Ladies and gentlemen--start your DVRs.
The best news talk show on television, bar none, is MSNBC's new weekend morning program Up With Chris Hayes.
The problem is that--apparently not wanting to interrupt its usual weekend lineup of shows about prison rape and the like--MSNBC has chosen to program Up at the ungodly hour of 4 AM Saturday and 5 AM Sunday morning on the West Coast and only slightly later hours in other time zones.
So particularly if you don't live in the East, unless you're a party animal who stays up really late drinking on Friday and Saturday night and your idea of "hair of the dog" is watching news, or you're a fitness freak who gets up early on Saturday and Sunday morning to work out and likes to watch some news while standing on your head in a Yoga pose, if want to check out Up you may have to Tivo it.
I recommend that you do. Watching "Up" on a weekend morning is a bit like having breakfast with some of the smartest kids in the room.
Up's format centers around a rotating group of panelists, most of whom stick around for the better part of the program's two hours--that's two 48 minute TV hours if you fast forward through the commercials like I do. (Don't tell the sponsors.) Unlike most other news talk shows--including on MSNBC--that usually break its interviews and discussions into 4-5 minute bites, this allows for the discussion to go into some real depth and to offer some iconoclastic perspectives which you'll rarely find elsewhere on TV.
While some of the panelists have been MSNBC regulars like Melissa Harris Perry and Ezra Klein, "Up" also seems to be making a serious effort to include new and unusual voices whom you might not see on elsewhere on TV. An interesting recent example was the brilliant anarcho-anthropologist David Graeber who is both one of the people who helped start #Occupy Wall Street in its earliest days and the author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years. The result was a fascinating discussion of two important subjects. The first was the nitty gritty Origins story of #Occupy Wall Street. (You can read more of Graeber's account of the Origins story of #Occupy Wall Street here, although I don't agree with all of Graeber's anarcho-tinged perspective that process should indefinitely trump politics in the emerging movement.) The second was a discussion of the debt crisis that you're unlikely to find anywhere else. According to Graeber's research, humans have used elaborate systems of credit for buying and selling goods since the earliest agrarian societies 5,000 years ago and thus, society has always been divided into debtors and creditors. Since before the Bible, whenever debt got out of control, societies have debated rules about debt forgiveness. It puts a unique spin on current discussions about what to do about today's debt problems.
Most of Up's panelists tilt towards the left; in fact Chris Hayes may be the closest thing to a movement progressive among TV hosts. But Hayes also manages to recruit some really smart conservatives for his panels whom--unlike the right-wing ladies in red dresses like Ann Coulter and her progeny and glib, bombastic conservative men like P.J. O'Rourke whom Bill Maher uses to spice up his panels--actually engage in constructive dialogue with liberals, and whose ideas are sometimes among the most interesting on the show, particularly those from the anti-interventionist right who sometimes end up to the left of some liberal Democrats on foreign policy. It's the kind of sophisticated political talk that the panel discussions on "Meet the Press" and "This Week" are suppossed to provide but rarely do.
The show is also often quite funny. Chris has a wicked wit and he encourages the wit of his guests, even including on his panels comics like John Fugelsang of America's Funniest Home Videos fame. So while Real Time with Bill Maher is a comedy show that sometimes turns deadly serious, Up is a news show that's sometimes turns wickedly funny. Either way, with the news so often grim, it's good to leaven it with a little laughter.
So get up early this weekend or set your DVRs and check out "Up".