Daring Firebrand

Yesterday, John Gruber released the second episode of his revamped The Talk Show podcast over at Mule Radio Syndicate. His guest was filmmaker and fellow podcaster Adam Lisagor. As promised in the show’s notes, part of their discussion revolved around Gruber’s moving the show away from Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 network.

Gruber admits that the way he launched the new show, by not mentioning the split on the first episode, was “dishonest.” So he lays out as much as he’d like to share. The schism stemmed from a “longstanding and significant” business disagreement between John and Dan.

Dan, the co-host, is obviously very popular and extremely talented. He’s extremely good at what he does and I’m super proud of the work we did together. And I think we had lots of good shows and some great shows. Dan, the owner of a podcast network, I have longstanding disagreements with. Came to an end. Why did I take The Talk Show with me? Because I love it.

Gruber makes the case that the branding, artwork and overall idea of The Talk Show stemmed from him. He considers it his “second most-beloved child, creation,” and he didn’t want to leave it behind when he left 5by5.

You’ve got to respect Gruber’s honesty in this episode. He wants to get his side of the story out but in a way that is as friendly as possible. Lisagor joins in to Socratically extract John’s statements on the matter. If he had written what he was thinking, it would have been cold. Even the block-quote above sounds more unfeeling than the way Gruber presents it in the episode.

There’s one thing I don’t understand, though. Gruber concedes that Dan wouldn’t have continued The Talk Show without him. Why, then, would John want to do the show without Dan? I understand how much he loves it, but, as Adam point out, it’s just a title.

When David Letterman moved from NBC to CBS, he couldn’t take his show’s name, Late Night,1 with him. So he used a different name, The Late Show, and built a successful brand around it. Had Gruber launched the new show with a different name I’ll bet there would have been significantly less blowback and more room for him to cultivate his old fan-base.

But that’s not how things played out. Instead, Gruber wrested the show from Dan. The battle is over, and John won. He got to keep his show and now he gets to do it on his own terms.

I’ve been reading Daring Fireball for years and, in all honesty, none of how this series of events played out surprises me. John’s style is to be as open and forthright, even (and often) at the expense of anyone else in the industry is covering, as possible. That is once he knows what he wants to say. Readers of the site are used to this. He’ll ignore a specific topic for some time, or he’ll be posting noticeably less content for a few days until a lengthy and eloquent ★-toting post goes up. And he nails it.

I’m not sure that this episode, titled “Dare I Say, Kubrick?”, is exactly him nailing it, but it is clearly Gruber being Gruber. And that’s what was missing from his first episode last week. By ignoring the obvious storm that was brewing around him, John was missing the chance to own a story of his own making.

Or, he was waiting for it to get big enough that he could come along and have the last word.

Either way, I’d say this whole affair is an example of everything we love and everything we hate about John’s style, which is to say that he’s still at the top of his game.

The new Talk Show sounds like it has a lot of great surprises in store.

  1. The show for which he had been the only host ever in a time slot that never demanded that format before. ↩︎