Topic [A] With Tina Brown

Magazine editors are behind-the-scenes people, rather like central bank presidents.

They should appear in public as little as possible, and, when they do, keep

their mouths shut. Anna Wintour, of Vogue, has the right idea: only

appear behind dark glasses, and preserve a mystique. Graydon Carter, of Vanity

Fair, rarely says anything in public, and when he does (remember when he

said "irony is dead" after September 11?) he would have been best

advised not to. Graydon knows this, too: he hates Toby Young’s book

about him not because of how he’s portrayed, but because he’s a central character.

A good editor never lets his personality overshadow that of his magazine. When

that happens, a good proprietor (Felix Dennis) will kick

his editor (Greg Gutfeld) out. Gutfeld had a much stronger personality than

Stuff ever did, which is obviously the wrong way round.

Consider one of the greatest editors in UK newspaper history, Harold Evans.

He ran the Sunday Times at the absolute height of its power and influence,

and it’s hard to find anyone (except Toby Young, of course) who’ll say a bad

word about him. But even though he’s very well known, he’s basically a kind

of eminence grise, writing impossibly

grand books on impossibly grand subjects.

And then… and then, consider his wife. Tina Brown is the exception to all

these rules. She loves the limelight, always has a quote for anyone who asks,

and after moving to New York, quickly became one of this city’s brightest celebrities.

She turned both Vanity Fair and the New Yorker into bibles

of buzz, which were even bigger than she was. But her third US magazine, Talk,

was her comeuppance. For a while, it was going to be called Tina, and

in most peoples’ minds, Tina it remained. It never developed much of a readership,

it was losing vast amounts of money at a time when the bubble was bursting,

and it eventually imploded in January 2002.

The lesson of Talk was essentially that Tina Brown’s name alone, plus

$3.49, will buy you tall decaf latté at Starbucks. She’s a star, to be

sure, and New Yorkers love to gossip about

her, but none of that is the kind of thing which can be monetized. A flashy

and fabulous launch party at the Statue of Liberty? That she can do. A successful

media venture whose main selling point is, um, Tina Brown? That won’t work.

But history repeats itself, and if Talk was tragedy, then Topic [A]

With Tina Brown, her new talk show on CNBC, is farce. It’s a quarterly show,

which means it appears too infrequently to build up any kind of momentum or

following. It’s done on the cheap from the CNBC studios in New Jersey, where

20-year-old production assistants chop up the interviews into incoherent concatenations

of meaningless soundbites. It’s presided over by a nervously giggling Tina,

who, having brought on her friends (Lord Black is "Conrad" to her),

sucks up to them shamelessly and then asks them silly questions in her bizarre

transatlantic accent.

The first episode featured Tina’s pet writers from the New Yorker (Simon Schama

and Malcom Gladwell – the latter dressed for a radio interview opposite

the ever-dapper Barry Diller) as well as one writer whom she’d optioned when

she was running Talk Miramax Books (Queen Noor of Jordan, who, unlike "Conrad"

and "Barry", remained ever "Your Majesty"). We also had

Howard Stringer, of Sony America, rambling on pointlessly about the Dixie Chicks.

Between the half-dozen studio guests plus Tina herself, not one of them managed

to say anything intelligent or interesting, mainly because all responses were

cut down to no more than a few seconds. The level of debate reached its apotheosis

when Gladwell was asked to describe Diller in one word, and managed to come

up with "well-dressed".

The only compelling piece of television came when Tina introduced Bill O’Reilly.

Tina brought up Fox News and its success quite a few times during the course

of the programme, and is obviously interested in whether the right-wing politics

is an integral part of that success. But her flibbertigibbet questioning only

served to reveal the huge gulf in professionalism between the two news hosts,

with O’Reilly bulldozing his way over his newest rival yet remaining infinitely

more relaxed than Tina will ever be.

Bill O’Reilly is at home on TV, in a way that, maybe, Greg Gutfeld could be

as well. He has an outsize personality, is compelling to watch, and is at ease

in the medium. Tina, on the other hand, seems flighty and lightweight, and isn’t

helped by her effusiveness over her guests. She’s so nice to them all that you

have no idea what her own opinions are – and in fact, received wisdom

in New York media circles is that she doesn’t actually have any opinions at

all. She’ll fawn over Henry Kissinger or Bill Clinton alike, and Topic [A] becomes

a mutual admiration society, with nothing to grab on to. The guests are paired

off, but not because they can strike sparks off each other, so much as to give

the editors someone else to cut to when one person speaks for more than two


Topic [A] got managed to attract

74,000 people on Wednesday night: about 3.5% of the audience for Hannity &

Colmes that same evening over on Fox. Most of those 74,000, I should imagine,

were viewers curious about what Tina might come up with: they’re not going to

stick around for the second show. But at least Tina’s not going to have to worry

about the sales assistant in the fruit shop in Pimlico telling

her that the show sucked: that’s the advantage of presenting a show that

no one watches.

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10 Responses to Topic [A] With Tina Brown

  1. I wonder what she thinks is in it for her. I’d have thought she’d be relaxed, tending her wounds, becoming older and wiser, moving into a new phase, returning with a more lowkey persona. She can’t possibly want the limelight back just as it was, can she? And if so, how could she be fooling herself into thinking that this show might help her get it? Bizarre. You’d think she’d have been shrewder about it all. But maybe her confidence has been broken. On the other hand, anyone who likes Simon Schama…

  2. Michelle says:

    Dear All,

    I think that Topic A with Tina Brown is one of the most entertaining and intelligent shows I have ever heard of. Tina Brown is not at all giggly and she DOES NOT suck up to her guests. Consider how hard it may be to try being a talk show host for the first time. If you watched the second show last night, you would see how much she’s improved and that it was one of the best shows i have ever seen. Stop TRASHING TINA BROWN!!!

  3. Isabel Nightfan says:

    Topic A, Bad?!! I think its good!!! The one with Whoopi Goldberg! Tina Brown is amazingly beautiful and smart and her show is always great to watch! I can’t WAIT to see the next one!! She si not GIGGLY. Why doesn’t everyone leave alone and for once, except that she’s great?? Anyone who is mean to Tina Brown: F*ck off!



  5. Pamela Manuel says:

    I just want to say how much I enjoy Topic A with Tina Brown. It’s so nice to have an intelligent show with intelligent guests who have interesting things to say. What a relief from all the other junk on TV. It’s nice to finally have something to look forward to seeing.

  6. Biff says:

    Tina is a narcissist whose guests have something to sell or are defined by Brown as “hot”. Topic A is perfunctory. That being said, I love her high heels and the way her legs are spread solicitously on her stilletos. I have a sneaking suspicion that what few viewers she has are leg and high heel fetishists like me who imagine all kinds of nasty things that are completely off Topic A.

  7. Trish says:

    Men don’t like her overall and women do. Probably because we women can appreciate a strong, successful woman who “takes on” political and business figures with a razor-sharp intellect and witty delivery.

    GO TINA!!! Topic A is the only reason that I interrupt my ESPN Sunday night football.

  8. Biff says:

    Gee Trish, I never knew “razor-sharp intellect and witty deliver” could be equated with “teen gossip”. Tina is about as intellectually thin and derived as they come and is only quick with the snark. If you want some females with the goods, how about Jean Kirkpatrick or Mary Boone?

  9. Rommey says:

    Why is Tina Brown still wasting the Sunday night 11:00 PM to 12:00 AM time slot at CNBC?

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