Talking to a chair is hardly ever a good idea. In the course of the last year, the act has been pulled by a handful of media types and each time, it flops.
Last night actor and film director Clint Eastwood was the latest to give the talking-to-an-empty-chair routine a whirl. He did it on the final evening of the Republican National Convention, just before Mitt Romney officially became the party’s nominee for president. How fitting.
Standing at the podium, Eastwood motioned to the empty chair next to him and said he brought President Obama. He then entered into a monologue that got a few laughs but was mostly perceived as bizarre.
Ann Romney appeared on CBS this morning to talk about the convention. “He did a unique thing,” she said of Eastwood’s speech while laughing uncomfortably.
“Bill Clinton introducing Michael Dukakis just went to a distant second place as a bizarre moment,” NBC’s Tom Brokaw told Politico. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, meanwhile, said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that Eastwood’s speech made him “cringe.”
Then again, this was an 82-year-old man giving an unscripted speech. And the empty-chair routine is a proven bust.
Back in March, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell was set to interview Craig Sonner, the lawyer representing Florida Trayvon Martin killer George Zimmerman. Sonner bailed at the last minute. Rather than bringing on a contributor who might be on standby or moving to the next segment, O’Donnell asked the chair a series of questions, including: “Who is paying you? Who hired you?” and “Does George Zimmerman have a job?”
Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart noted the stupidity, saying he knows many people in New York City who talk to chairs and “none of them have TV shows.”
Two days later Thomas Roberts, also an anchor on MSNBC, had intended to interview Maggie Gallager, spokeswoman for the National Organization for Marriage. Roberts was unable to make the segment. But guess who was? “[We have] this empty studio chair in Seattle that was supposed to hold Maggie Gallager,” Roberts told the viewers. “As you can see, she is missing in action. … I would say ‘Hi, Maggie’ but you’re not there.”
It turned out Gallager had been inappropriately booked, a mistake made by MSNBC. Roberts apologized for the mishap on Twitter.
Five months later in August, CNN’s Piers Morgan tried the same empty-chair gimmick when Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) bailed on an interview. “If you don’t keep your promise to be on the show, then you are what we would call in Britain a gutless little twerp,” Morgan said with a camera fixed on the empty chair. But, as he noted in his show, Akin’s Senate race opponent Sen. Claire McCaskill, also canceled.
Maybe the problem isn’t the guests. Even so, the chair act belongs in the gutter.