In the run-up to the premiere of his new show on the Trinity Broadcast Network, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said that fans of his Fox News Channel show would be pleasantly surprised to find that the new show would, for the most part, reprise his former weekend cable hit.
There are major similarities between the old and new show, but also some distinct production value differences. From a big picture standpoint, the biggest difference is how much the current political environment differs from the landscape into which the original Huckabee (2008-2015) debuted.
Huckabee 2008 proved to be just what the doctor ordered for evangelicals and conservatives disheartened by the election of President Barack Obama. Compared to battleground programs like The O’ Reilly Factor and Hannity, where postmortems and calls to resistance were the order of the day, Huckabee’s show was downright restful—comfort television for an audience settling in for four years of worrisome liberalism.
The set was modest, and the topics—while often controversial—were presented in Huckabee’s easily digestible style. The closing homilies kept blood pressures in check while focusing on reassuring traditional values viewers unmoored by the GOP’s cataclysmic loss of the White House and both houses of Congress.
In the green room waiting were guests who ran the spectrum from big stars (Jon Voight) to regular folks with a story to tell. The quality of the music on the FNC show varied too, but was often top notch, including notable performances from acclaimed country artists and rock-and-rollers. Wayne Newton dropped by to perform “Danke Schoen.” Fifties pop star Neil Sedaka brought smiles with “Calendar Girl”, and Ted Nugent laid down a scorching “Cat Scratch Fever” with Mike Huckabee on bass.
As of October, Mike and his bass guitar are back, with a weekend program iconic master of ceremonies Ed Sullivan might have called “a really big show.”
Q&A session with our live audience.
Posted by Huckabee on Friday, November 24, 2017
The first big change noticeable to fans of the old Fox show is Huckabee’s new digs, a concert-scale sound stage comparable to those enjoyed by venerable hosts like Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. Coming back from promotional breaks (TBN is viewer-supported and commercial free), sweeping camera work highlights the expansive set and appreciative live audience. The lead-in graphics are colorful and creative, depicting a heartland freeway with billboards highlighting the evening’s guests.
In keeping with Huckabee’s God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy ethos, the show features profiles of flyover communities and unsung heroes, and chats with conservative celebrities the bicoastal media elites have largely written out of their scripts.
As befitting a show originating out of Nashville (technically the TBN campus is in nearby Hendersonville), the musical aspect of TBN’s Huckabee benefits from a band—Tre’ Corley and the Music City Connection—with the chops to deliver both the excitement of live performance with the precision of studio quality musicianship. When Three Dog Night vocalist Chuck Negron guested on a recent episode, the band’s rousing backup on “Joy to The World” was right on the money.
At the desk, Governor Huckabee does what he does best, covering topics with his measured approach, talking a little downhome politics, and often drawing on humor. In a recent mail segment, the host read a letter from an underwhelmed viewer named Durwood: “I would rather put ice picks in my eyes than watch your show!”
Huckabee replied, “…if you put ice picks in your eyes, you won’t be able to watch my show.”
All things considered, the new Huckabee has rolled out in a much happier environment than the Fox News show did. Back then, Democrats had just capitalized on a wave of disenchantment with nation-building neoconservatism and post-economic meltdown angst and taken control of the nation’s highest offices.
This time things are different. Notwithstanding difficulties with internecine GOP squabbles and an unhinged Democrat Party denial-fest, Huckabee’s team has home field advantage in D.C. That hegemony definitely reverberates out to small town, rural, God-fearing and loving America.
President Donald Trump was the first guest on the new show. For Huckabee’s key demographic, things could be so much worse.
No question, the reassuring, faith-based aspect of the Mike Huckabee persona is obviously still in demand. But Huckabee II feels like a party, a cautiously optimistic revival under a glittering new tent, and less like a post-apocalyptic prayer meeting.