July 29, 2010

Sitting President Makes TV History

Today, President Barack Obama is scheduled to appear in the daytime talk-show, The View. Although pre-taped yesterday, for the first time in television history, a sitting US President will be interviewed in a program genre, which in journalism circles is considered as lightweight, and in a time period decidedly not prime. The View is seen in the morning in most parts of the United States and Canada.

The operative word here is daytime. President Obama was also the first sitting president to appear in a late-night talk show – The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

In 1992 presidential candidate Bill Clinton played the saxophone in the now defunct late-night The Arsenio Hall Show. Much political, not musical, accolade has been attributed to this performance by the pundits who considered the gig turning the race towards Clinton's favor. It was also a tactical demographic move since late-night programming attracts the 18-49 age group - a good number of whom statistically do not vote, and a good number of whom non-statistically can be swayed in their opinion and votes – especially by a boyish-looking man wearing dark sunglasses fingering the sax. And it does not hurt either to be running against two much more mature men, the senior George Bush and the squeaky Ross Perot.

And now The View. Yes The View, a television show targeting women - moms and wives –who are generally at home after sending off their kids and husbands.

With four sometimes five female hosts, The View's banter has moved from household fodder to news feed itself. Today, all five are expected, one of whom is a comedian, two are actress/comedians, one a survivor of the TV show Survivor: The Australian Outback, and of course the only legit journalist in the group, a media doyenne, Barbara Walters. Obama’s appearance is so remarkable Ms. Walters is taking time out of her recuperation from a heart surgery to be in the show.

We wonder – will the President be sitting in the center of the show’s desk or will he be in the couch set? How long will the interview be? Will it be the longest in The View’s history? Will Ms. Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the Survivor, who has been unwaveringly vocal and vociferous in her anti-Obama cries be circumspect in her questions? What sort of personal questions will arise? Will the audience be allowed to ask the President?

Obama is setting new bars when it comes to accessibility of the American leadership. Will this guest appearance drag the dignity of the presidential office as has been echoed before with The Tonight Show? We now know it didn't. Do we need to change the way we look at Presidential and First Family behavior the way America had to accept the Kennedy family's open informality after the private Eisenhower years?

Hopefully, Obama will not cameo in a soap opera. But who knows, Presidential candidate Richard Nixon in 1968 appeared for three seconds in the comedy show Laugh-In, and this brief TV exposure supposedly helped improved his image.

However for most loyal viewers of The View, it is not really the President’s presence in itself that is exciting but rather the composure of the Commander-in-Chief’s Republican nemesis, Ms. Hasselbeck, who has been vocal and vociferous of any policy with the Obama tag.

Now this is what we call a TV ratings jackpot – the potential of a good drama. Wait, did I just said drama and not talk-show? Obama might just be in a soap opera for all we know.

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