Legacy Time For Robert Novak

He just taped two C-Span specials (including an hour-long sit-down with Brian). Later this week, he’ll start making the cable show rounds, including a sitdown with his old "Crossfire" colleague and fellow CNN exile Tucker Carlson, and chats with FOX’s "Hannity & Colmes," and CNBC’s Larry Kudlow.

It’s a familiar milieu for the veteran journalist. Starting in the Reagan years, Mr. Novak was the Law & Order of political talk-television; if you turned on your TV any given day of the week, you had a decent shot of seeing him onscreen. For a quarter-century, his home base was CNN; the network's TV fortunes and his rose and fell almost in sync.

Since his bitter divorce from the network two years ago, at the height of the Plame controversy (following a dramatic on-air tiff with one-time source James Carville) he’s entered friendlier ideological territory, signing on with FOX News. But over the past few months, even those appearances have been tapering off. The journalism world, said Mr. Novak, has begun to change in ways he’s baffled by. He believes the appetite for the sort of scoop-driven analysis he’s trafficked in since the Eisenhower administration may be disappearing.

“All the programming I really liked on CNN, most of the shows I was on, they’re all gone," he said. "'The Situation Room' doesn’t have the same quality as what it replaced. The present executives don’t care about politics – they care about Paris Hilton. It’s the same at FOX. They get very invested in all these stories I’m just not interested in at all. That poor girl in Aruba – what was her name? Yes, Natalee Holloway. There’s a war on, and that’s what gets put on the air?”

But the self-described workaholic isn’t exactly disappointed. Mr. Novak the journalist may express outrage over the latest network developments; Mr. Novak the senior citizen admits he’s feeling just a bit relieved.

“I would certainly never want to go back to the schedule I was doing," he said. "I’m 76 years old.”

And then: “Of course, nobody’s asking me.”

There are other signs Mr. Novak, still powerful, may be starting to lose–or is it relinquish?–some of the unique power he’s wielded in Washington since he first teamed up with Rowland Evans in the early 60's.

Every year, Mr. Novak hosts pricey insider lunches popular with Washington insiders, featuring big names like the Speaker of the House, or a senior presidential advisor. This spring, political superstars stayed off the dais, and ticket sales lagged. It was the Washington equivalent of the Stones failing to sell out an arena show, and the blogosphere took notice.

“Mr. Novak’s a little less popular this year than he has been in any other year in his long history of being a raging prick,” wrote Wonkette editor Alex Pareene, mocking the slow sales. “While in olden days he could count on the brightest stars of both parties to attend his box social, this year he’s got… Newt 'Gringo' Gingrich. And some GOP pollster.”

Mr. Novak told The Observer that he’ll probably never retire.

“I may die at my desk… I’ll stick it out as long as I can function," he said. "Probably a few more years.”

But in the course of a half-hour interview, he mentioned his own mortality, mostly offhandedly and unprompted, several times.