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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  April 11, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PDT

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>> that came in from los angeles. i am larry king. it is part two of my conversation with tavis smiley. in a few weeks, he is out with a new book about mistakes he has made along the way and how those mistakes have impacted his life. the forthcoming book is called "fail up." we are glad you have joined us. my conversation with tavis, coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes.
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>> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. >> nationwide is on your side >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- >> back now with part two of my conversation with tavis, celebrating 20 years in broadcasting. in conjunction with that, out soon with a new book called "fail up."
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there are 20 chapters in the book. why did you self published? tavis: that is a good question. i was with doubleday for 10 years. i had a good run with doubleday, but i realize there are things i wanted to do in a way that was different from what they wanted to do. number two, i realized i knew how to do it on my own, and number three, there are things that i wanted to publish. there is a lot of stuff out that i wanted to read that i did not think the industry really cared enough about to publish, so it really was a way for me to put other stuff out that i enjoyed reading. i am glad that we had great success with cornell west and others. i have a partnership with a house -- hay house. >> in chapter 6, yours truly is mentioned. i was fired once because the
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station went urban. we had all whites fired because the station went all black. tavis: the one time in history of the country that happen, and you got caught up in it. >> yes, but i did not get angry. i always knew i would make it. what did you do with firing? what did teach you? tavis: i wrote a piece for a publication that comes out on sundays "a pink slip can fire you up." i talked about how being fired cannot help me under span -- understand how he can be worthwhile. there is a can of coke sitting on the shelf and no one ever comes along to say i will pay this amount for this can of coke. it has no value. barry is not what you think of yourself, is what other people think of you. if you are sitting on that shelf for month after month and no one
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agrees to pay a dollar for you, you have no value until someone comes along and put the price on you. the point is, i did not know what i was work in this industry, and untilb.e.t. fired me. pbs would not have happened, in pr would not have happened, p r i would not have happened if i had stayed at b.e.t. >> the way this book can -- with this book can help you, the date you were fired, you did not say glory be to heaven, i have been fired. tavis: no, i sat and cried. i did not understand why it had happened. we talked on the program last night about my abiding faith, but i don't think that being one of faith means that you don't have the right to question god. i was raised as a kid, you never questioned god. now i do not believe that. i believe you do question god.
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when jesus was in the garden of gethsemane, he does not want to go to the cross and be crucified. he said father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. so if jesus can question god, the father, surely we can question got about the things in my life. i wanted to know, why did this happen to me? publicly, i felt humiliated by the whole process. >> harvey mackay wrote a very good book about getting fired. other chapters say things like remain dignified even when you are justified. loose lips sink ships, get in where you fit in. failing is part of the process. if you cannot sell yourself, no one else will buy it. do you think you are selling yourself all the time? tavis: i hope not. i am trying to get people to wrestle with ideas. i think public television is at
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its best when we challenged folks to reexamine the assumptions they hold, when we help them expand their inventory of ideas, when we use these platforms to help introduce people to ideas they never thought they would even consider. i hope that what i am selling is the notion of people reexamining their assumptions, not tavis smiley perc se. i believe we have to allow space for breaks. >> meaning? tavis: meaning that you cannot back people into corners. there have been points in my life where i have learned that when you back people into corners -- my dad once told me, did you ever see a cat back into a corner? they are going to raise that back up and at some point they are going to come out fighting with all they have in them.
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that is what happens to people in life when you back them into corners. now that i own and run a company, we may not always see eye to eye, but i don't believe in backing people into corners. you have to save space for grace. i had a very well known actors who is now on television everyday on my show one time and she made the mistake on a black television channel -- when you do not know that egypt is in africa, that is pretty bad. i wanted to pounce on her because we were in an argument, a disagreement on tv. it is like your chin is up and you are behind is out, i can just knocking out. you are on black television and you don't know that egypt is part of africa? i went in for the kill, and i backed up because i hear my father saying save space for grace. the audience had seen what a
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major mistake this was, and actors who had achieved great success, but it was a major mistake. she just did not realize what she had said, i hope. i backed off. if everybody hit me every time i left myself open, i would have been knocked out a few more times. >> what do you make of the tabloidization of this business? tavis: i love public radio and television. it hurts me to see the attack that public radio and tv are under even as we sit here at this moment. i think that is to the detriment of us. i love the opportunity to sit here, usually there, every night, and try to raise questions that can advance the cause of democracy rather than tearing it down. >> do you like being on the other side? tavis: talking to
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you. >> it is controlled, of course. the interviewer always has control. tavis: do you believe that? >> unless they are a bad interview. you don't know what i am going to ask. tavis: i will follow your lead. >> i don't get into tabloids. [applause] get ready to be ready. you turn down the tv opportunity because you were not ready. you did not regret it at the time? tavis: i did not. i am glad to be on tv and radio 20 years later. when i first got the opportunity to do tv, i turned it down. all my friends that i was an idiot. how dare you turn down your first tv opportunity?
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at the time, channel 7 was no. 14 news in southern california at the time. they offered me an opportunity to be a commentator in during the 5:00 news. a black kid gets the opportunity to be a commentator during the 5:00 news, and i turned it down. i was good at radio at the time, but i'd did not know how to do television. i did not know anything about tv at the time. i had not done television ever. so i turned it down because i did not think i was ready. everybody thought i made a huge mistake. i went to canada and spent a year with a friend of mine who was doing pbs based out of montreal. for a year, i learned everything about the tv business. i worked the camera, teleprompter, i've booked shows, i did all kinds of stuff, learning the business. a year later i came back to
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l.a. and that commentator's job was still available. i went in and did an audition, and the rest as they say is history. 20 years later, i am talking to you. >> how should the reader use this book? tavis: i hope that the reader and for those who have seen it, i hope they find themselves in the book. these are my own personal stories of the failings i have had. you'll find yourself probably in more than a few chapters in this book if you are being honest with yourself, because we all have failings. what is happening in our economy and the world, everybody is a little bit afraid of failing, and not just personal failures but familial failures. everybody is afraid of being called a failure. it is time for a good gut check about how we are going to navigate ourselves through this difficult period in history.
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as long as we understand that we are going to fail from time to time, and we can learn the lessons from these failures and fail our way to the top, i think we will be okay. >> one of your topics was the famous thing in world war ii, loose lips sink ships. those signs were everywhere with a picture of of sam. what does that mean in your book? tavis: there was a great debate inside my inner circle of family and friends about whether or not i should put this chapter in the book. it is the only chapter that maybe it's a little far afield in terms of telling stuff about myself that you might regret being out there years down the road. but the story is that i was dating a woman at this particular time and she had confided in me, shall we say, a sexual proclivity of a former
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boyfriend of hers. in a very unwise moment, i was gossiping. it got back to this person what i had said about him. i was not saying it in a malicious way, just writing my mouth, gossiping. we think of gossip as innocent until someone gets victimized and hurt by it. it got back to him, and he obviously was upset about it. he phoned my girlfriend and told her to keep her mouth shut about it. she broke up with me and the relationship ended. as it turns out, this person i was talking about is a very, very well-known actor in this town, who i have never booked on this set of this show. he will never talk to me in this town, because he did not like
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the fact that even when i was young and immature -- this is long before i was ever in the tv business. but it has come back to haunt me all these years. i would love to have a great conversation with him. he is worthy of that, but he will not talk to me because he remembers me writing my mouth about his business. that stuff follows you throughout life. >> who was he? [applause] thank god i don't get into that. so who was it? [applause] i love this titled ", failing is part of the process." you believe that every successful person has had a failure. tavis: if you were being honest. when she become fabulous, the game is to act like you have always been fabulous. you want to act like you have always been at the top of the
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game. i don't believe anybody can ever be successful if you don't have failures. >> one of your favorite people is jimmy carter. why? tavis: you have interviewed him many more times than i have, but what i admire about him more than anything else, and i asked him about this one night. i am not sure how kindly he took to the question. i asked him whether or not it would be fair to say that he was the best ex-president we have ever had. he said i hear your point, and maybe that is true, but i think i was a pretty good president as well. he pushed back on that. >> in essence it is a slight. >> i wanted to get his take on that question. i raise it because it is hard to imagine the respect and regard that we have for jimmy carter now.
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he clearly is the best ex- president we have ever had, but it is hard to juxtapose that with where he was in 1979. he was persona non grata, but it is hard to imagine with all the good he has done in the world but you talk about failing up. he is an extreme example of what it means and that is why i respect him so much. tavis: part of succeeding or failing has to do with whether or not you are going to commit yourself to being a truth teller about the world as you see it. you have to be civil and loving in that, but people have to tell their own truth. it does not mean that everybody is always going to agree with that, but the quickest way to become a failure is to start lying to yourself about what you believe. >> tell me about how you write.
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you mentioned that your staff looked at this and they were not sure about one of these titles of one of the chapters. tavis: this is vote no. 15. i have done them all the same way. i sit and talk into a machine. i work with a couple of people to figure out what makes sense and does not. book writing is the most difficult thing. i love the books when they are done, but i hate the process. >> shirley povich once wrote, writing is easy, you put the paper in the typewriter and then you leave. do use input from others? tavis: i do. my life is too incomplete in many ways to rely on just my own experiences. i always start by telling the story of the mistake i made and what i learned from that, but
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the majority of the chapter is not really about me as much as it is about how i think as a society we have to wrestle with these issues. >> is tavis smiley on pbs? is that it, or is there more coming? tavis: i hope there is more coming. we are doing so many things every day. we have the tv show, two different radio shows, and i do a show with cornell west. i have a foundation. >> do you want to do a movie? do you want to be something we would not associate you normally with? tavis: i am comfortable here. there are a lot of things i want to do, but nothing turns me on more than being able to sit here. i am a very curious person. i love learning. >> people don't want to sit next to you on a plane?
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tavis: i am pretty quiet, i am usually reading on planes. i love the time sitting here asking questions. >> would you say you are happy? tavis: i am happy. >> is that a state of mind or a condition? tavis: it is both. i don't think we are always happy or always sad. the word i refer more than happy is content. i want to accomplish more, but i think happiness comes and goes. >> do you think you need is content to be content? tavis: yes. you have turned philosopher on me now, larry. >> one of the great things about this book is, you don't have to read a chapter by chapter. tavis: an excellent point. >> are you writing another one at the moment? tavis: not at the moment. at some point, given all the
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drama with president obama and tavis, and i cover that in the book, i think at some point there will be a need for a number of treatises about this administration and about whether it lived up to all the hype. >> to you expect to be involved in 2012? tavis: only from this chair, only from talking about it. i do not involve myself in campaigns. i have a lot to say about the issues of the day, but i don't engage in the campaigns. >> we do say we are at a point where we have terrible animosity in this country? tavis: yes, and i thought it was sad that it took a congresswomen getting shut -- shot in the head to have a conversation about civility. that kind of went out the window once the budget debate kicked up in washington.
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it seemed to be more of a conversation and a real way of life. i am troubled by that. what i take solace in is the opportunity to sit here every day and have civil discourse about the things that really matter in the world. what at hate is all the senseless conversation that does not mean anything. >> you must be satisfied if you have had an impact. tavis: i hope that people are paying attention. >> the book is "fail up." that is it already? tavis: not quite, i want to ask you a question. i am so excited about the tor you are about to go on, the larry king tour. tell me about it. >> i have spoken of my career at conventions. i have spoken at general motors and ama, and i always try to be funny. i like making people laugh. if i were starting over and i
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did not look -- did not love broadcasting so much, i would have been a comic. when i finish at cnn, and i am still doing specials, i have a special on alzheimer's the same day your book is coming out. my nephew is a top broadway producer, and he came to me and said, why don't we put together an act? let's book your round the country. >> i said people will not know i am funny. we will have to sell that. he got me booked into vegas and atlantic city and the theaters all over the nation. i am going to work some casinos were my wife will open. tavis: charlie sheen bombing does not give you any pause? >> he is not a comic. he is funny as a comedic actor, but he is not a comedian. i know that i am funny. i know timing and pacing.
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i know how to tell a joke. i can tell you a joke and make you laugh right now. there's a train that goes every chicago, and overnight train. it is a nine-hour trip. it is an all sleeper train. a man checks then and is about to go to sleep and the door opens and a woman comes in. normally, amtrak would never sell a ticket to a single men and single woman, but the woman did not complain. the train begins its trek. demanded sen the upper berth and she is in the lower berth. he leans over and says i am a little chill. may i borrow a blanket? she looks at him and says we are strangers on a train. we may never see each other again after this night. probably won't. why not, just for tonight, why don't we play man and wife? you and me, man and wife, just for tonight.
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the guy says sure. she says, get your own blanket. [applause] [laughter] that is my comedy tour. congratulations on the book. it was my honor to do this. i will say how much i miss it. [laughter] they called me today and said you know, a jew doesn't have a show anymore and blacks have had for too long. you are in, he is out. we will take a lesson as he learns to deal with his own current failure. my thanks to everyone here. it is a terrific staff you have here. a guy could get used to show like this every night. this is the takeover.
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the new less and, "21 lessons." good night from los angeles. as tavis always says, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org tavis: next time, nfl great ray lewis on football labor talks. that is next time. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better.
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>> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more.
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