A Kinder, Gentler Tucker Carlson

Jun 13, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Tucker Carlson is just saying “no” to the sort of shouting matches that moved Jon Stewart to call Mr. Carlson a “dick” during a guest appearance last year on Mr. Carlson’s previous day job in TV, CNN’s recently downsized “Crossfire.”

Mr. Carlson is embracing, even exhorting, “pure civility and friendly discourse” and even humor on “The Situation With Tucker Carlson,” an hour-long live show that joins MSNBC’s weeknight lineup at 9 p.m. (ET) tonight. The show is expected to feature opening segments that last 16 or 17 minutes.

“This is not a show that will ever have two guests debating each other. Ever. That is the form in cable news. We’re never doing that. Ever. That’s a worn-out format, and I’m not going to do that,” Mr. Carlson told TelevisionWeek in an interview last week. “‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ I hate that.”

He said he also is bugged by clich%E9;s, self-aggrandizement and fear-mongering, also staples in cable news. “I mean it’s not a scary country most of the time. It’s just not,” he said.

“One of the reasons most people don’t watch a lot of cable news, except when something really dramatic happens, is because it takes itself awfully seriously. Sometimes that’s warranted. Oftentimes not,” Mr. Carlson said, talking on his cellphone while driving the New Jersey Turnpike from a “vigorous squash game” to MSNBC’s headquarters in Secaucus, N.J.

There, Mr. Carlson would spend the day talking and rehearsing with executive producer Bill Wolff and the off-camera posse the latter brought with him from the competitive talk show “I, Max” on Fox Sports Net. The “Situation” staff members who migrated from “I, Max” are senior producer Brad Como, whose credits also include ESPN’s “Around the Horn”; senior producer Willie Geist, son of “CBS Sunday Morning” humorist Bill Geist; and producer Brad Siegel.

MSNBC President Rick Kaplan, who had first hired Mr. Carlson at CNN, called the production quartet charged with shaping and launching “The Situation” “four whiz kids.”

It is the producers’ first experience in news, said Mr. Wolff, who described himself as “a bleeding heart liberal” who had preconceptions about Mr. Carlson: “I thought he was my enemy in nature.”

Instead, the tieless Mr. Wolff, 39, and Mr. Carlson, who is as addicted to his trademark bowtie as he is to the nicotine gum he has chewed constantly since quitting cigarettes several years ago, hit it off, Mr. Wolff said. Despite Mr. Carlson’s well-known leanings to the right, Mr. Wolff said he found that they had a number of friends in common, not to mention a sense of humor.

“They’re like I am, is the bottom line. They have exactly the same sensibilities I have. They’re some of the funniest people I’ve ever met,” Mr. Carlson said. “That’s something that is undervalued in general and definitely underrepresented in cable news.

Mr. Carlson’s chief contributors will be Rachel Maddow, an early-morning “Air America” host who describes herself as the first openly gay person to win a Rhodes Scholarship; and conservative radio personality and frequent MSNBC guest Jay Severin. They both will kick around topics of the day.

Like the additional guests with whom Mr. Carlson will speak one-on-one, Ms. Maddow and Mr. Severin will always be in the studio for the show, not via satellite, for conversations on topics ranging from politics to pop culture.

Mr. Tucker is most associated with political subjects. Of pop culture, he said, “It’s harder than most subjects to know what’s real and what’s not. I’m still learning to discern the significant from the ephemeral.”