Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lonesome Rhodes' Mike Left Open

The confirmation today that the man who can't tell the difference between a socialist, a fascist, and an altruist is leaving his daily show on Fixed News, is a great moment for the collective intelligence of American discourse.

But it may only be a moment.

All the pre-breakup rumblings between Glenn "Lonesome Rhodes" Beck and Fox News indicated that Beck had some kind of dream of an All-Beck TV Enterprise. The model was a hybrid of the original Howard Stern radio premise (gone, but not forgotten: the additional channel devoted to covering only news about Howard – the reporters even had matching blazers and did Howard Newscasts) and the Oprah Winfrey premise, mixed in with a little megalomania.

The key premise is: you are going to take a program people may enjoy to the point of developing blisters on their forehead from their Beck-induced fever, and charge them more for it. This works only very, very rarely.

I know this route well (except the megalomania part). I considered it, briefly. As even Oprah has shown, it is a dicey path in which the "talent" may be guaranteed nearly all the profits, but is definitely guaranteed all the risk. It is hard to envision any television personality in this country being the only thing on his/her network, or even producing a network in which the other shows would succeed based merely on his 'Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval' – and I rejected the premise after about three minutes of letting the image of Alert Uniformed Olbermann Network Personnel run away with my not inconsiderable ego.

Still, the wording of Beck's television suicide note leaves plenty of room for some sort of daily television presence (to say nothing of the kind of big-scale Beckaganzas for Fox that would permit him to delve into those important issues, like how socialist the murals nobody ever looks at in Rockefeller Center are). But clearly he is not doing what I am doing – moving myself, my show, and my very loyal base (An Aside: Good Day to You All!) from one network to another. This can be perilous enough, but ultimately all I am asking about 2/3 of the past crowd to do is learn a new number on their remotes and DVR's.

That by itself might be a daunting task for loyal followers of Beck on television. But to ask them now to pay an additional premium? Beck has come to be a kind of touchstone for the Tea Party crowd and this is the wrong time to ask the Tea Party — or as I have begun to enjoy calling them — "The I'm Not Going To Pay A Lot For That Muffler Party" — to pony up some extra green. They expect something for nothing, or at least something for nothing more, not the same thing with an additional price tag.

It has been clear for some time that Beck's audience does not necessarily entirely overlap with that of Fox News. The advertising tells that story (a hat tip to Twitter's @StopBeck right here), and the fact that actual rumors of dissatisfaction elsewhere in that company actually wafted out through the otherwise airtight Berlin Wall that Roger Ailes has built around his employees, should have indicated that a divorce was inevitable. Beck's relationship with Fox as symbiotic and strained, but it was probably of greater value to Beck than it was to Fox. He may have produced astonishingly high ratings for 5 O'Clock in the afternoon, but with the low-end sponsors that did not necessarily mean astonishingly high profits.

More over, Glenn Beck did not build Fox News and nowhere in the early coverage of his departure is there seemingly the slightest suggestion that the well-oiled Murdochian Perpetual Motion Propaganda Machine will miss his daily presence. There are a couple of true believers with whom they could replace him; more likely they will simply reach into that inexhaustible supply of those so desperate to remain on television that they'll say anything (see Megyn Kelly, Stuart Varney, Steve Doocy), and fill up the hour quickly.

Ultimately how ever Beck winds up positioning his new television venture he has bought himself a new problem that was his old problem back in the days when he struggled along with mediocre ratings at CNN Headline News.

Whatever show(s) he does, whatever Beckian Stamp Of Batcrap Crazy Nonsense he produces, whatever he sells for $19.95 a pop, whatever hour is the 60 minutes of Revelation – whatever The Plan is – he's got a big problem now.

It'll be on against Fox News.