“Stop that!” said Mika Brzezinski, who plays cohost to Joe Scarborough on the morning radio program The Joe Scarborough Show. “No, no, no. You know what? That’s what you do when you want to win a fight.”
“No, I want you to answer the question,” said Joe Scarborough. “I’m not fighting.”
Ms. Brzezinski flipped her hand through her blond bangs and threw Mr. Scarborough a look. “You sound like my husband,” said Ms. Brzezinski.
It had been a long morning. Ms. Brzezinski had arrived before 6 a.m. at the MSNBC studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to begin the long slog through her television show with Mr. Scarborough, Morning Joe. Then it was up to the windowless box of a radio studio on the 17th floor of 2 Penn Plaza. So she was on approximately her fourth hour of arguing with Mr. Scarborough about the federal stimulus package, for our amusement.
A flat-screen television hung on the sidewall of the studio where they now sat to do the show, which airs weekday mornings in New York on WABC-AM. It was tuned to MSNBC, which was showing footage from the Westminster Dog Show. A Scottish deerhound pranced across the screen. There was a chill in the studio. Mr. Scarborough was wearing a sweater. A pair of tortoiseshell glasses hung on the bridge of his nose.
Earlier, Mr. Scarborough pointed out that Mika was a child of official Washington. Her father, Zbigniew Brzezinski, had served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and helped to found the influential Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller.
“You make it sound dirty,” said Ms. Brzezinski.
Mr. Scarborough alleged that the character played by Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code was based on Ms. Brzezinski.
“You’re a tool,” Ms. Brzezinski shot back, lovingly.
In real life, Mr. Scarborough lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Susan, and Ms. Brzezinski lives in New York with her husband, James. But every day, five days a week, from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on MSNBC and from 10 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. on WABC, Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski are locked together in that time-honored New York tradition: media matrimony. ’Til contract renegotiation do them part.
The radio show is the latest element of the Joe and Mika franchise, bringing this Burns-and-Allen-Goes-to-Dartmouth routine to the unlikely masses who like to get their political news from radio screamers.
While numerous media stars from Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck have managed to successfully transition from talk radio to cable television, the reverse pollination process is much less common.
Although it still trails in the ratings behind CNN’s American Morning and Fox News’ Fox & Friends, since its inception in the spring of 2007, Morning Joe has grown into a buzzy phenomenon, particularly beloved among policy wonks in New York and Washington.
To paraphrase George Burns, the most important thing in morning television is sincere camaraderie. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
Whether it’s real or fake, Morning Joe seems to go down pretty smoothly with its ensemble cast: second-generation TV wisecracker Willie Geist, veteran newspaper columnist Mike Barnicle and curmudgeonly political legend Pat Buchanan. But at the heart of the collective bonhomie is the intimate, complex, tantalizing, combative, flirtatious, heated, intellectually driven relationship between Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski.
There was the time Ms. Brzezinski tore up a script about Paris Hilton, and Mr. Scarborough inhaled the smell of the balled-up piece of paper. The time Ms. Brzezinski got mugged in Washington, and an angry Mr. Scarborough took the mayor of the city to task–live, in person, on the air. The time Mika’s father said Mr. Scarborough possessed a “stunningly superficial” knowledge of the Israel-Palestine situation and Ms. Brzezinski ate it up publicly, laughing heartily for the cameras.
But the radio show, which launched in December, strips away the cast of supporting characters and places the relationship between Joe and Mika center stage, with no diversions.
“There’s a certain level of trust that we’re going to beat each other up or we’re going to get along, but either way, we’re going to like each other,” Ms. Brzezinski told The Observer recently. “We get frustrated on issues. We even get frustrated with each other on things, but there’s never an underlying lack of trust. I think that shows.”
“Anything can happen on this show,” she added of the new radio show they’re working on. “Aaaaanything. With TV, we make it as spontaneous as possible. On radio it goes way further. Our conversations are able to go a little closer to the edge. People who call in are able to do that, too. That can border on the crazy and the extreme.”
ON THURSDAY MORNING, Feb. 5, at around 10:30 a.m., Mr. Scarborough opened up the phone lines. He and Mika had both been up since dawn. They had interviewed Senator Jim Webb, Time columnist Mark Halperin and former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Mr. Scarborough was hungry.