April 29, 2009

Huckabee's Green Room~ Where a Pundit’s Odd Array of Visitors Mix


Where a Pundit's Odd Array of Visitors Mix 

Published: April 29, 2009

At 10 minutes to air, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, was schmoozing in the green room of Studio D at Fox News headquarters in New York. He was telling bad jokes and showing someone's publicist his cufflinks — the guitar picks embossed with little silver crosses at his sleeves.

"One of them goes like this," he said, offering his punch line: "I don't mind cancellation if it's due to inauguration." His musical guest that day was leaning in his cowboy boots and chatting with the woman who had done his makeup. Jonathan Krohn, the teenage conservative pundit, had flown in with his father and could not stop talking about the profile of himself that was due the next morning in The New York Times.

When the audience had finally settled in, a producer stuck his head in the room, and someone told the former governor, "Break a leg."

"Break a leg?" Mr. Huckabee said, his eyes alive with your uncle's goofy humor. "Gee, I hope not — that would really hurt."

What, exactly, do you do as a conservative Republican in the era of Obama, as a presidential also-ran whose first shot at the White House didn't quite work out? If you happen to be Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister and a natural-born showman, you take the trail well blazed by right-wing pols with media credentials: you find a job as a television talk-show host on Fox.

With the debut of "Huckabee" last fall, the former governor has flown that migratory route from politics to punditry and is tearing up the small screen, beating out competitors, the Nielsen ratings say, from Anderson Cooper on occasion to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. He has sworn to bring a much-needed sense of courtesy to the medieval battlefields of political TV. "Being a host implies civility," he said the other day. "You don't bring people on your show to yell at them. It's like bringing them into your home."

Without doubt, the green room is the homiest part of "Huckabee": a comfortable space resembling an airport lounge with its odd array of visitors and provisions of fatty foods. Lauren Green, the Fox News religion correspondent, listened patiently as the precocious Mr. Krohn bragged about teaching himself Arabic. The country-western singer Lee Greenwood recalled how he and his wife took scuba lessons from some members of the Navy Seals while on their honeymoon years ago.

"The green room is where everybody mixes," said Ms. Green, who had dropped by to jam with the Little Rockers, Mr. Huckabee's ham-and-egger house band. "The best part is, you never know who's going to be there."

If television is the refuge of the fallen — think George Stephanopoulos or former generals with consulting gigs — Mr. Huckabee has nonetheless stayed true to the ideals he held while in power, which could, in a pinch, be called the politics of the green room. For a Fox News host, he has shown remarkable nonconformity in selecting his guests: Chuck Norris, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Joe the Plumber, three Miss Americas — not to mention Dan Rather and Oliver Stone.

His green room is so inclusive that halfway through the show a woman in pearls was ushered in and gently shown to a folding chair, having just thrown up in the middle of the startled studio crowd.

"I'm so embarrassed," Mr. Huckabee told her when he finally came offstage.

"You know what you do?" he smiled. "When you get home, just tell people the show was so bad it actually made you sick."

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