Getting 'Bold & Fresh' With Beck & O'Reilly, & Keeping Current, in Pasadena
Yesterday afternoon I fought rush-hour-style traffic -- on a Saturday, fer cripes' sake! -- to get from West L.A. to Pasadena to see the "Bold & Fresh Tour 2010."
If you're not familiar with this event, it features Fox News Channel established commentator Bill O'Reilly ( "The O'Reilly Factor") -- whose memoir, "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity" gives the tour its title -- and rising star Glenn Beck, whose 5 pm. ET show, "Glenn Beck," has been on about a year and has proven a ratings powerhouse, at times nearly rivaling the numbers for O'Reilly's 8 p.m. ET broadcast.
While O'Reilly is keeping his audience in primetime, it's obvious that Beck is on the rise. Since O'Reilly has long been FNC's tentpole personality, Beck has come to call, making regular appearances on "The O'Reilly Factor" (I'm double-checking on this, but I don't believe O'Reilly has yet returned the favor, at least not on a regular basis).
Anyway, rather than having this turn into a cable-news "All About Eve," somebody -- I'm not sure who, but I wouldn't be shocked to hear it was FNC honcho Roger Ailes -- decided that the two should team up and go on the road.
As you see in the picture above, performances have also been rebroadcast in movie theaters.
(Just a side note, I wonder what FNC middle child Sean Hannity ("Hannity") thinks about all this. He does his own successful stage tours, but even so ...)
I showed up for the 4 p.m. show at the lovely Pasadena Civic Auditorium. I've heard of protests at other shows on the tour, but I didn't see or hear any. The crowd was capacity, generally jovial and definitely there to cheer on their favorites. And I do believe I saw Ann-Margret at the ticket booth, and I must say, she looked fabulous.
Inside, I saw one yellow Gadsden-flag "Don't Tread on Me" t-shirt and some red-white-and-blue apparel, but there was also a smattering of well-dressed folks (some of whom I heard discussing going out to dinner in Pasadena after the show, a good choice, as the town has many excellent eateries).
In truth, the whole affair reminded me of nothing so much as panel discussions I have attended at science-fiction conventions. The crowd was knowledgeable about the speakers' work and history, eager to hear familiar talking points, hip to the lingo, and generous with applause and occasional shout-outs, and one even brought a sign ("Glenn Beck for Truth Czar").
I've always thought that if you get a thorough understanding of one kind of fandom, you'll get a general understanding of all fandom. Of course, the topics discussed at your average SF panel don't have to do with the future of the the nation (unless you count the United Federation of Planets or, now, Pandora), but the basic principles remain the same. Fans are fans.
As for the show, the staging was dead simple, just a painted stage-door backdrop, a lectern or chairs. Beck talked first, then O'Reilly talked, then, after a break, they came out together -- and Beck talked some more.
Beck is a consummate showman, likely a result of many years spent in rock and talk radio. He has several funny voices -- from a snooty Ivy League drawl, with pipe clenched firmly in teeth, to high-pitched squeals for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (whom, he surmises, has had so much plastic surgery that it now hurts to blink ... "ow, ow, ow, ow" ... and so on).
His persona is like that of an Old Testament prophet (albeit a chubby one that giggles, tears up and wears sneakers without laces), not so much predicting the future as warning of the bad consequences of past and present actions.
He's an enthusiastic autodidact whose main area of study these days centers on the ideas and perils of early 20th-century progressivism and its proponents, from historical ones like Teddy Roosevelt (whom Beck doesn't seem to like very much) and Woodrow Wilson (whom Beck likes not at all), right up to modern acolytes, among which he numbers John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
His talk started on the current financial crisis in California and Democrat domination of local politics, including a line about how being a conservative in L.A. is like being at a perpetual AA meeting, where you occasionally are surprised to run into folks you didn't know were like you (appropriate, since Beck is also a very public recovering alcoholic).
(BTW, if you've ever read Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism," a lot of Beck's stuff will sound familiar. Just a plug there for another Tribune Media Services writer.)
He then segued into the threats featuring the nation at large, from debt levels to taxation to national security. Was he funny? Despite the subject matter, very.
Was he scary? No.
Were the things he said scary? Well, if you agree wholeheartedly with him, yes. If you don't and worry that his views are are reaching millions of viewers a day, yes. At this point, I'm not too certain there are many Beck agnostics among those familiar with his show -- and I sure don't think there were any in this crowd.
Then out came O'Reilly, who's really, really tall. Unlike the casually dressed Beck, O'Reilly sported a blue jacket, tan pants and a tie. He doesn't do funny voices (unless you count occasional singing), but he does tell a good joke and an engaging story.
In my experience, O'Reilly has two major modes -- dominant attack and reasonable assertive. He had reasonable assertive on this night, playing the wise old sage, full of faith in "the folks," in contrast to Beck's apocalyptic message.
It may be my imagination, but it seems that in the age of Beck, O'Reilly has been working on re-establishing his independent bona fides, casting himself as an experienced observer keeping a wary eye on both sides of the aisle. He's holding his audience, so the strategy seems to be working.
Beck also attacks on both sides of the aisle (any Schwarzenegger fans in the crowd couldn't have been thrilled), but he's a strong libertarian and pushes hard for his ideology.
When the two came together, the contrast -- whether actual or manufactured or some combination of the two -- became clear.
Beck tries to convince O'Reilly that the world is going to hell in a handbasket unless Americans wake up and do something (like meet him on Aug. 28 for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial).
O'Reilly says he believes in the reasonableness of the folks, that the country won't fall off the edge, that we don't need to collect food and gold (like Beck, he says), and that the process will eventually right itself.
It's sort of like watching your cranky, opinionated uncle square off against a pudgy combination of Cassandra and Robin Williams.
There was at teeny bit of rushing of the stage at the end, but the principals exited quickly, as they had a second show at 8 p.m.
Outside afterward, I saw, again, no evidence of protest and only one news crew -- from, of al l places, Current TV, which counts Al Gore among its founders. I haven't seen the edited version of the report, but the interviewer (seen at right) did seem to go out of his way to encourage and agree with the interviewees and with the crowd, urging them to chant "USA USA."
I don't know whether he was truly a partisan or just hoping to get some good video. Any of you who catch the clip on Current, feel free to drop the URL in the comments.
All in all, an enjoyable night of political theater. I don't know if CNN or MSNBC are considering pairing up any of their personalities and sending them on the road. Again, if you have ideas for future match-ups, please share.