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Sunday, April 01, 2012

Dear Keith (again),
Posted by Jill | 5:21 AM
Last time I wrote you, I politely suggested that perhaps the trauma of losing your parents in fairly rapid succession, combined with the difficulties in building an entire progressive news network, had caused you to have a bit of a breakdown, and that perhaps it was time to seek help.

I see you didn't take my advice.

You kinow, we've been an odd little living room threesome, lo these many years...you, Mr. Brilliant, and I. We watched your show back when you were reporting on the Lewinsky mess every night, and it was clearly giving you heartburn to do it. We rejoiced on your return to MSNBC, we felt lost when you left, we rejoiced on your return, and when the news that you had scorched the earth at Current came down, we really felt it was long past time for an intervention.

So here we go again, only this time it's going to be tough love.

Do you really think you're the only person who works for others and doesn't get what you want? Do you really think you're the only person who didn't get what he was promised? Maybe you need to talk to guys working in automobile factories who had to swallow huge benefit and pension concessions just to keep their jobs. Maybe you need to talk to guys like Mr. Brilliant, who never met a network or PC problem he couldn't solve or a user whose ignorance he couldn't get through to solve that person's problem -- and now finds himself all too often being eliminated from job consideration because of his age the minute he walks through the door. Maybe you need to talk to our own Jurassicpork, who was far kinder to you yesterday than I'm going to be. He hasn't worked in three years.

The hideous irony of all this is that YOU'RE the one who's been out there for the last decade shouting from the rooftops about the plight of the people and what banks and corporations were doing to them. When there was nothing else out there, YOU were the one we relied on to get the word out, because God knows Air America Radio's revolving door of executives (who were just as bumbling as the people you're dealing with now, and indeed, more so) couldn't get their shit together to make their product work.

And you throw a tantrum over production values? You didn't realize that when you signed on with Current, you weren't getting General Electric-type funding? How could you not? Current is a startup, and contrary to what you saw in The Social Network, startups tend not to go immediately from white genius in a hoodie in a dorm room to slick, post-industrial office space in California overnight. Most startups have to build slowly, and many of them fail. Current may yet fail, and it seems you are going to do your damnedest to see that it happens, just as the lineup is starting to fill out and turn into something. You can't do market penetration until you have the talent. Air America spent a shitload of money amassing the talent (and oh, boy, did they ever amass talent) and trying to buying the market penetration at the same time, and you saw where that left them. You were the centerpiece, and you would have remained the centerpiece, but you had this idea that Current was going to start out with studios like you had at MSNBC and hi-def and all the gewgaws that come AFTER the product is built, not before.

I bring up Air America for obvious reasons, not just because some of the very people you've had subbing on your show while you've been home sulking because the lights went out on your set a couple of times and the very people who are now the brightest lights in progressive newsotainment ccame out of there. It's because something good can ultimately emerge from the smoking wreckage of failure. Rachel Maddow is the most shining example. She is so big a kahuna now that David Gregory, that Washington hack di tutti hacks can barely contain his disgust when he has to tolerate having her on his show. But everyone else whose purpose for existence ISN'T stuffing his face with cocktail weenies at Sally Quinn's parties and at Bohemian Grove loves Rachel. Even some sane conservatives who fear Teh Gay love her, like the mother-in-law of a friend of mine who has said, "I know she lives with a woman and all, but I just LOVE her." But you probably think she's a sellout now too, as you sit at home fuming. Many of us would disagree, especially on weekend mornings, when Chris Hayes spends two hours bouncing in his chair and leading a rotating panel that's so diverse and so smart that you need a nap after watching it just because of an overdose of Smart. But you probably think he's a sellout too.

It's interesting how you hear the name "Marc Maron" show up so often in the comments of blog entries about your exit from Current, perhaps because podcasting from your garage is clearly your next step in the willful immolation of your career. It's interesting because in many ways, Maron was a guy just like you -- a ferociously talented, passionate, mercurial guy who poured his energies into self-destruction. He did it with booze and drugs for years and was pretty much a dick to everyone in his industry and everyone around him, until Lizz Winstead suggested he try for the morning show gig on this new progressive radio network. The result was Morning Sedition, a show which as readers of this blog know, lives on in the hearts of the show's fans, who stuck with Maron through a thick and thin that included being fired three times and re-hired twice by AAR. You want to talk about someone who was pulled through the wringer by his corporate employers? Here's the thing, though: Maron has never once been at the top of his profession the way you've been. It's one thing to immolate a career that's the residence equivalent of a box under a bridge. It's quite another when that career is a historic mansion, beautifully furnished with priceless artifacts.

I've often had the sense, and Maron has obliquely confirmed, that WTF started out as a kind of audio suicide note -- a way for Maron to make amends to the people to whom he was awful before blowing his brains out. He's even alluded to this at times, since he was broke, newly divorced, and unemployable after his last firing from AAR. I don't think even he knows how it happened, but barely two years later, the interviewing skills he learned during a year and a half in morning drive-time radio and the same self-revelatory stuff that was always his stock in trade, have made him such a hot property that a pilot he did for a sitcom about being a neurotic Jewish guy living in a house full of cats and running a podcast has just been picked up by IFC for 2013. Now Marc Maron's challenge is how to stay funny and edgy while being successful. Maybe if you'd hired him to be the "neurotic Jewish occasional comedian" on your show instead of Richard Lewis, you might have gained some perspective.

Yes, sometimes Khal Drogo can die and Daenerys Targaryen emerges from his pyre with three newborn dragons and is ready to battle for the Iron Throne. It can happen. But in your case, I'm not optimistic. It's one thing to hit bottom and then rise when your top wasn't that high in the first place. But you've been such a pioneer of progressive news/opinion television, and so influential, and so damned IMPORTANT, that it's heartbreaking to watch you throw it all away.

A podcast in the garage was a step towards healing for Marc Maron. Maybe it can be for you too. Maybe you too have to hit bottom before you can start to climb back up. But first you have to realize that you have a problem. When the same thing happens to you over and over and over and over again, it's called a pattern, and you HAVE to start looking at your own role in it. Because in your recent broadcasting career, we have a whole bunch of variables and a constant. That constant is you. And this is going to keep happening (assuming anyone else gives you a chance, which given your determination to burn Current to the ground, is highly unlikely).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. There's help out there. FOR GOD'S SAKE, MAN, GET SOME!


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Blogger jurassicpork said...
Thanks for the mention, Jill. Uh, I think. I mean, I know I've been out of work for going on three years. But it's another thing entirely to actually read it in someone else's words.

In Mikey's article, he came not to praise or bury Olbermann but maybe to kick some dirt on him then help him brush it off. My alter ego Mikey tends to look at things from a more even-handed approach, which is more than I can say for myself, a guy who's always metaphorically reaching for a gun that isn't there.

Personally, the thing about Olbermann that always turned me off was how he met criticism on Twitter and overwhelming sense that he actually thinks he's better than anyone else. Then there are the stories that Olbermann went through eight car services and complained that the drivers smelled and actually talked to him. These stories may be apocryphal, since they're leaking out from Current. Myself, I'm frighteningly close to believing them because of how I've seen Olbermann treat people up close and personal in real time.

In a way, it's like a civilian version of what happens when MLB goes on strike: It's millionaires against billionaires and it's getting increasingly difficult if not outright impossible to dredge up any sympathy for either side. In the end, what Olbermann does, as with baseball, falls into the realm of entertainment and when they seek to take away from us even that modest and brief respite from our problems in the interests of power and money, it tends to strangle sympathy out of us.