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Glenn Beck Hits TV: Has Anyone Noticed?

Have you seen the new show by Glenn Beck yet?

Let's rephrase: Do you even know who Glenn Beck is?

In debuting its latest addition to CNN Headline News' burgeoning prime time lineup, the home of Nancy Grace has opted for an uncharacteristically low-key approach. Eschewing pre-show interviews and goo-gobs of publicity, they've rolled out their slick televised vehicle for conservative talker Glenn Beck in the shadows of the media -- where only his devoted fans and Grace acolytes dare to tread.

In truth, the move makes a lot of sense. TV shows almost never come together in the first episode, and many highly-hyped efforts are ravaged by brutal reviews before they barely get out of the gate (case in point: ABC's Nightline, which was eviscerated by critics but has wound up with better ratings than the show it replaced).

So Beck's under-the-radar effort this week (the show debuted at 7 p.m. Monday) unveiled a well-crafted showcase for a guy trying hard to come off as a younger, hipper Rush Limbaugh. Thursday show opened with a jokey monologue comparing the woes of American Idol evictee Chris Daughtry to the President's poll problems; Friday's show featured diatribes about the dangers of liberal college professors.

Beck's problem may be that so many other people do this stuff better. The Daily Show has cornered the market on political/media satire, Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs gin up traditionalist moral outrage better than anyone in television and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has honed his brand of smart and snarky television to a fine knifepoint.

Whether the topic is immigration reform or a hokey pledge college students can take to resist brainwashing by liberal professors, Beck's stuff is vaguely unsatisfying -- not quite funny enough and not quite serious enough to make a dent. But seeing him in action, with open-necked shirts, pulled down ties and a regular guy attitude, I understand now why CNN brought him on as the caffienated male counterpart to Grace's super-righteous, soccer mom-scaring theatrics.

Tampa Bay area radio fans will remember Beck from his stint at local talk radio outlet WFLA-970 AM, where he developed his new school Rushbo shtick before heading to Philadelphia and national success. He weathers the transition to TV well, stumbling only a little while working his everyguy routine for a succession of mostly-male, nearly all white guests.

Beck can be an engaging presence -- his final commentary Friday was a heartfelt plea for people to call their mothers on Sunday, set against the loss of his own mother at a young age. But it still mostly adds up to another gassy showcase for starkly conservative views coated with a veneer of showbiz...just what cable TV needs.

Living With Cancer on the Radio, Impressively

Longtime blog readers might remember my posts on former Nightline executive producer Leroy Sievers, who was ousted from his job and wound up joining several charitable organizations in Africa and even helping with post-Katrina relief.

Sievers has since been diagnosed with cancer and has offered vivid, heartrending accounts of his travails on National Public Radio. Hear an early one here, and his latest one on the illogic of chemotherapy is here, beginning with the awesome line, "My doctors are trying to kill me...they're trying to destroy my body, in order to save it."

He admits secretly hating friends who have been able to go on with their lives, while he is stuck in the suffering identity of cancer patient. It's a moving window into a world most of us will never want to experince firsthand.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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