The morning blech: The battle for Milwaukee's most obnoxious TV morning show
There are no winners in this clash of the insufferable A.M. titans
Frank Lloyd Wright once called television “chewing gum for the eyes.” Wright was obviously a late sleeper, because if he had witnessed the horror of morning television, “white-hot poker for the eyes” might have seemed more apt. In Milwaukee, morning TV is appropriately dire, populated by irritating local personalities and the stroke-inducing strains of the Fox 6 WakeUp theme song. Always on the lookout for self-inflicted pain, The A.V. Club woke up a few hours earlier than normal to catch two of the least watchable, most insufferable morning talk shows airing on Milwaukee TV: The Morning Blend, which airs weekdays at 9 a.m. on Channel 4, WTMJ; and Sunday Insight With Charlie Sykes, which is on Sunday at 10 a.m. on WTMJ. Which is more unwatchable? Here’s how these worthy opponents stack up.
ROUND 1: PERKINESS
The hallmark of any successful, wholly insufferable morning show is a relentless cheeriness typically found only in the heavily medicated or clinically insane. A lifestyle chat show aimed at the MILF/sweatpants set, The Morning Blend has this toxic perkiness in spades. Hosted by Molly Fay and former Miss Minnesota Tiffany Ogle, the show operates at a sustained level of giddiness that makes Oprah seem positively morose by comparison. Fay is constantly wide-eyed and beaming, clearly relishing the show’s hardnosed stance on fashion makeovers and cute baby pictures. Even more cheery is the wonderfully named Ogle, a woman whose beauty pageant background equips her with the necessary blinding, toothy grin so desperately needed for delivering stories about weight loss and “cupcake benefits.”
Sunday Insight With Charlie Sykes, on the other hand, is decidedly less chipper. A conservative talking heads wank-a-thon hosted by the local radio personality, the show is bone-dry and thoroughly hateful if you don’t happen to be a part of Sykes’ angry suburban white dude demographic. Trying his best to keep things light, Sykes sports a mirthless grin as he upchucks the lamest anti-liberal, anti-Obama rhetoric this side of Sean Hannity. About the best the show can muster in the perkiness department is its sub-Ricki Lake opening credits, featuring the oddly-shaped, beady-eyed Sykes looking meaningfully into the camera while crossing his arms.
WINNER: The Morning Blend. Impossibly sunny and upbeat, Blend is infinitely perkier than Sykes’ dour program, not to mention a whole lot leggier.
ROUND 2: AWKWARD CHEMISTRY
Morning talk shows tend to be loosely scripted and ad-libbed, ostensibly to provide viewers a calm, casual start to their day, but more likely due to the fact that everyone involved is half-asleep. Filled with plenty of awkward pauses and baffling miscues, The Morning Blend gives off the impression of both a barely rehearsed chat show and a heavily caffeinated slumber party. Sykes’ show is no less awkward. Featuring a diverse group of panelists with political views ranging from neo-conservative to very neo-conservative—though Charlie is sure to also invite the least articulate liberal he can dig up that week, which is often Milwaukee Community Journal editor Mikel Holt—Insight has a sense of timing that makes the surrounding fishing and home-improvement shows seem like densely plotted episodes of CSI: Miami. Everyone is visibly bored and uncomfortable, like they’re hanging out in Milwaukee’s most inexplicably well-publicized waiting room. Of special note is frequent guest Patrick McIlheran, a Journal-Sentinel columnist who specializes in turning tired, warmed-over conservative talking points into tired, warmed-over newspaper columns. Forever Smithers to Sykes’ Mr. Burns, the sycophantic McIlheran appears especially listless, no doubt anxious to return to his suburban lair before bursting into flames at the first sign of sunlight.
WINNER: Sunday Insight With Charlie Sykes. Sykes wins handily, bolstered by the awkward presence of McIlheran, a man who apparently hasn’t updated his official Journal-Sentinel headshot since the first Gulf War.
ROUND 3: LIFESTYLE/WEDDING TIPS
WINNER: The Morning Blend. Though just by a nose.
ROUND 4: SHAMELESS PANDERING
When it comes to giving audiences exactly what they want, The Morning Blend takes no prisoners. Food, fashion, and parenting tips abound, as do plenty of pieces involving kitties in need of a good home. Not to be outdone, Insight provides a steady stream of inane right-wing sewage guaranteed to make its viewer(s?) grunt in agreement. Clueless liberals, shifty immigrants, and Jim Doyle are the frequent targets of the panelists’ withering contempt, all vilified for maximum effect. Eager to please, Sykes presents himself as a no-nonsense, straight talkin’ good guy who sees through the evil machinations of a political party hell-bent on destroying our country by making sure sick people can see a doctor. It’s all a lot of boring, hot air, of course: the “insight” promised in the show’s title ends up being little more than the latest Rush Limbaugh drivel dressed up in a Wisconsin accent and lousy hairpiece.
WINNER: Sunday Insight With Charlie Sykes. Sykes and company win the category, as well as the entire insufferable battle. Sleeping in on Sundays never sounded so good.