Current TV President Explains Why He Hires So Many Politicians As Hosts

Current TV President David Bohrman sat down with TPM to discuss the network’s future, what makes a good show and why he has hired so many governors.What makes a good show?

We’ve put on nine new hours since I’ve started. I’d argue those programs are all great. Those are great shows. Put them up against any of our competitors — and an interesting question is who they are — but if you put them up against anything else on cable, these shows are better. They are different, fresh, don’t feel like everything else on TV. Everything looks and feels to me so much the same across the dials. I’ve always had a dozen monitors or something on the walls of my office, and I see sameness. Not a lot of things I want to do. You gotta try new things, new ideas, and look, sometimes they don’t work, but more often than not you’re gonna succeed, have much more fun, and have a much better experience if you try to innovate.

What do you look for in a show host?

There’s so much about the personality, how their mind thinks, and that’s a critical part. At Current, you want people with points of view and people with questions, and people who aren’t afraid to say what they think. What I don’t want is to do “Crossfire.” I don’t want people to scream at each other. But I don’t mind a really good conversation. Again, if you look across Cenk, Eliot Spitzer, Jennifer Granholm, these people are really smart, and they all have something to say. And they’re all given an interesting forum to say it. And then you’ve got Stephanie Miller, and I think it’s a wonderful program because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. My goal is to eliminate teleprompters from television. And we’ve done it to some extent. It’s so much better that way. So the sense of spontaneity is really helpful. Too many people on TV get trapped in the glass, in the prompter, and they read their words, but they don’t seem genuine. At Current, we’ve got really interesting people, genuine personalities, they have something to say, and we’ve giving them the freedom to do it. And it makes for something interesting to watch, and think about.

I have to ask, what’s with all the governors?

(Laughs) It’s interesting. Governors tend to make a preponderant number of presidents, right? Governors deal, in their work as governor, in everyday real life. The Senate and House are sort of — not really elite, necessarily — but they’re very narrow. Very removed. Governors aren’t removed — they have the whole slate to deal with. Governors have had to cultivate an overall view of people and their lives, and how to solve problems, and how to make their states work. There are some brilliant people in the House and Senate, but the job of a governor is really unique and it sort of turns out that that lends itself really well (to TV).

With Olbermann gone, what does Current’s future look like?

It looks like what you see on every night right now. Keith was a wonderful transformative moment for Current. It showed us where Current should be going. The beacon went off. The “Countdown” show that existed a year ago would fit perfectly fine into what you see right now. The fact that “Countdown’s” not there doesn’t detract from the rest of the programs. And actually everything’s now on more of an equal footing and hopefully all the programs get the exposure they need. We have more programs to do.

How do you grow an audience?

One thing about cable is that you grow an audience with time and hope people stumble into you and then come back. You’ll find cable programs that sort of stay where they are over time succeed. And if they’re constantly changing, it just really never works. So you need new stories, really interesting personalities. I think we’ve got them, and you need people to come across you. I wish Current was in HD. I’ve been part of a couple conversations trying to get us in HD.

What do you see as your big stories and themes after the election?

Elections don’t end. That’s both good and bad. There are still opinions and policies. There’s still a government that’s working or not, that’s either dysfunctional or not. And the unfortunate reality is that it’s not going to be working and functional. It will still be a confusing mess, and I think one of the things we can do is try to keep asking questions, regardless of who wins. See how people are doing, regardless of who wins. And keep raising the issues. Because I think there is clearly room for a full-time network that deals with politics, especially a network that’s not owned by the one of the mega-opolies, or whatever word we can make up. It’s a small, independent channel, we don’t have a parent company that says we should cool it on that, and temper it a little bit. It’s very, very rare.

As a television veteran, what’s the worst journalism habit you’ve seen develop?

I think it’s producers who produce the way they’re supposed to. That’s so much of why so many programs are so generic, so tedious and so similar.