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Ailes tries to get Bubba for talk show ... again

President Barack Obama looks on as former President

President Barack Obama looks on as former President Bill Clinton speaks in the briefing room of the White House on Dec. 10. Credit: AP

One thing about Roger Ailes: He never, ever, never gives up. He wanted Bill Clinton for an FNC  talk show after  his presidency, which your faithful Newsday correspondent wrote about; but ex-Prez Bill Clinton demurred. He knew Clinton would be a great talker because he is a great talker. But, of course, it never happened. (You can read my full column from 2000 about this very subject on the jump.) Now comes word - from Tom Junod and  Esquire, which profiled Ailes last week - that Roger has made another pass. Per Mediaite, Junod released some outtakes from his interview with Roger. Here's a good one:

“Well, I talked to him. The problem with Bill is he won’t be as good on a talk show as you’d think. Because, first of all, he never shuts up. I mean he cannot hit time cues. But I went up to Harlem, I met with him for an hour, an hour and a half, I asked him to do a special, which he’s still thinking about. I’d like to have it; I’d like to have him do a special for us. The problem with him in a talk-show mode is not that he’s not charming, good, smart, and glib. He is. But he loves to talk about policy. He’s actually a policy wonk. So if you really want eighteen minutes on ethanol, he’ll give it to you. But it won’t get ratings. So you have to be able to produce him and say, ‘Most people are not that interested in ethanol, Mr. President. What we’d like you to talk about is this.’ And if he would stick with current affairs and stick with the clock, he’d be one of the great talk-show people in the world.”

Newsday (New York) Dec. 28, 2000, Thursday ALL EDITIONS OFF CAMERA /


FIRST THINGS first: We need a name. "The Bill Clinton Show"? Nah. Too dull. "Bill Clinton: The Hour." Ponderous. (Who'd watch that?) How about something simple and clean, with just that slightest hint of friendly familiarity and excitement? The answer is obvious: "Bill!"

Yes, "Bill!" would have it all. An ex-president as star and a host with more name recognition than anyone in the world. And guests? Who wouldn't want to be on "Bill!"? No star would be too big, no subject taboo. Tom Hanks refuses to talk about his private life with Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes"? He'd have to fess up on "Bill!" Madonna bars the press at her wedding? She'd have to let in an ex-president (with camera crew in tow), wouldn't she?

OK, now that we've hyperventilated enough, let us explain. The Drudge Report reported recently that NBC had been approached about the idea of a show starring You-Now-Know-Who.

A few days later, Clinton taped an interview with Dan Rather, who asked about the report. No, Clinton said with a laugh, he is not doing a TV show. But, he added, the money is tempting, and he does have a new senator in the family to support, and . . . Well, the import of his non-denial denial was obvious. "Never" - the president seemed to be saying - "say never."

And, in fact, NBC confirmed that longtime Clinton pal Harry Thomason had dropped the idea of a Clinton show during an otherwise routine pitch meeting with network entertainment executives. It may be a measure of the true paucity of original ideas in television, or the simple and obvious fact that an ex-president has never before hosted a TV show, but suddenly, the idea of a Clinton show has (as they like to say in show biz) "currency."

Everyone in TV is talking about it. Everyone has an opinion on its style, and name, and tone. Everyone has calibrated the risks. Everyone knows how much money it could make. If Clinton is seeking free advice, he doesn't have far to look. "I'd hire him in a minute," says Roger Ailes, Fox News chief and a veteran talk show producer who has crafted the televised images of more political figures than maybe any man on the planet. About a year ago, Ailes even offered Clinton a hosting role on FNC when he left the White House.

Clinton, he says, has yet to call. Naturally, the idea of a Clinton-hosted show has already sparked some mirth. (How could it not?) One observer points out that Clinton may be intrigued because someone told him "it was a good way to meet chicks." Nevertheless, most people are taking it seriously. OK, sort of seriously. "I think he'd be terrific," says one savvy observer.

"The mechanics are not as easy as they look, but he has a natural comfort level and empathy with people, and he'd be able to have conversations . . . He's always operated in an emotional range as well as an intellectual range. "There seems to be that gut level emotion to the guy that is good on television. He can cry easily. He can laugh easily. He's got a broad range, not unlike Oprah. He can feel your pain."

Some observers say a weekly network talk show, like "Meet the Press" ("Meet the President?"), would be appropriately dignified. Clinton could hold "conversations" with world leaders such as Tony Blair. It would all be very civilized. And very low-rated. Everyone agrees that if Clinton wants to make money from this venture, syndication-a five-day-a-week "strip" show that would air in the daytime-is the way to go. If it's a hit, Clinton could erase his legal bills in an afternoon. He could launch his own production empire. Are you getting our drift here? He could be the next Oprah. "The talk show format would give him an opportunity to clearly display his great communicating skills," says Av Westin, the longtime ABC News executive and creator of "20/20," as well as author of "Best Practices for TV Journalists," recently published by the Freedom Forum. "The network would get you the biggest exposure.

Syndication gets you bigger bucks, but I think for him to do that, he would have to seriously consider not only the kind of program and his role, but also whether the public at large would find it demeaning of the presidency." Oh, yes, the risks. Did we forget to mention those? Clinton would be entering the same suspect terrain as Jerry Springer (another former politician with a colorful past, we hasten to add) and one strewn with spectacular, if forgotten, flameouts.

Remember Jesse Jackson's ill-fated talk show for Warner Bros. in the early '90s? Why should you? In the end, Clinton may wish to heed those oft-quoted and rather harsh words of Hunter S. Thompson: "The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs." My advice: Forget "Bill!," Mr. President. Politics is so much easier.

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