Thursday, August 05, 2004


I have nothing against Eckhart--as an actor or a (peripheral) subject of pop culture interest. But clearly, Stewart would've been happier talking to just about anyone else; the project Eckhart was promoting, SUSPECT ZERO, seems pretty stale; and the man didn't seem to have much of value to say.

What's more, it's not like Eckhart is the kind of front-and-center pop culture icon whose thoughts are of inherent interest to viewers.

So how did he get on the show?

The scheduling of an Eckhart-level star isn't, I don't believe, a function of a weak pool of available interviewees or the logistical complications involved in pulling together a fresh half hour every night. And I don't think it can be explained by the general public's insatiable appetite for the wisdom of marginal celebrities.

Instead, from what I've been able to glean, it comes down to something simpler but perhaps more insidious: back-scratching.

Consider, for instance, two of the guests slated to sit down with Stewart next week: Bill Clinton and Tom Cruise.

Both of these men have agents. They have publicists and bookers and managers. And just about all of these handlers have clients other than their franchise stars.

So--want to land Tom Cruise? Woo his publicist by penciling in a Famke Janssen [real player]. Want to sweeten the pot for Bill Clinton's schedulers? Seal the deal with his book editor by tossing in a few minutes with a Greta Van Susteren [real player].

Of course, I'm more or less speculating here. And even if I'm right, it may never be that explicit.

And even if it is that explicit, Stewart does a far better job than Leno and Letterman of scheduling guests who actually have something to say.

Just goes to show the strength of the showbiz tide he's swimming against.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.