Chris Hayes is becoming a showman!


Our nation is paying the price: On June 21, we noted a change in the on-air demeanor of MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. As a performer, we suggested he might be undergoing a type of Maddowization.

We also suggested that, in the process, he might be dumbing his program down. To review that post, click here.

Four days later, at the end of an interview, Hayes discussed the process we thought we had seen playing out on the air. Speaking with Salon’s David Daley, he discussed the pressure of hosting a show in prime time as opposed to on weekend mornings:
HAYES (6/25/13): The biggest difference is the competition for those eyeballs is just intense. I think about, there’s someone out there who’s worked all day, helped their kid with their homework, grabbed a beer, sat down at the TV, and now they’re going to watch me. And they could watch “The Voice,” and I would not begrudge them wanting to do that! I would completely understand. So you have to be thinking in terms of what emotional effect are you producing in the viewer.


Yeah, ratings are the measurement of what you have to think about, which is producing entertaining television. The ratings–I try not to think about the numbers, because that data can be very overwhelming or misleading. The thing I do think about is “are we producing a good show?” And the word “show” is key. You have to be a showman. It is a show. You need to put on a show every night. Which means, like, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, let me entertain you. And I think the thing that I found rewarding, that I first found really difficult, is learning how to do that better, learning how to embody that naturally. Learning how to be myself fundamentally and authentically while still entertaining.
Chris Hayes is learning to be entertaining. That may be why, a few nights before, he had said he was “seething with anger,” even though he didn’t seem to be seething with anger.

He was trying to entertain us! That may be why he made the claim which struck us as being so false.

As he finished the interview with Salon, Hayes saluted the person who is really good at the showman’s art. This also tracks with what we said in our earlier post:
HAYES (continuing directly): And that’s a really hard challenge. We did food stamps last night. It’s like, “How do you make food stamps entertaining?” and no one’s figured this out better than Rachel Maddow. She is just a savant in this respect, but I have to find my own route to that place, that is true to what I do best.
As we suggested a few days before, Hayes thinks Maddow is really good at making topics like food stamps entertaining. We don’t disagree with that judgment; unfortunately, Maddow is a superb performer within the narrow filed of cable news channel clowning. But Maddow often performs this feat by dumbing her program down, or by handing her viewers pleasing facts which don’t turn out to be facts.

For what it’s worth, we went back and reviewed the recent segments Hayes had done about food stamps. For a guy who earned his rep by being smart, we thought those discussions were a bit low-IQ.

Were the segments entertaining? We're not sure. But on the merits, they weren’t worth much.

Step right up, ladies and gents!

We didn’t think Hayes was seething with anger when he said he was that night. In this interview, he said he’s really learning to be a showman. Last night, he lured us into the tent with a discussion of the Zimmerman case—a discussion which was scripted, dumb, tribal and false in every conceivable way.

Did we mention the fact that these segments were dumb? Later today or tomorrow, we will run through last night’s segments, showing you what we mean. But for now, let’s just say this: We’re truly all living in Bosnia now! Increasingly, we live in a land where each of the tribes has its own facts, history, religion and language.

And its own gang of hustler pundits.

In its prime time programs, MSNBC is providing highly scripted pundit reaction to the Zimmerman trial. Last evening, we watched Al Sharpton’s panel. Our synopsis:

Five pundits, one voice!

Your nation’s ability to conduct a discourse is rapidly being rotted away by this grisly conduct. The aggressive components of this destruction started with Rush and the rest of talk radio. But it’s no longer possible to doubt the fact that MSNBC is aping Fox as it tries to build a world where gullible liberals can feel entirely safe as they watch cable each night.

We’ll hear the bullshit we want to hear. We won’t hear a single word more.

(At this point, Fox viewers actually hear a wider set of viewpoints than we liberals are permitted to hear!)

It’s amazing to see howlittle time it took to transform Hayes. Last night’s discussion was monumentally dumb—and we have to pray it was false. Have our telegenic tribemates really been dumbed to the extent suggested?

Two weeks ago, Chris Hayes said he was seething with anger. Last night, he was probably being a showman—and he was presenting two segments which were astoundingly dumb.


  1. So here Chris Hayes takes Bob gently by the hand and explains precisely why he's doing the Maddow thing, and that he has no choice in the matter if he wants to stay on the air -- and potentially do *some* good. Or, at least, do more good than the typical MSNBC host, within the limits of the format and the demand for numbers. (And yeah, it's also a very nice living.)

    But no! Bob isn't having it. Hayes wasn't "seething" with anger when he said he was! He's lost all credibility with Bob. Who cares if MSNBC shows Hayes the door! It's the principle of the thing, after all! I mean, what else is commercial TV all about, if not the principle?

    Besides, if we liberals aren't pure and scrupulous, it's best to stay off TV and mass-media altogether. So what if there are only right-wing voices on TV, who don't give a damn for scruples or principles? Only morons and media critics watch TV anyway! And who cares what they think?

    1. I think you're missing the point. The point isn't being pure and scrupulous--the point is that Hayes apparently feels pressure in his new time slot to be stupid and "entertaining" like Maddow. How that is supposed to help liberals escapes me.

      Hayes had a great show on the weekends--really intelligent, with a range of opinions in his guests and he was fair to them too, letting them make their points. Of course Bob still complained sometimes--I don't think Bob is always right. In this case, I've only watched bits of the new show, but from what little I've seen Bob is right--it's gone downhill. It's sad.


    2. That mindset is a trap which keeps you shackled to a tribal mindset which always benefits corporate interests, whether you're cheering for the red team or the blue team. Pundits will not provide you with an answer; you're going to have to do some critical thinking and probably stop watching TV if you want to figure things out for yourself.

  2. Were I around Al Sharpton, I would be afraid to say anything that did not cater to what Sharpton wanted to hear. I would prefer not to be around Sharpton ever, but were I paid to be for a program I would make myself be Sharpton. I am afraid of such a person as Sharpton, who I find the new Senator McCarthy along with Joy-Ann Reid.

    Scary people.

    1. Some people will never forgive Sharpton for pointing out the fact that states are disenfranchising voters after many in the civil rights movement gave their lives for the right to vote.

  3. Shorter Bob Somerby:
    WAAAHH! I should be on MSNBC instead of him!

    1. can ya say "retarded" any more Matt? They'll be Deening you if your not careful.

  4. Bob, I have to agree with you about Chris Hayes v2.0. One has to suppose his boss had the 'now, Chris' talk with him about must-see-tv. Sad to see how the show has been dumbed-down.
    The coverage of the Zimmerman trial on MSNBC is an exercise in televised frustration that the prosecution is not doing a better job of convicting the murderer we have all prejudged to be guilty. Sad.

  5. I think Bob's tracking of Hayes is useful and instructive - and I don't read it as sour grapes at all(isn't that one of those ad hominem thingies?)

    But, I also agree that Bob doesn't seem to have a structural critique of the media. That is, even if you grant him all his points about Hayes and Maddow, he doesn't seem to address what you should do to appease advertisers(not ruffle them by being all anti bizniz or something) and win eyeballs they want to buy.

    But, on the other hand,it's not at all clear that Hayes couldn't run a smart program(however you define that) and win eyeballs and be fine. You can't prove it's not possible if you don't try it.

    1. I agree.

      The fact that a structural critique exists (a perfectly good one is Chomsky's "propaganda model" Manufacturing Consent) doesn't for a moment imply that factual critique of individual voices is irrelevant.

      This single article by Somerby gives us little of that, admittedly. However, the essence of this form is by now clear (even, or especially, to the pretending detractors): The slower-witted among us, would do better to think of this post as simply the opening paragraph of Somerby's promised essay on Haye's development ("Later today or tomorrow, we will run through last night’s segments, showing you what we mean").

      With history as our guide, we fully expect to see just what is meant by calling Hayes' work dumb, tribal and false.

      Careful students of history that we are, we also fully expect the MSNBC apologists to return as well, telling us that Somerby's analysis is irrelevant, that no one is watching these shows anyway, that we can't fight with one hand behind our backs, that Somerby's just jealous of the TV stars.

      We expect we will suppress a yawn as so many times before and quietly note that once again, Somerby's not wrong...

    2. In a previous post on this topic Bob said that Hayes had very poor ratings when he tried to bring his "smart" persona to prime time TV. That sounds about right to me -- most liberals, whatever they say to the contrary, are no different at their core than the kind of people who drive around with Rush on their radio, then go home and tune in to Fox: they want raw meat and plenty of it (The problem is, there are just too few of those people to sustain Fox-like ratings). The kind of person who wants "smart" TV doesn't watch much TV, period, so something like what Hayes used to do could work, because you only had to tune in once a week or whatever, and "smart" liberals would do that, plus the investment, and so ratings expectations, for such a show would be much reduced.

      Ultimately, and Bob seems unable to deal with this, the fault is not in our (TV) stars, but ourselves. People are getting what they want, and what they want is shit.

  6. Bob may be having an epiphany into his own politics.

    I wonder if he is feeling like he is being mugged?

  7. For what it's worth, Hayes is also dressing differently. Maybe wearing a Very Serious Suit will bring in the eyeballs.

  8. I miss Up with Chris Hayes on the weekends quite a bit. :/ He was really quite good and a sympathetic moderator. Such a mistake to leave that timeslot!

    Steve Kornacki is just not telegenic. He seems to babble endlessly. And it's not as though Chris Hayes is all that either... but by comparison Chris Hayes was way more smart, funny and likable.

    Comedians like Kathy Griffin, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho or Patton Oswalt would be amazing hosts if MSNBC could convince them to do it. They know how to hold their own in a knife-fight.

  9. It's an interesting choice for MSNBC to bring someone in to be the super-smart guy (Hayes and Maddow were both basically advertised this way) and then demand they churn out low-iq fodder. I guess it's just a credential to give the pap a veneer of credibility.

  10. There you have it.

  11. Does Chris ride a limo to work these days instead of his old bike? Has he put down a deposit on a Westside apartment, maybe in the same building as Paul Kruger? Pressure.

    I've never seen the Karen Finney show, but it's kind of my impression these weekend shows serve as kind of a bull pen for the prime time slots. Keep sharp, Chris. Sexy, multiracial Karen wants your job.

    Speaking of dumbing down the national dialogue, TCM is running old Johnny Carson shows this week, and even that kind of Vaudvillian patter seems more dignified and adult (and funnier) than what we're getting from today's doubleplus earnest cognoscenti. Back then, they didn't have to worry about being entertainer journalists. They could just pick one and get really, really good at it.

    I've found that hearing George Burns tell a funny story about Groucho is more enjoyable and improving than sitting through a Hayes or Maddow jeremiad on the day's pet issue.

    There were giants back then, by cracky.

  12. Teaching is hard, as Mr. Somerby knows. Chris Hayes is trying to reach his students within the constraints of his particular school/classroom. He's trying to do an elite college-level show (lots of prep needed for those twice weekly 75-minute classes) while teaching in a community college or high school.

    The entertainment, "showmanship" aspect of teaching, especially when teaching a big lecture course: it's real, and legitimate in the big picture. Each teacher must find her or his own way of being a "showman." One of the best teachers I have ever observed in a lecture situation speaks softly, moves little, just delivers amazingly insightful and smart and well-organized, well-paced deliveries. (He also spends hours chatting with students outside of class.) Other teachers who take that tack can be dull. Dunno. It's hard stuff. Then there are the conventionally "showmen" teachers -- some substantively good, some popular but not respected by their colleagues....

    Just sayin' that I see Hayes searching seriously hard to find the right balance in the context of his personality/skills and the institution he's working in. He deserves help and support, not disdain. (Maybe just the old mentor in me talking here.)

    1. "He deserves help and support, not disdain."

      But if he bullshits us?

      If he's "scripted, dumb, tribal and false?"

      We should just give that a pass?

  13. Glenn Greenwald is going to be on with Chris Hayes, we will find out how Hayes conducts the interview. Greenwald is truly heroic, among the very. very finest of journalists.

  14. Note that Rachel, in the lead-in to her show tonight, has no entertainment planned around the Obama-care news. But she has LOTS of other news!!!!

  15. I just took a gander and the CH segment on Zimmerman. Holy cripes, what a disaster. It now appears more certain than ever that Zim is telling an overwhelmingly straight story and that he was indeed attacked by TM but they're STILL blaming Zimmerman. They're also pretending to know for certain that Zimmerman continued trailing Martin after he agreed with the police not to. Not only that, they're acting as if this tragedy proves that carrying a concealed weapon is a bad idea when you could very easily make a case claiming the opposite because Zimmerman might have been beaten to death if he had not been able to otherwise defend himself.

    These twits are even complaining that Zimmerman was following Martin even though, as a neighborhood watch guy, he's SUPPOSED to keep an eye on people who are acting suspiciously.

    And of course, calling in the police so they can witness you murdering a black kid you just agreed not to follow anymore has got to be the most cunning yet obvious strategy in the entire history of hate crime. (Note to certain fellow liberals: That last remark was intended as sarcasm.)

    And these bastards think they're so smart! If you want to know why Democrats have a long history of losing elections they should have won you got one of the main ingredients right here.

  16. Not to get in the way of your fine rant, but the issue with the concealed carry is this: What are the odds that Zimmerman would have been following a scary black man around in the dark, alone, if he DIDN'T have that gun? My guess is pretty low. If you take Zimmerman's story at face value, he's actually something of a punk: a skinny teenage kid beat his ass, and quite handily. Punks like that don't go out looking for trouble unless they are backed up by a gun. So "these twits" have at least one point: no gun, and none of this would have happened. Whatever comes of this trial, guys like Zimmerman, following people around in the dark armed with a gun and a vigilante complex, are dangerous, and if nothing else, the mentality that led to this should be a part of the national discussion. Even if the "twits" will be able to put in their two cents.

    1. Truthfully, I think Zimmerman might very well still have followed him, albeit a bit more subtly by which I mean a greater distance. Or he might have followed him in his vehicle. I've done security and if you're calling the police on a relatively frequent basis you don't want to get a reputation for being a jerk who keeps sending them on wild goose chases. Also, on the police dispatch recording Zimmerman clearly states that he's lost sight of Martin so I think think the following issue is in all probability bogus.

      Also, with respect, neither you or anyone I'm aware of has really proven that Zimmerman had a "vigilante complex." Ergo, that's an opinion not a fact. It's also a wee bit of an ad hominem, isn't it?

      And thank you for calling my previous entry a "fine rant." I am, perhaps stupidly, assuming that that was a genuine compliment and not sarcasm. The chances of it not being sarcasm are vastly increased by the fact that I didn't write it.

    2. You are not giving Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he has a sincere and honorable reason to provide security. Maybe he has personal experience as a crime victim and decided to do something about it. Some neighborhoods truly need people like George Zimmerman, because the police are inadequate. Do you have a real basis for impugning his motives for keeping a watchout for his neighborhood? I don't know, but I sure don't see how you get to call him a punk because he got beat by a young practitioner of mixed martial arts fighting. Zimmerman is a punk because he can't fight? I don't get it. That first mugshot of Zimmerman made him look like a punk and everyone fell for it. Totally slimy journalism that photo was up against the young boy photo of Trayvon Martin.

  17. "Maybe" I'll simply stick to the one fact you adduce: show me what makes Martin a "young practitioner of mixed martial arts fighting." Where did he get his training. Who else knows about this and, since neither the defense nor anyone else has brought it up, how did you find this out. Or maybe you're just making it up. Maybe. Just maybe.

    And just maybe a 28 year old man -- the prime of male life -- who allegedly gets his ass beaten by a 17 year old kid he outweighs by 40 pounds is a punk. In fact, there's no maybe about it.


    I dont know how reputable the above blog is I got it off. I clicked this article off of Real Clear Politics. This is at least a view into how some of the right wing is viewing the situation.
    By the way, a punk is a 17 year old kid who follows and attacks a security guard. That is reality. If Trayvon Martin had survived, if Martin had not had a gun, then most likely Martin does jail time for assault, or worse depending on how bad Zimmerman gets hurt. Calling someone a punk because they get beat up is nice old-school macho.

    1. So, we go from "young mixed martial arts practitioner" to some ridiculous post in American Thinker (I suggest you read the whole post to get a full sense of its ridiculousness). I can see you take this very seriously. Maybe. Or maybe not.

      And no, a punk is someone who goes out looking for trouble armed with a gun. That would be Zimmerman. To reiterate, none of this -- NONE of it -- happens if Zimmerman isn't out playing the lone ranger, sans Tonto. Martin goes home and eats his candy, he doesn't attack Zimmerman, or Zimmerman doesn't attack him, and everyone is still alive. Zimmerman probably wouldn't look like the bloated beast who ate a million bon bons, and life goes on. We'll never know exactly what happened that night, but we do know that much. Which is, in the end, the point.

      And now, unless you're going to make up more bullshit facts, I'm done with you.

    2. Your "none of this happens if" stuff, is what's bullshit, til.

      That, and your "punk" namecalling.

      Low. And stupid.

      None of this happens "if" -- a whole bunch of pretend scenarios that anyone can make up that are completely meaningless.

      "Lone ranger." "Punk." All made up bullshit, til.

      Made up by you. If you're really done, that's super news.

  19. Observe that Rachel, within the lead-in in order to the woman's display this evening, doesn't have amusement prepared round the Obama-care information. However she's All information!!!!

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