Review: ‘Up Late with Alec Baldwin’

By Gail Shister 

The debut of MSNBC’s “Up Late With Alec Baldwin” last night made for compelling television – if you happened to be a New Yorker obsessed with the city’s mayoral race.

Everything about the show was New York-centric. The open: black-and-white photographs of the city, backed by cool jazz. The set: an intimate, wood-paneled faux diner with spectacular views of the skyline. The host: a Long Island native who beats up New York paparazzi.

Given Baldwin’s star power and the amount of hype for “Up Late,” however, I hardly expected the guest for the premiere to be a New York City politico. But there he was, Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, front and center for the next hour.


The presumptive mayor, while charismatic, holds little interest for viewers outside the five boroughs. Regardless, Baldwin, a self-proclaimed de Blasio man, practically tossed rose petals at the candidate’s feet.

What transpired could hardly be called an interview. Baldwin’s softball questions were setups for de Blasio’s long, uninterrupted stump speeches, disguised as responses. Job creation, affordable housing, economic inequality, early childhood education. All that was missing were the balloons.

As the show went on, some of the topics got more interesting – stop-and-frisk, for example. There were moments, but only moments, when Baldwin acted (no pun intended) more like a news network host and less like de Blasio’s campaign manager.

Then there’s the issue of Baldwin’s hair.

I’m hardly one to dwell on aesthetics, but his styling looked ridiculous for a 55-year-old man. Fashioned into several spikes over his face, it resembled a group of miniature nuclear silos. Very distracting.

Baldwin, an Emmy-winning actor, 16–time host of “Saturday Night Live,” WNYC podcaster and new dad, showed viewers that he can also, on occasion, be a serious, even-tempered host. No monologue, no house band, no nasty Tweets.

As for humor, there wasn’t any until the end of the show, and even then it was only an ironic pin prick. Articulating “Up Late’s” mission, Baldwin made reference to two former MSNBC occupants of the 10 p.m. Friday slot – “Lockup” and “Alan Keyes is Making Sense.”

Baldwin’s show will be “more conversation than interview, more personal than promotional,” he said.

“I can’t give a declaration of principles like Charles Foster Kane had for his newspapers,” he opined. Needless to say, the line was lost on those under 50, but that demo wasn’t home watching TV on a Friday night, anyway.

Speaking of which, to whom does 10 p.m. Friday qualify as “up late,” except to seniors? Guess all the good “late” titles were taken.

Intellectually, Baldwin is not in a class with Charlie Rose, but he’s not trying to be. Besides, Rose’s table is too big for a diner booth. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say Baldwin, once he hits his stride, will be closer to the late Tom Snyder. (Minus the cigarettes, of course.)

And that is a very nice place to be, if he gets there.