Zakaria Coming to CNN: Grab ‘em by the lapels!

According to the Associated Press, the ubiquitous Fareed Zakaria is going to be getting his own show on CNN, to be called “Fareed Zakaria — GPS,” where “GPS” stands for “global public square,” not “global positioning system”. Reading the news reports on the coming show, my biggest concern is that people simply won’t be interested enough to watch:

“Fareed Zakaria — GPS,” which stands for “global public square,” will air Sundays at 1 p.m. EDT and be rebroadcast at a yet-to-be determined time on CNN International.

CNN U.S. chief Jonathan Klein approached Zakaria about a year ago and was told that “the only show I want to do is one that fills in the huge gaping hole in American television, which is 95 percent of the rest of the world,” Zakaria said in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday.

[Zakaria] said he’s frustrated when he turns on American news networks to hear endless discussions about why Hillary Clinton should or shouldn’t leave the presidential race, because there is legitimate news elsewhere. He fears a vicious circle is at work: Networks don’t show much international news because they fear viewers aren’t interested, and viewers aren’t interested because they get so little of it. (link)

The problem with taking this approach is, of course, that it’s a little like saying to viewers, “take your medicine, pay attention to serious international news, not this fluffy campaign nonsense.” American viewers are used to a diet of tabloid-style cable news that is obsessively America-centric; indeed, they prefer it. On TV, once you leave the protected space of PBS, entertainment has to be part of the package. to his credit, it appears Zakaria isn’t completely unaware of this, but listening to his comments I’m not sure he really gets it:

Zakaria also said he understands the need to make a compelling program that won’t seem like the college seminar you tried to skip. “People instinctively think they’re going to be bored by this and you have to grab them by the lapels,” he said. (link)

The problem with this, of course, is that people watching his show are not going to be wearing lapels — because they’re not wearing suits! Indeed, on Sundays at 1pm, they’re wearing old t-shirts while in the middle of doing laundry, flipping channels to avoid having to vacuum (sorry, TMI). If Zakaria and the producers of the show don’t quite get that, I’m not quite sure how the show will work.

26 thoughts on “Zakaria Coming to CNN: Grab ‘em by the lapels!

  1. I just picked up his latest book…it’s a great read so far. By the way, his book is second on the NY times list. Add the fact that he’s the editor of Newsweek, and now having this show, he must be loaded.

  2. I am not as sure about Zakaria taking on international issues in itself. So far from what I have read of Zakaria, his approach/area of interest is one of America and the world and peppered with some understanding of SE Asia and to an extent the Islamic world. Unless of course if that is exactly what the show is shooting for – how a certain issue affects America. In that sense, and making room for the fact that everything affects everyone in todays world, an issue of Somalia wont be as much his territory apart from the part about how America can take on this issue. Unless Zakaria expands his focus/approach. Let’s see how this works out.

  3. Don’t forget Fareed Zakaria is a frequent guest on The Daily Show. He is familiar enough to that crowd, and those on the liberal blogs. He’ll have enough of an initial interested audience. He needs to make sure he can keep their attention by offering a wide variety of news items. I watch BBCA for its world news at the moment to keep up … somewhat.

  4. It had better be more interesting than the PBS show, which was a major snooze fest.

  5. It had better be more interesting than the PBS show, which was a major snooze fest.

    No joke – and since Daljit Dhaliwal took over Foreign Exchange, it seems they are aiming for a straight-up coma.

  6. I used to watch ForEx when Fareed used to host and it was always nice to hear from powerbrokers all over the world. The music in between segments was nice too but it was buried in a dead zone even for Pbs, who isn’t napping sunday afternoon? I don’t see how his new show will work that too in this election yr. The public doesn’t seem to know or even care about “Foreign countries” that are not named Iraq. .

  7. So far from what I have read of Zakaria, his approach/area of interest is one of America and the world and peppered with some understanding of SE Asia and to an extent the Islamic world

    He did show some interest in other areas of the world as well in his foreign exchange show.

  8. It’s going to be a tough choice for me on Sundays at 1 p.m. in the fall: I could watch the NFL or GPS.

    I think I’m going to change my handle to “Zakaria Fan During Commercials.”

  9. I can’t wait for the day the all-knowing Amardeep Singh will have his own show.

  10. While growing up in India, I used to love watching ‘The world this week’ hosted by prannoy roy. He had raised the bar very high and I am yet to come across such a good news program in India or in US. Global news in all the cable news usually suck. I remember that all news CNN-international broadcast in India used to be mostly about US (including long hours about US president’s workout regimen!). Hope FZ rises above the rest and does a great job.

  11. Prannoy Roy’s program had a decidedly anti-US bias (like the publications of the Hindu group), and a preening moralistic tone, hardly the best news program ever in my opinion.

  12. It’s going to be a tough choice for me on Sundays at 1 p.m. in the fall: I could watch the NFL or GPS.

    Or you could work hard, save and invest in a TiVo or DVR ;)

  13. 11 · Yogi said

    Prannoy Roy’s program had a decidedly anti-US bias (like the publications of the Hindu group), and a preening moralistic tone, hardly the best news program ever in my opinion.

    Don’t remember that at all. I just remember that it was news from all over the world.

  14. Prannoy Roy’s program had a decidedly anti-US bias (like the publications of the Hindu group), and a preening moralistic tone, hardly the best news program ever in my opinion.

    That show is from the time when relations between India and US were quite strained, maybe it was just the reflection of the times and opinion. It was a pretty good show otherwise, with production values far better than anything on desi TV.

  15. 13 and # 14

    Yes I agree discounting the idealogical bias “The World this Week” was much better than anything that Doordarshan put out, but you have to admit that’s pretty low bar to overcome

  16. 15 · Yogi said

    #13 and # 14 Yes I agree discounting the idealogical bias “The World this Week” was much better than anything that Doordarshan put out, but you have to admit that’s pretty low bar to overcome

    Please let me know one non-PBS television program (in India or US) which has managed to clear this ‘low bar’ on a weekly/daily basis. I would be very interested to watch that program.

  17. Zakaria is right when he points out the near-absence of global news. Its easy to get sucked into a Hillary-Obama-whose pastor is crazier routine but its so refreshing to watch news on from other sources like BBC or other channels and feel like there is a world out there. I will definitely take a look but if its pedantic, it will not work, thats for sure.

  18. Grab them by the lapels? I’ve got it!

    GPS should have Tucker Carlson and James Carville on one team, and Paul Begala and Bob Novak on the other, bickering from Iraq to Rwanda to Kenya to Myanmar to North Korea, while they attempt to solve the
    world’s problems with an entire range of techniques from Chamberlainian appeasement (aka talking – that reminds me, Kevin James would be good to have on this show too), using a small armed force of ex-South African mercenaries, Blackwater etc. With Fareed in the backdrop spouting inane coffee table tropes as always. It will be like Iraq, except they have just 1 hour a week, sort of like the Amazing Race. 22 countries in one season!

    For sweeps week, they can have a cliff hanger where the losers are actually stoned – and not in the good way – in the GLOBAL! PUBLIC! SQUARE!

  19. i did one of his articles from TIME for a current events project, i had no idea he was soo famous, and he wrote that book apparently!

  20. The problem with this, of course, is that people watching his show are not going to be wearing lapels — because they’re not wearing suits! Indeed, on Sundays at 1pm, they’re wearing old t-shirts while in the middle of doing laundry, flipping channels to avoid having to vacuum (sorry, TMI).

    Don’t know about you lowlives, but I go to Men’s Wearhouse when I want to buy my Sunday afternoon Budlight-swilling couch-lounging attire. Suits make for good wife-beaters too!

  21. It is striking to see Zakaria’s comments in the following dialogue (Charlie Rose, 2003) relative to the inimitable Stanley Hoffman, one of his dissertation committee members:

    http://www.charlierose.com/shows/2003/03/13/2/a-dialogue-about-american-unilateral-action-in-iraq

    Hoffman was spot on in his analysis of the worst-case scenario for Iraq (which did, indeed play out). Zakaria’s argument, at the time, for invading was a weak one, as amply demonstrated here. One hopes he has learnt from the wiser professor, whose advice we ignored in 2003 at our peril.

    PS – Charlie Rose would, in later years, interview Hoffman again and remark on how these videos amply demonstrate that there were experts in international affairs, who understood the situation all too well, and warned of the very outcomes that occurred.

  22. One hopes he has learnt from the wiser professor

    Zakaria has a quality for success in America’s media circus that is far more important that being right – he is adaptable. Being right results in unpopularity and not getting interviews; telling people what they want to hear means getting on TV in 2003, in 2008, and in all the years in between.

    And with pervasive short-term memory, it seems to hardly dent one’s credibility either. Enough so that presidential candidates who are comparably good at image management make sure to get photographed with one’s books.

  23. Zakaria has a quality for success in America’s media circus that is far more important that being right – he is adaptable.

    Zakaria would be another brown man in Canada or UK. Haha…I would like to see him try to be an analyst for BBC/CBC (LOL). I can’t stand him; but he does a excellent job of selling his “minority” background/story which other Desi groups in the US fail to do.

  24. Points well taken — Zakaria does understand how to sell himself well; which, in and of itself, is fine except that it entails reductionism and some tradeoffs in terms of intellectual honesty. I guess the most illuminating aspect of that Charlie Rose discussion from 2003 was that he did agree with Hoffman, and indeed argued for many points regarding the danger of the unilateral exercise of power and the discontents it may unleash.

    His points are nuanced, largely correct, but NOT points I think he articulated strongly for in the broader media environment of 2003. That was a general failure with 90%+ of the media back then, and his failure; a failure highlighted in this interview where its very clear Zakaria has the academic and intellectual chops to offer the very views that were needed then. It points to a lack of courage; or to spin it, pragmatism given the climate in 2003. The older Hoffman cares less for such things, being an intellectual of the old guard, and spoke vigorously and freely. All rather instructive and invaluable for the historical record..

  25. Fareed Zakaria is not perfect, of course, but he is a very smart guy. His engagement with the topic of “illiberal democracy” seems to me to be a, if the not the, key issue of the 20 years or so of US foreign policy. So, for example, the whole “purple finger” voting in Iraq–what to really make of it? Seems pretty important to me.

  26. 20 · CNN’s Real World said

    Suits make for good wife-beaters too!

    Nice :) I dislike Ike.