The Situation With Tucker Carlson: The Thrills! The Chills! The Debut!

Certainly you didn't think we'd let the most anticipated television debut since Nanny 911 go unnoticed, did you? Of course not, and so it is with much joy that Henry the Intern returned to his familiar position in front of the television to review MSNBC latest attempt at bursting the Fox News bubble, The Situation with Tucker Carlson. After the jump, Henry reports on Carlson's bowtie-defending debut, complete with back Jacko puns, bad cable news graphics, and chocolate bikinis.

Viewing the restless Jackson coverage since 3:00 Eastern may not have been the best preparation for watching the debut of "The Situation with Tucker Carlson," but neither was reading the show's press clips. This show was supposed to be different. Instead, "The Situation" was a friendly, though inevitably dispensable, mix of "Crossfire" and "Countdown," complete with animation of a boxing match.

First, let it be noted that Tucker says in the show's introduction, "Not everyone likes the bow tie, but I like the bow tie." He proudly wore a small purple bow tie last night.

The concept of the show is to zip through an analysis of twenty or so topics. Intelligent topics such as: Was the acquittal a surprise? Will Jackson ever recover? Why do celebrities always walk? Who are the fans? Did race play a role? Does fame motivate Jackson? Is Jackson the Oscar Wilde of our time? What are the prospects for a military draft? Is college necessary? Can male employees be force-fed porn? What should highway speed limits be? Is the Jackson verdict shocking? Can the government use the behavior of toddlers to predict pre-dispositions for violence?

Most of these questions are posed to Jay Severin, a "top-rated radio host in New England," and Rachel Maddow, of Air America, and top-rated in "all of my heart," said Tucker. It's so friendly that the conversation may well have been staged at Starbucks. The format allows for a few quips from each player under a twenty-second countdown before Tucker says, "Our next situation. . ." Sample quips: "We still need [Jackson] to beat up on" and "If you're a man claiming sexual harassment, you better have a pretty good story." Or, for example, Tucker said: "I'd rather live to 75 than 78 and get home to see my kids." He also said working or interning is preferable to hanging around college getting drunk.

The show was spitting puns from the get-go: "The King of Pop beats it. . . Will he continue to march to his own tune?. . . Tonight, a real courtroom thriller." Tucker said, "I can picture him sitting in his den with a large glass of Jesus juice." That's good for a newbie: "This is the first time I've talked about [Jackson] in public."

As for the graphics, programs with countdown clocks ticking off the seconds of point-counterpoint discussions do not last. And with a constant sidebar previewing the next topics, we now have reason to change the channel. These were actual subject lines: Oscar; verdict; the draft; dropout; porn suit; speed; park lady; shock; baby bully; toast; Aguilera; nude bits; v.i.p. digits. That's about as tempting as "Pyramid with Donny Osmond."

"The Situation" has other gimmicks. In "Op-Ed Op-Ed," Tucker portends to be a blogger: We "scour" and "discuss the best columns we find." In another, Tucker invites a debater from "outside the cable news world who disagrees with me." Quite O'Reilly-esque. Tucker responds like, "There is no case to be made here" and "I feel, as I often do, that I must be living in a separate country."

The high point was Tucker's brief conversation with Reverend Al Sharpton, or as Tucker said, "a long-time friend of Michael Jackson and of mine." Sharpton was understandably offended: "Even tonight in this situation, pun intended. . . we're still talking about Jesus juice." Tucker asked, "What would a jury of Michael Jackson's peers look like?" Sharpton replied, "What would a jury of Paris Hilton's peers look like?" Tucker shifted, "Obviously O.J. was guilty. . . let's talk about the future. Does Michael have one?" Does this program? Oh, wait, not enough time. "We're always out of time," said Tucker. It would be exponentially more enjoyable to have "Carlson & Sharpton" opposite "Hannity & Colmes."

Like every other show on cable news, "The Situation" ends with light fare: naked bikers protesting ("They wouldn't be on our show if they had their clothes on"); chocolate bikinis; sheep shearing ("feelin' sheepish?"); a piece of toast that predicted the Jackson verdict; and a clip of "Genie in a Bottle" to illustrate torture at Gitmo ("Too 'dirrty' for terrorists?").

Concluded Tucker, "That's the situation, see you tomorrow night." Not me, Tucker, but good luck besting Deborah Norville's ratings.