Sunday mornings have always been the purview of news-oriented chat fests. Lots of pundits pontificating about the news and, even more often, politics of the day. "Pontificate" carries a negative connotation, but that's not really my intent. I watch a few of these chat fests religiously. I don't care how many cable news networks there are; it's a rare Sunday that I haven't DiVo'd to later watch The Chris Matthews Show, This Week With George Stephanopolous and, most importantly, Meet the Press. (Hey, it all starts at 10. I can't always count on waking that early, nor do I want to.)
A few years ago, AMC launched a couple movie-oriented chat-fests of their own. I've been hard on AMC in the past because ... well ... back in the day when they were American Movie Classics, showing great movies with no commercials, and now ... they're not. They do, however, strive to find some sort of identity -- one that I suppose might be called mainstream mass-interest movies and all about them. To that end arrived Sunday Morning Shootout in 2003 and The Movie Club With John Ridley in 2004. The former is still chugging along; the latter, I believe, has mercifully gone away. The only thing good about The Movie Club was, in fact, John Ridley, a fairly personable go but, more importantly, a really intelligent Hollywood writer. The show was Ridley and a few other rotating entertainment industry reporters or "insiders" reviewing new film releases. But these other commentators (on the two or three episodes I saw) were all relatively painful to watch (no one more so than Zorianna Kit, who was the "Entertainment Reporter" for KTLA in Los Angeles; a/k/a a celebrity "journalist" who has the same tone, demeanor, and "hey-guess-what-gossip-I-know" presentation of everybody who has ever worked for Entertainment Tonight, Extra, E! Entertainment Television ... you get the point.)
Sunday Morning Shootout always proved to be almost as difficult for me to watch, but I really always kind of wanted to watch it. Here is a 30 minute talk show about movies and the movie industry from two people who, personalities aside, couldn't be more qualified from a knowledge perspective to host such a show: Peter Bart (the editor of Daily Variety and a former producer and production executive at both Paramount and MGM) and Peter Guber (longtime studio executive who has run Columbia Pictures (sort of twice, later as Co-CEO of Sony) and Polygram Filmed Entertainment and producer of films like Batman and The Witches of Eastwick). Unfortunately, when it comes to hosting a talk show, personalities do come into play, and Sunday Morning Shootout has always proven why the two Peters were never meant to be successful in front of the camera.
Still, the topics and discussions and guests are often interesting, so every now and then I come back to it. this past Sunday was, I believe, the premiere of the new season, and right away I was slightly encouraged. Why? Because they finally moved the show from its previous lame-ass set in a fake cafe, replete with supposed other customers sitting and reading and drinking lattes in the background. I suppose it was meant to give the environment a more relaxed and casual atmosphere, but instead, it was always just annoying, distracting and fake.
But why in its third season can Peter and Peter still not talk naturally. Even the things they say seemingly off-the-cuff sound scripted coming out of their mouths. They put so much weird inflection on everything they say, it's just uncomfortable. their guests are always easier to listen to than either of them, regardless of what the actual substance of the conversation may be. And watching this episode this past Sunday got me thinking: why is that?
In fact, I've seen Peter Bart on other shows as a guest; I can't remember about Guber, but I'm guessing I have seen him too at some point. Have you ever noticed that almost anyone who is a guest on a talk show (I'm talking the newsey, Larry King-variety), unless he/she catches a beyond-terrible bout of camera-fright, is usually able to come across as natural, real, and hopefully interesting. It's not because they all have public speaking expertise; it's because they don't have time to perform. Rather, they're asked a question, about which maybe they've been previously clued in and thought about what they wanted to say, but the response is spontaneous. (Yes, I'm generalizing here.)
While at HBO Sports, I worked a bit for Inside the NFL and I would frequently watch them tape the studio segments. That kind of show is about half-scripted and half-improved. The bits leading in or coming out of a segment will be written and read virutally word for word, but the studio segments will be far more generalized. The hosts will get together before the taping (with the producers and director) and discuss what topics they're going to cover, who's going to bring-up/discuss what and things like that. Maybe they'll play it out. The only thing that is pretty set is the amount of time they have for the segment. When they get on set, they start taping and from there it's all simply this rehearsed improve. If somebody messes up, they usually keep going unless it's really bad to keep the conversation flowing naturally. If they run too far over or get too far off-topic, they'll stop and start over. On INFL, they'd tape a segment one, two or maybe three times with the producer deciding that there's a take, beginning to end (usually) that they can use.
My guess is most of these shows are similar, and I'd be surprised if Sunday Morning Shootout doesn't work in a virtually identical way. The problem seems to be that both Peters are simply not comfortable in the role of host or conversationalist when they're running the conversation and asking questions. The discrepancy was notable this week with the guests James Carville and writer-director Steven Zaillian, who made the new adaptation of All the King's Men opening in a couple weeks. Carville and Zaillian sat and chatted while Peter and Peter continued to perform and present, trying to instill little moments of humor and banter that just seem completely inauthentic.
Sadly, I don't think anything will ever change with these two, so I'll just be happy that they have a new set and see if I can withhold the rest of my annoyance to actually watch a show with its heart in the right place: looking at movies and the industry as art and business without focusing on the celebrity of it all.