Last week, MSNBC launched a new, early weekend morning show, Up with Chris Hayes. I was already familiar with Chris from some of his work at The Nation and had been following him on Twitter for a while, so I’ve been checking it out. I suppose the network wanted to introduce a “fresh face” to the lineup, and Hayes certainly fits that description. While he’s actually in his early 30s, to look at him you’d think they plucked him up for an internship during his third year of college.

Initially I had been wondering whether this was going to be a news anchor slot or one of their “opinion journalism” features. Since it’s so early in the morning, (two hours beginning at 7 AM on Saturdays and 8 AM on Sundays) I thought it might be the former. While I’m aware most of our usual audience doesn’t watch MSNBC, they actually have some pretty good anchors during the day such as Tamron Hall and Alex Witt. (I was sad when they dropped Contessa Brewer. I really liked her.) But it only took a few minutes of his first outing to conclude that the new show was in the style of the network’s evening slate of personalities, transplanted for the early rising crowd.

Next, I was curious to find out which of MSNBC’s patented host personality styles Chris was going to adopt. Would it be the Angry Old Populist White Dude, (eg: Schultz and O’Donnell) the Confrontational, Act Nonpartisan Even Though I Am White Dude (Matthews) or the Snarky, Smarter Than You Elite Lecturer? (Maddow) Again, it didn’t take long to determine that Chris was going for the Rachel Maddow audience, which I thought an odd choice given the time slot, because I don’t think Maddow’s viewers ever wake up that early unless they’ve run out of pot.

The format for the show is fairly basic. In the first hour, Hayes begins by hitting and opining briefly on a few of the topics of the day and introducing what will be coming up later. Then he moves on to The Big Get of the day. (The Big Gets for the first two shows were Nancy Pelosi and Rachel Maddow.) Following that he moves to a roundtable panel discussion for most of the rest of the show.

The Pelosi interview was predictable if nothing else, mostly comprised of some leading questions ranging in difficulty from softballs to Tee Ball, allowing the former Speaker to shop around whichever talking points she was pushing for the week. A condensed version of it might have gone something like this:

Hayes: So, Madam Speaker, why exactly do you think the Republicans hate America so much?
(chuckling from both)
Pelosi: Well, Chris, I wouldn’t exactly say they hate America. Just the elderly, the poor, the sick and minorities. And, of course, they want to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, home heating assistance for the poor and the entire fabric of the social contract. All of this while…
Hayes: …while they fly around with their Big Oil buddies in their corporate jets picking up bags of untraceable cash?
Pelosi: Exactly
Hayes: Ha ha ha ha ha ha
Pelosi: Ha ha ha ha ha ha
(more chuckling)

The Maddow interview on Sunday was… well, it was something to see. They covered precisely one topic (which I don’t even recall now) for about ten minutes, and then launched into a prerecorded montage of clips of each of them from previous MSNBC appearances, saying each others names, laughing, and generally trading comments about how wonderful they both were. No news, no topics… not even any location shots of them in war zones, in front of the White House or even at a Dunkin Donuts. Just a retrospective of two good time buddies, yucking it up, which went on for approximately eleven hours. (OK.. it only felt that way. It was probably more like five minutes.) On the plus side, no effort was made to hide the bias on display, as Hayes repeatedly uses the phrase “we in the liberal media” or variations on that theme. There is always something to be said for honesty.

The panel discussions were something else entirely. I’m not sure if Hayes is going for a look and feel similar to the Morning Joe crew or the This Week roundtable, but it doesn’t really resemble either. (As a side note to ABC, please please please bring back Jake Tapper. Amanpour is wrecking the brand.)

The guests included distinguished figures such as Ezra Klein, Heather McGhee and Rebecca Traister. Some “balance” to the panel was ostensibly offered by Reihan Salam, who – on the Sept. 24th show – offered up such conservative cornerstones of policy theory as handling the challenges of “undocumented workers” by raising the minimum wage to 12 dollars per hour. It’s not that the guests weren’t well spoken or that the subject matter wasn’t topical and relevant… all the elements for a decent panel discussion were present. But the overwhelming, dominating theme of each agenda item seemed to revolve around why conservative theory was not only misguided, but intentionally evil, and how best to get the progressive agenda through to thick headed Americans who might not “get it.”

I kept waiting for some of the conservative vs. liberal back and forth which frequently characterizes Scarborough’s show, or perhaps some GOP guests getting a modicum of time to make their case, but in the first three shows it hadn’t happened. But on the 9/25 show, he did open up with an interview with Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) and gave him a chance to speak. (Of course, on the question of the spending bill and disaster relief he almost immediately asked the congressman if the GOP wasn’t “welching on the deal.”) He then handed the interview off to Ezra Klein who essentially accused the Republicans of being at fault for the “shutdown mentality” surrounding these bills. This was immediately followed up by an interview with a Detroit auto workers union president where the Republican’s comments were called “disturbing.” (Among other things.)

But it was at least a bit more balance than the earlier shows had provided.

Were this show airing on any other network or in some other time slot, I might predict that it was looking at a short run. But given it’s current position, I’m not sure who or what would be waiting to jump in and fill the void. An extended marathon of Locked Up a Broad? Undercover Animal Control Officer: Reno? A replay of the Best Bra Ever infomercial?

Then again, it’s only the second week. Perhaps things will improve. Time alone will tell.

UPDATE: To be fair, Hayes did have a Tea Party member on later in the 9/25 show.

Up With Chris Hayes

Up With Chris Hayes

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