Last night was quite the night for talk shows, what with Bruce Springsteen on The Daily Show and Barack Obama on The Tonight Show. It reminded me how much I love being on TV, something I haven't done lately. I've been everywhere - on CNN and MTV and PBS, and also on lots and lots of talk shows, national and local, daytime and nighttime. Some hardly seemed worth the trouble (a morning show in Baltimore comes to mind) and others definitely were (Oprah, the Holy Grail of talk shows).
This was over the course of several interesting and occasionally provocative jobs, and because I look good on camera, speak with reasonable intelligence and am not shy about expressing my opinions, success begat success (working with smart PR people didn't hurt). And the multi-guest panel of daytime shows was the perfect format for me - producers always encourage guests to "jump in," and as anyone who's ever had a conversation with me can attest, that's never a problem.
Of course, some hosts are better than others, even (and perhaps especially) when they're with those they most admire. Jon Stewart is a masterful interviewer, and with Bruuuuce he was at his very best: honest about being a fanboy, funny, and getting to the heart of who his guest is. It didn't hurt that the Boss, whose TV appearances are few and far between, was also funny, and charming, and sincere - and looked great.
Jay Leno, on the other hand, seemed a bit intimidated (who wouldn't?), and the President (whom I think of as "Barack" because he writes to me so often, addressing me by first name), while of course displaying his own intelligence and charm, seemed slightly ill at ease, and his body language, in which his legs pointed one way and his torso another, was a tad off.
My favorite hosts of those who've interviewed me? Phil Donahue tops the list. Joan Rivers was surprisingly warm and perceptive. Matt Lauer had a nice twinkle.
And Oprah? Terrific on the show and great to talk to, and of course I'd love to be her guest again. But all that empathy and connectedness? As soon as the cameras go off, it does too. Which is not a knock; no one can be "on" all the time. But it did leave me feeling like she somehow didn't mean it. Which, having had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Springsteen, is not how he is - he always seems to mean it.