- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

The William Jefferson Clinton Hour of Charm.
The mind reels.
It's confirmed. Former President Bill Clinton met with NBC's West Coast executives Wednesday to plumb the possibilities of hosting his own talk show. It would come with a heady price tag: Mr. Clinton might receive $50 million for serving 39 weeks as garrulous centerpiece.
The "informal meeting was one of many meetings President Clinton has had with many people over the past year. President Clinton did not demand a talk show. He went to listen," his spokeswoman Julia Payne said yesterday.
"Yes, this is his listening tour," noted one wry observer at NBC. "Why, it's a whole itinerary."
Television producer and longtime Clinton family chum Harry Thomason confirmed in a statement from his Studio City, Calif., headquarters yesterday that Mr. Clinton had "visited our offices, and we were glad to let him use them for a meeting with several of his acquaintances from NBC."
NBC issued a statement late yesterday, but it said little beyond that a "range of ideas was discussed, which included the opportunity of working together." The network also downplayed talks as an "informal meeting."
Rival networks CNN, Fox, ABC and CBS had no official comment, though one CBS spokeswoman said she "could see" Mr. Clinton as a talk-show host.
Mr. Clinton, meanwhile, apparently was pleased.
"The president is gratified by the range of opportunities that have been presented to him," Miss Payne added.
In theory, the "range of opportunities" might mean a daily show a rigorous proposal even for young media Turks. A weekly show would be tenable and a one-hour special completely within reason showcasing those well-honed sincere moments, down-home chuckles and possibly some new snarling.
Would there be an audience? Maybe. An informal online poll taken yesterday by CBS affiliate KTHV in Little Rock, Ark., found that 67 percent of the respondents said they would tune in.
Then again, Mr. Clinton could always turn up on NBC's "The West Wing," playing himself.
But there's the old legacy to consider. Presidents usually become elder statesmen, wise old professors or benign advisers after their White House tenure ends.
Speculations about Mr. Clinton's showbiz hankerings have followed him for years. Rumors that he had been offered a radio or television talk show have surfaced at least three times since the closing months of his presidency.
In late 2000, an NBC spokeswoman announced that producer Mr. Thomason had offered the outgoing president a weekly political show "along the lines of 'Meet the Press.'"
The White House denied it.
M Street Daily, a radio industry publication, announced in August that Mr. Clinton had been offered a "short format" talk-radio show by a major syndicator.
The notion faded in a day.
Last Friday, the syndicated television magazine "Extra" announced that Mr. Clinton would replace retiring CBS anchorman Bryant Gumbel on "The Early Show." The former president was ideal, "Extra" reasoned, "because he lives in New York and loves to wake up early."
CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius denied it Monday and again yesterday.
All this fuss is understandable, though. Mr. Clinton made an indelible mark on the American consciousness 11 years ago, soloing on the saxophone and wearing sunglasses on "The Arsenio Hall Show."
Once in office, he played himself in the 1996 CBS movie "A Child's Wish," though he tussled with Warner Bros. a year later after the film company used unauthorized video footage of him in the sci-fi movie "Contact."
Hollywood later presented its own eerie parallels to his presidency in "Wag the Dog" and "Primary Colors." To add to the mix, Mr. Clinton appeared on camera as a movie critic with Roger Ebert during his last year in office, and he also produced a slick, comedic film for the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner, detailing his "retirement" plans.
For his part, Mr. Clinton has remained mum about an NBC deal. He was not shy about his broadcasting prowess at a Democratic fund-raiser in Harlem, N.Y., last week.
"I gave the State of the Union, and they didn't even have a teleprompter," Mr. Clinton told reporters. "I had to stand up there and fake it for 15 minutes before 100 million people. Some people think I faked it for eight years before 100 million people."


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