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Dissecting Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC Show (What’s Gone Wrong?)

Dissecting Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC Show (What's Gone Wrong?)

Like all of you, I was very happy when it was announced that Tulane professor, writer, social and cultural critic and media pundit Melissa Harris-Perry, after paying her dues and showing she’s got the right stuff with her regular appearances on MSNBC (even acting as a substitute host on several shows), was getting her own morning weekend show on the network. Here was a smart, intelligent (and let’s be honest, very cute) sister getting a chance to dazzle everyone with her knowledge and intelligence, joining Tamron Hall’s daily afternoon show on the network.

And I have been faithfully watching her show every weekend. But I can’t lie when I say that I’ve been disappointed so far by what I’ve seen. Not that the show is bad or unwatchable, and that it won’t improve and get better as it goes along; Still I must confess that I find it a chore to get through.

I don’t understand it. When she was on MSNBC as a pundit giving her views, she was charismatic, sharp and very telegenic. She instinctively knew how to play to the camera. But now, with two hours to fill on Saturday and Sunday mornings, I find her… well… dull.

Odd thing that; so what happened? From what I’ve seen so far, the show has four big problems:

MSNBC OR BET? – The show suffers at times from odd, awkward shifts in tone as if it can’t make up its mind what it wants to be. True, there are some shows can do that. Tamron Hall’s MSNBC program is a good example of a show that can do that. Switching from hard news to show biz gossip very smoothly. MH-P can’t.

There was that very clumsy bit a few weeks ago when at the end of the show, after dealing with heavy issues for two hours, MH-P literally let down her hair, revealed what a hard core “stan” of Beyonce she was, begged her to come on the show and started dancing as they faded to a commercial break..Yeah, I can hear you saying. She was trying to lighten the mood, but it came off as desperate and embarassing.

Then there was that eyebrow raising, lengthly segment two weeks on which she and her guests dicsussed the importantance of Nortorious B.I.G. (One of guests said he didn’t know what a metaphor was until he started listening to B.I.G. Guess he doesn’t read much). I’m sure that that might thave impressed some black folks into thinking: “Wow she’s not the stuck up bougie that we thought she was, but a real down sister”  But sorry. You want to have a discussion about B.I.G. go right ahead. But not in the middle of a serious news dissucssion show between segments on the GOP’s War on Women and Afghanistan. And if that make me a “stuck up bougie” in your eyes, that’s quite all right with me. I can still sleep nights.

I get the feeling that her prodcucers are telling her to “black it up” on the show and show people that she’s “with it” to get younger viewers.

IS THIS A CLASSROOM OR TV? – I find it fascinating that on her show she’s become somewhat stiff on camera, when she was previously much more lively as a guest on other MSNBC shows. Take for example the opening intoduction of her show. Other MSNBC shows like Martin Bashir’s or Lawrence O’Donnell’s alway start off with some smart ass funny one-liners and a cleverly edited montage of video clips of events of the day. MH-P starts off her show listing off topics to be discussed, as if she talking to a classroom full of students. She knows the game. Get animated, agreessive, in your face. This is TV, not Sociology 101 for Christ’s sake! Even though it’s a news show, it’s still entertainment.

DULL TOPICS – Well actually you can take any topic and make it interesting if you know how to do it. But too many times MH-P takes dull topics and makes them duller. Too much discussion of the minutia of certain topics which wear down the viewers with tedious facts and figures. Yes I know she’s a professor, but that doesn’t mean she has to be professorial. Getting back to my previous point – it’s TV, not a classroom.

DULL GUESTS –  This relates to my previous point about dealing with any topic as long as you make it interesting. But not only are the topics dull on MH-P’s show, she constantly makes it worse by getting dull guests to talk about them. Yes, they’re intelligent and very knowledgeable, but most of them have no snap or pizazz. They don’t know how to play to the TV camera. The reason you tend to see the same pundits over and over again on shows is because they know how to play to television. No matter if you agree or disagree with them, they’re interesting, opinionated, energetic and know how to shape and phrase ideas and facts into quotable sound bites. Like I said before, even if it’s a news show, it’s still entertainment.

For example, yesterday on her show MH-P discussed the influence and impact of radio talk shows with some real talk show hosts. A very solid topic in light of all the recent controversy involving the Grand Kleagle of the KKK, aka Rush Limbaugh. However when you consider all the radio talk show hosts that are out there, she had three of the dullest talk shows hosts I’ve ever seen on her show. They all faded into the background and none of them said anything that was even remotely interesting or memorable. 

So as I said, the show is not terrible and there’s plently of room (though I’m not sure about plenty of time) to make the show better. And I don’t want the show to go away because it is important and valuable. And besides we sure don’t need another athletes’ wives reaity show on the air do we?

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