Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly recently brayed that if the government raised his taxes, he might seriously consider giving up his show. Though a few days later, Jon Stewart quickly got him to abandon that assertion. I hate Jon Stewart. He says everything I want to say, but before me, and better. “You’re hurting America”? – the three-word accusation Stewart lodged against the hatred and divisiveness promoted by the cable news outlets? – case closed! Though it doesn’t stop me from elaborating. To, deservedly, little effect.
Here’s the truth about that matter, or, as the above title hyperbolically proclaims – “What It’s Really, Deep Down, All About.” There is no chance in hell that, if they raised his taxes, Bill O’Reilly would ever walk away his cable news show. Why?
Because he doesn’t do it for the money.
Sure, money – in gargantuan amounts – is a highly agreeable bi-product of the enterprise. But money is not O’Reilly’s primary motive for doing the show.
What is it really deep down all about?
It’s about being on television.
Trust me on this. O’Reilly would do his show for nothing, or, at least, considerably less, so don’t worry about bumping up his taxes.
Why would he do his show for nothing? Because, minus the show he hosts, Bill O’Reilly is a middle-aged potato head (and I don’t mean he’s Irish, his head is shaped like a potato) who. in the grand scheme of things, means absolutely nothing to anybody. And by “anybody”, I mean the general public. I exclude his immediate family. I imagine he means something to them.
Cable commentators rapturously relish what they do. Check out the on-air demeanors of Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity, to name just two, but to a certain degree, it applies to all of them. You can almost see them smacking their lips, fully aware of how incredibly lucky they are.
“Can you believe what they’re letting me do here? I can say anything I want. (As long as it’s colorful and extreme.) I mean, look at me! I’m famous, I have this reverberating platform, and I’m rich. Is this a great country, or what?”
Of course – and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t complete the whole picture – there is also the other side of the coin. For these very fortunate opinion-spewers, being on television is everything. The show they headline totally defines who they are, to the world, but more importantly, to themselves.
Take away the show, and suddenly, you’re a body that no longer casts a shadow. You look in the mirror, and nothing comes back. The people on television would do anything to keep that “disappearing act” from happening, because they are painfully aware that when they leave television, they are, not literally, but one belt-hole before literally,
How do I know that? Remember David Hartman? You don’t? That’s how I know that.
After a successful acting career, David Hartman co-hosted ABC’s Good Morning America. For nine years. Nine. Years. At that point, Hartman departed the show
And walked into oblivion.
Hartman fronted documentaries on PBS and The History Channel – which, from a high profile television perspective mean the “stations that don’t count” channels. Beyond that, he was the guy that you spot at the supermarket that you know from somewhere but you’re not exactly sure where.
These, as Jimmy Durante once remarked, are the “conditions that prevails.” You cannot leave the show. Because
When you leave the show,
And this steep and scary slide is hardly just for commentators. David Letterman can’t let go.
It’s pathetic. I mean, look at him. The man cannot say goodbye. Ever. Someday there’ll be a sarcastic skeleton up there, cracking Sarah Palin jokes, a skeletal Paul Shaffer egging him on.
David Letterman cannot leave the stage. He is stranded out there till he dies. And he knows it. His face says it all.
“I do not want to be here, but I do not want to be not here even more.”
It’s like some lost episode of The Twilight Zone. A man struggles his whole life to get a late-night television show, and once he achieves his heart’s desire, he is fated to stand there under the hot lights, doomed to continue doing his act
After “having your own show” – especially for an extended period of time – everything else is precipitously downhill. Where is Letterman going to go? What is he going to do, sit at home, throwing rancid potshots at his cat?
"You know, my cat is so lazy, the other day, he was taking a nap, enjoying a much-needed break from doing nothing. And all of a sudden, this mouse comes scurrying by; he scampers across the floor right past him. My cat looks up and thinks, 'I'm going to pretend that didn't happen.' And he goes right back to his nap. I tell ya, that is one lazy cat."
Who’s going to laugh at that? The drapes?
This situation, however, is even worse with news commentators, because, essentially, cable news personalities have no discernible talent. They can’t sing. They’re not funny. They are not particularly telegenic. Their perspectives, crafted to distort reality for partisan arousal, are really all they have to offer. Strip away the hype and the graphics, and that’s all it is: People, trumpeting their opinions.
As Bill O’Reilly (and his breed) will inevitably discover, when you don’t have a show anymore,
Nobody cares about anything you have to say
That’s they cling so desperately to the show. For how great it makes them feel while they’re doing it. And to avoid the big crash when it’s gone.