Sorry, Charlie

I’ve been a Charlie Rose fan since the old Night Watch days, well, nights. I was dating a bartender, and we’d come rolling home about 2 or 3 in the morning, and there was dear Charlie talking to some comedian or actor or somebody like that. A veritable life preserver as we were coming down in the wee hours.

I remember a comedian calling into the show during that time, thanking Charlie for the same thing. Comedians and musicians get off work in the wee hours and usually have to roll back to some anonymous motel, still amped from the evening. Charlie was their life preserver too. An entertaining yet safe and stable place, an anchor in a turbulent world.

Nightwatch ended, and I lost track of Charlie for a while. I also broke up with the bartender, and couldn’t afford a TV of my own. By the time I could, Charlie Rose was on PBS, airing at 11pm in Seattle, with another station carrying it at midnight. I wasn’t out carousing so much anymore, but Charlie Rose was still a good way to wind down on my way to sleep.

Charlie didn’t “interview” his guests at the famous round table (whatever will become of it now, I wonder?) . They had conversations. He wasn’t Mike Wallace. He wasn’t even Dan Rather. He was just Charlie, sitting down for a chat with a friend or two or three. And everybody came to Charlie’s table. Presidents, prime ministers, actors, directors, people who wrote books, sports figures. Even the winner of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Sometimes he put me to sleep, sometimes he didn’t. But ever since I got DVR abilities, I always copied Charlie, so he’d be there when I needed him.

Not any more.

Not too long ago, I wrote on social media that somewhere in America tonight a man is losing sleep over whether he should get ahead of the story and confess or wait until he’s outed. A few days later, I posted that the winner was: Charlie Rose.

I should have been more surprised than I was. He is, after all, a man of a certain age in an industry that has long fostered a penchant for that sort of thing. Not that that’s any excuse. His excuse, apparently, was that he always thought his advances were welcome, that the encounters were consensual. Really, Charlie? Where was your vaunted insight?

It was hard to read the story in the New York Times. Hard to hear one woman talk about him leading her into the bedroom and asking, “Baby, baby, why are you crying?” Hard to hear his long-time producer and friend, Yvette Vega, confess to not listening to these women when they came to her. “That’s just Charlie being Charlie,” she would say. I can almost imagine myself as a young woman feeling mortified, at Charlie’s treatment of me and at my inability to handle it. To just go along with the gag of “Charlie being Charlie.” I could almost hear myself wondering, is this what it takes to get ahead in this business? Does every successful woman in New York have this memory from the first days of their careers?

The response to these allegations was abrupt. Charlie Rose was simultaneously fired from CBS and Bloomberg, and dismissed from the PBS lineup. And I was shocked at the immediacy of these actions. Surely, I thought, he has a few shows in the can. Are they really going to waste all of that material? I knew he couldn’t go on, but I was reluctant to let go. I tuned in that very night, at midnight here in Madison, and sure enough – Antique Roadshow. Just like that, Charlie Rose was gone.

On reflection, I realized that I would never be able to see him in the same way again. A Bill Cosby moment. That friendly, intelligent, interesting face now hides a leer. A leer never looks good on a 70-something face. I did have a couple of older shows in the can, two conversations with Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes. I didn’t actually watch – I turned on my pillow and closed my eyes, ready for sleep, and listened. I guess if there was a perfect moment for Charlie to go out on, it was this conversation. Charlie had been a 60 Minutes contributor for the last few years, and the two men talked about their professions, as if they were things that mattered. They did. Unfortunately, some things matter more.

Charlie didn’t know he was saying goodbye, but I did. As I listened, I had to wonder at the hubris that allowed him to accept Fager’s appreciation of his work. I was wondering, was he waiting for the other shoe to drop? Or did he already know that it would?

I’ll never know. I deleted the last of Charlie Rose from my TV queue and said good bye.

Sorry, Charlie.