‘Approval Matrix’ Show Aims for Brilliant

Faith Salie sounded exhilarated when we spoke to her around eight last night. The TV special she hosted, a television adaptation of New York magazine’s highbrow/lowbrow “Approval Matrix” feature, had just finished taping: “It’s hot off the presses–today’s news.” The thirty-minute special, titled The Approval Matrix as well, is to air tonight at 11p.m., following Top Chef. Salie, a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! among various other credits, oversees a panel of three talking heads. “I’ll play–this makes me sound very highbrow!–the conductor, and invite the three panelists to introduce topics.” (A sample topic: the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which is highbrow for its relative tastefulness!)

So, Faith, how does this differ from E!’s Chelsea Lately or Bravo’s own Watch What Happens, both of which use a similar format? “It offers you a breadth of topics–we don’t just talk about celebrity culture,” the Rhodes scholar told me. “We can joke about scientific breakthroughs–and Fashion Week!–and historical studies.” In the show’s focus on culture, broadly, it would seem to most sharply diverge from Andy Cohen’s celebrity/reality formula and towards the Eighties-Loving VH1 programming under Michael Hirschorn, who now runs Approval Matrix‘s production company Ish Entertainment. “I said the word ungulate and was mocked for it on camera.”

Ungulate? The Observer‘s mind flashed back to high school biology–or was it physics? “That was a topic about the Egyptian revolution. It mentioned a camel. In my TV-hosting mind, I wondered which was funnier: ungulate or dromedary?”

Salie has reason to hope she chose the right word. Bravo’s made no commitment to the special beyond this initial airing (though the network’s schedule indicates that after its first airing tonight, it will rerun four times before the weekend, and thrice over the weekend). As a point of comparison, advertising executive Donny Deutsch ran a one-time, half-hour special, Love Calling, on January 27 at 11p.m. The show, in which Deutsch dispensed advice to lovelorn viewers, has not spawned a follow-up nor plans for a series (Deutsch’s representative did not return our calls). Deutsch recently appeared in his capacity as a Bravo love guru on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, though Bravo’s website covers Love Calling in a blog post with a few clips, not the dedicated and exhaustive space of a Real Housewives franchise or even low-rent chat show like Watch What Happens.

At the time of this post, Bravo’s site has no matches for any content containing the phrase “Approval Matrix,” nor is the special mentioned anywhere on its homepage. “We will have clips of the show on bravotv.com a little later today,” a rep for the special told us via email. A show with a built-in and affluent audience of magazine readers would seem a match for Bravo’s constituency. But Salie takes the longer view, focusing on perfecting the logistics of the show before making any plans: “I think we want to see how it goes, because the show is so topical–we’d see how we can put together a show today that would air tomorrow. We’ve got nothing but good will from the network.” She barely pauses, then, the ideal host even of a conversation, thinks of the perfect quip: “–unless I totally screwed up today.”

ddaddario@observer.com :: @DPD_

‘Approval Matrix’ Show Aims for Brilliant