PBS to Launch Conservative Talk Show

Michael Gerson and Amy Holmes will host a program loosely based on "Firing Line" starting in April.

In a flash from the past, PBS is going to have a political talk show featuring conservative hosts.

AP (“PBS launching new conservative political talk show“):

Columnist Michael Gerson and commentator Amy Holmes are teaming to start a conservative-oriented talk show on PBS that takes its cue from William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line,” which aired from 1966 to 1999.

The new show, “In Principle,” will air Friday nights starting April 13. PBS will decide after an eight-week run whether to continue.

The hosts plan to interview two guests each show, hoping for an in-depth discussion on issues and their formative political experiences. No guests have been announced yet, but Gerson said he’d like to discuss issues like race, gun control and whether conservatism is the right message for the working class.

“I find when I go around the country that there is actually a hunger for serious, civil dialogue as an alternative to the bitterness of our civic discourse,” Gerson said.

Gerson is known to the PBS audience as a frequent guest on “NewsHour.” Holmes worked on MSNBC and on Glenn Beck’s media company, The Blaze.

Although the show is beginning at a time of Republican dominance in both the White House and Congress, Gerson has often found himself at odds with President Donald Trump. He said Holmes more often takes the president’s side, or acts as the “anti-anti-Trump.”

“I think the Trump era has been a very difficult time for traditional conservative discourse,” he said. “I think a lot of institutions and places have been co-opted in this era. I view conservatism not only as a belief but a state of mind, a respect for tradition but also a respect for facts.”

At the same time, Trump began to have political success because neither party was addressing the economic concerns of working class Americans, he said.

I’m honestly not sure there’s an audience for this sort of show anymore. I was a fan of the old “Firing Line” show (the Hoover Institute has a wonderful archive) but Buckley was a unique character and there was very little competition in the political talk space in those days. Now, we’re positively saturated with it. And the conservative movement is, at best, incredibly fractured and, at worst, now represented by the Trump wing of the Republican Party. Gershon isn’t exactly a spokesman for them. (I’m not familiar enough with Holmes to have an opinion.)

We might be better served by a revival of the occasional “A Firing Line Debate” series, which brought together luminaries to tackle broader issues every so often. Those broadcasts were much more lively than the weekly show and yet managed to almost always be enlightening.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    There is a big need for a “highbrow” conservative program since the conservative media is dominated by the lowbrow conversation coming from talk radio, Fox and blogs. However, you are probably right that the audience may not exist for this. Most people on the right seem more interested in talking about Hillary (who I am pretty sure hasn’t held any office for 5 years) than they are policy or political philosophy. (This can be a problem on the left at times, bu tin general it is much easier to find policy wonks on the left.)


  2. JohnMcC says:

    I agree with Steve that the appetite for WFBuckley type ‘conservatism’ is amazingly small. I also doubt that Mr Gerson will seem to be ‘conservative’ to the vast majority of the R-party voters who might find their way to the PBS channel (probably by mishandling the remote).

    This is another example of Republicans consoling themselves that they were doing so well before they fell in love with Mr Trump that — surely! — they can just start again where they dropped off in ’16. Give it a couple of months! Nobody will remember that old what’s-his-name. That guy with the escalator and the funny hair. Whatever happened to him?

  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    Which part of Buckley were you a fan of? His habit of calling people “queers”? His open support for white supremacy? His habit of getting in people’s faces and threatening to hit them?

    Buckley’s reputation as “the thinking man’s conservative” is wholly undeserved; if anything it merely demonstrates how reprehensible most of his contemporaries were. His intellectualism was just a facade of NE patricianism. Scratch the surface and his “intellect” was just a vile as Sean Hannity’s.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    I agree there is a need for this type of show. Hopefully it will be quieter than The McLaughlin Group was.

  5. dmichael says:

    Following up from Stormy’s comment, if Dr. Joyner you are genuinely interested in engaging in Buckley nostalgia, watch again his interactions with Noam Chomsky (evasions, distractions, changing of subject) and with Gore Vidal (vitriolic homophobic comments).

  6. MarkedMan says:

    I would welcome this (more as a radio show than TV, though). If we define a conservative as someone who tends to prefer traditional societal structures and modes of governance, then we could use more discussion along these lines.

    Unfortunately, 98% of the people who call themselves conservative are like many people that call themselves Christian. They like the sound of the word and wear the label proudly but have no idea what it really means and have no intention of acting upon it. Both groups tend to have randomly and fanatically aligned themselves with various political movements, completely independent of whether it has anything to do with their supposed beliefs. And both groups are as a rule, hostile to facts and reality. And that is absolutely anathema to true conservatism.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    As a consumer of NPR programming I say, why not? Bring it.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: @dmichael: I’m not a young man but I’m not old enough to have watched the late 1960’s episodes in real time, at least not intelligently. He was a devout Catholic born 18 years before my parents. That he was slow to empathize with homosexuality isn’t something I hold against him. By the time I was watching the show in the late 1970s, he struck me as relatively tolerant. In the latter stages of the show, which had Michael Kinsley as an interlocutor, he was positively cordial. (Or, at least, from my vantage point at the time; it’s not like I watch it in reruns.)

  9. gVOR08 says:

    It seems to me that you can have an interesting discussion among conservative intellectuals or you can have a discussion that in some way relates to current conservative politics, but apparently you cannot have both. And I thought conservatives didn’t approve of affirmative action hires.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @dmichael: Or the Cambridge Union Debate with James Baldwin.

    a bunch of twee British white boys introducing one of the 20th century’s greatest artists and one of the 20th century’s biggest pricks.

  11. DrDaveT says:

    And the conservative movement is, at best, incredibly fractured and, at worst, now represented by the Trump wing of the Republican Party.

    This is where we continue to disagree, James. The “Trump Wing” of the Republican Party is merely ignorant, racist, and vulgar. That is nowhere near as contemptible as, say, the Paul Ryan wing.

    Trump’s followers are dupes and fools. Ryan represents a self-aware deliberate evil that is, to my eye, much harder to empathize with or forgive.

  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    A revival of Joe Pyne, https://youtu.be/PLYYIh8uEo0, rather than Bill Buckley would better suit the current conservative moment.

  13. DrDaveT says:

    So, Gerson appears to be yet another theocrat trying to pose as someone with a political philosophy.

    I will believe that there is such a thing as Conservatism as a political philosophy when you find me an articulate atheist Conservative.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: While he has some flaws as a commentator, George Will is certainly articulate. He admits to being an atheist but doesn’t much advertise it.

  15. Mike Schilling says:

    Not interested unless the theme music is Bach.

  16. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    While he has some flaws as a commentator, George Will is certainly articulate. He admits to being an atheist but doesn’t much advertise it.

    Interesting. Thanks, James — I appreciate the datum.