My household has split opinions on the new Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC. I think it is amazing that a national news show has a black woman with braided hair as the anchor of a national political talk show. Then again, maybe I like the show so much because Dr. Perry resembles another doctor friend of mine, sharing her same expressive face and the kind of feisty personality that makes it almost impossible for her to mask her feelings. S., who says she finds it impossible to get over the sound of Dr. Perry’s voice, seems to prefer the perspective of George Stephanopoluous, who hosts This Week on ABC, or the familiarity of the Meet The Press format .
For me, the five white guys around the table scene found week after week on more traditional political shows is unrealistic, artificial, and exclusionary, even if occasionally one or two of the chairs is filled by a woman, or someone who is from a minority group. In the aftermath of the national uproar over the Trayvon Martin killing that became a part of the national conversation last week, David Gregory of Meet The Press hosted Ben Jealous of the NAACP and NPR’s Michelle Norris at a special roundtable on race last Sunday to add a little color to the otherwise all-white panel of guests who are frequent guests on the program.
The Melissa Harris-Perry show on Saturday featured Dr. Perry having a discussion about the very same topic with an array of young male African American teenagers who were approximately the same age as the slain Florida teenager. As you can imagine, these ended up being two very different conversations. Five white guys sitting around a table debating immigration reform should be illegal in 2012. Five white guys sitting around a table arguing over women’s contraception should be aborted in 2012.
What do I like about the Melissa Harris-Perry show? The fact that they let the guests get all their soundbites out and then have to really talk to each other, something that is well suited to a two hour format. The fact that Perry has the gumption to take the abstract out of the discussion from the jump by bringing an actual service worker on to talk about service worker issues, or bringing on an all-Latino panel to talk about Latinos and the Republican Party, is such a simple idea you would think other TV producers would have thought of it by now. What really gets me to even consider sitting down for two hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning to watch Dr. Perry mix it up with politicos and professors is a realization that her sensibilities and her outlook on life as an middle aged African American professional who grew up enjoying both rap music and The Cosby Show are pretty damn close to my own, even at the points where our politics don’t mesh.
What don’t I like? Whoever the damn assistant producer is who is always fucking up the clips she tries to call up should be double fired. How do you get to mess that up more than once on a national TV show? It’s obvious that the producers are cheap as hell – getting guests from places other than NYC, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. is a must. The segments where Dr. Perry tells us what’s on her mind always seem to start out as if they are going to be subversive asides with just the right amount of acerbic wit mixed in, but more often than not, end up sounding like they have been butchered by a censor from the MSNBC executive suite who is afraid to let Dr. Perry push the envelope.
For right now, while the show is in its infancy, I am actually content to watch it just the way it is, because I have confidence that Melissa Harris Perry has the capacity to grow into her role over time.