe he was off on one of his tears, but it tied in nicely to with a charity that Norton wanted to plug. So no harm done. Not sure why it took three minutes to get to the documentary, but by this point I’ve been condition to have pretty low expectations.

I don’t feel like I really learned much about the documentary. Of course, watching online I didn’t get to see the clip, but even if I had, I’m not sure why, then, I would have had to listen to the rest of the interview. I guess you could say they had me at “Obama” but it would be hard for me to say that anything else they talked about made my mind up about the documentary one way or the other. Toward the end they DID mention that it’d be on HBO — so there’s that.

I think the first three minutes, about marathons, was probably the best part.

The other guest on Friday night was pianist/composer/educator Marcus Roberts- a piano player I used to love in my high school days. And much like my current relationship with Tavis, I’m pretty disappointed with most of Roberts’ work since I graduated. Occasionally, I’ve seen him at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis (the patron saint of virtuosic mediocrity) and been at least satisfied with the overall musical experience. And while I tried not to let that taint my critique of the show and interview, I just couldn’t get past that distaste for both people on my screen. Proving that if you don’t like Tavis’ guest then its nigh on impossible to sit through even a seven minute interview. I basically felt like cutting myself to distract myself from the show. I guess it was an okay interview — the mostly talked about music. But so uninteresting and so obviously JUST a spot to plug the new CD.

Which, of course, they hardly talked about.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Akie and I are in the same place on this interview as well, though I don’t know Roberts’ music. With Norton, he stayed general enough to let Norton steer the discussion.

I loved the first question about Obama- how “not everyone knew” how historic his candidacy would be. Like, you know, Tavis Smiley.

Strange that Tavis is so quick to reference his many marathons run, but not his support of Hillary Clinton…

As for Roberts, he actually asked a few technical questions about the music. Where were these questions for the interview of Monk biographer? I suspect we both are most disappointed with that interview of them all.

Final Thoughts?

Sure! I think Tavis Smiley is a nice guy. I mean, I don’t really know (he could be a raging asshole) but his on-screen persona is pretty charming. I don’t want to make this an incrimination of his character. I think if I called a plumber and Tavis Smiley showed up — I’d be pretty pleased. But I’m through with giving him any substantial intellectual cache. At least where MY being informed is concerned. Maybe beneath all the suits, ties, and smiles — there’s a clever and concerned journalist/interviewer screaming to be heard. But all I can see from where I’m sitting is a really nice guy who likes to talk to people.

And that’s not enough for me condone his being on television.

Several times this week Smiley brought on an awesome guest and just bludgeoned them to death with his inane questions and pointless side-comments. So let this be a warning to all you who may one day BE on the Tavis Smiley show: don’t go one expecting to do a serious interview. I think the best guests this week either a) ignored Tavis’ weirdo improvisations, b) expected them and didn’t put too much stake in getting a real point across, or c) took over the interview and dominated it by speaking for big chunks of time without letting Tavis get a word in edgewise.

Finally, I began to wonder about midway through the week if I hadn’t figured out just what the underlying discomfort was for me. Everytime I watch the Tavis Smiley show I’m impressed by how interesting his guests are. I wonder if he isn’t also pretty impressed. And thinking, “Hey, I’ve got some pretty interesting guest. I must be pretty interesting!” And maybe that’s where he gets his maddening tangential question from — borne of a need to prove to his guests and his viewers that he, too, is interesting. Maybe he’s under the impression that most of us are watching to see Tavis and whoever his guest is — not, as it more probably the truth: we’re trying to see whoever his guest is, and avoid Tavis as much as possible.

But, hey, I wish him the best. Its not a BAD show. There are bad shows out there. Sometimes, late at night, when I’m all alone: I watch FOX News. There are some just plain BAD shows on there. Crappy hosts, insane guests, meaningless interviews, etc. Tavis is a hot and cold character. Sometimes he’s really on, and most of the time he’s pretty off.

He has, however, carved out his niche. And he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. So I’m resigned to my natural Tavis Smiley Show tradition of watching at family gathering listening intermittently and most discussing more pressing issues like who’s going to clean the dishes and put away the left-overs.

HOWARD MEGDAL: At the end of the day, you’re a lot better off watching Charlie Rose. It’s a shame, too- like Akie said, Smiley gets such good guests. But I end up feeling like most shows are simply a missed opportunity.

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