Strewn across Cenk Uygur’s desk Tuesday are piles of articles on everything from President Barack Obama’s budget proposal to Andrew Breitbart, a guest on his Current TV show Tuesday evening, but as Uygur sits down his eyes focus immediately on two large wedges of yellow cake.
It’s not Uygur’s birthday — that’s in March. Rather, it is the 10-year anniversary of his talk show, "The Young Turks," a franchise that now encompasses 10 different YouTube channels and a prime time show on Current TV.
The most popular of them all remains the original TYT show, whose channel gets more than 1 million views a day and has more than 300,000 YouTube subscribers.
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Uygur, a native of Turkey and Los Angeles resident, launched the show in February 2002 from his living room, and Uygur has pronounced it the first Internet TV news show.
How does he know this?
“You keep saying it and see if anyone challenges it,” Uygur told TheWrap. “Because if someone else was the first, they say, ‘What the hell, we were the first one.’ No one has done that.”
He pauses, and concedes that actually, someone did do that, but quickly notes that that guy's show ended. So, Uygur admits, he may not have been first, but “The Young Turks” is the biggest and the longest running.
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Since "The Young Turks" launched it has undergone a start and stop trajectory. It struck a deal with SiriusXM, which Uygur described as “fricking awesome,” but then waited for a while to get on the now-defunct Air America.
In a tribute video, co-host Ben Mankeiwcz says he "always thought it was a day away from collapsing."
The show attracted some notoriety in 2005 for its 99-hour live filibuster of Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination, but didn’t achieve its biggest breakthrough until 2011 when Uygur got his own show on MSNBC at 6 p.m.
That show lasted all of six months, as MSNBC tried to shift Uygur to a less juicy time slot, and he refused. Al Sharpton now occupies that space.
Uygur has not hesitated to criticize MSNBC — along with all the cable news networks for that matter — but he hesitates before discussing Sharpton.
He fears he will come off as having sour grapes, but that doesn’t stop him from noting two things.
One, Sharpton didn’t get the show because he had higher ratings, and two, Sharpton has been soft on Obama, as Princeton professor Cornel West has said.
“The only thing I object to, whether it’s Al or anybody else, is when they are blindly loyal to any politician,” Uygur said.
Sharpton has rejected those criticisms, claiming that West needs to check his facts.
Despite Uygur's acrimonious departure from MSNBC, he has maintained friendships from the network. One of its hosts, Dylan Ratigan, appeared in a video memorializing the 10 years of "The Young Turks.
What Uygur may miss most is the large platform MSNBC provided, especially since Current's viewership remains minute.
But he has plenty to keep himself occupied.
For one, he got another TV show quickly, taking a prime time spot at Al Gore’s Current TV. He brought several of his "The Young Turks" co-hosts along with him, such as Mankiewicz, Jayar Jackson and Ana Kasparian.
On that show, he mixes opinionated people from different ideological backgrounds, such as Tuesday night when he’ll talk with Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and Breitbart, an outspoken conservative.
The night before he talked with Foster Friess, a major backer of Rick Santorum.
But make no mistake, “The Young Turks” is a) progressive and b) multi-platform.
That second point is crucial should things fall through at Current, which sometimes seems one Keith Olbermann blow-up away from disaster. (For the record, Uygur says he has stayed away from the discord between Olbermann and network executives.)
"The Young Turks" ten YouTube channels cover everything from politics to pop culture to sports, and each one has a building number of subscribers.
YouTube has also partnered with "The Young Turks" for its initiative to create 100 new channels of original programming. They already have one funded channel, and Uygur hinted another may be in the works.
If it seems like there is one platform missing, you are correct – film.
Not to worry, that is in the works.
Andrew Napier, a documentary filmmaker who has made films about the Young Turks before, is making a documentary about the creation and the evolution of “The Young Turks.”
Uygur’s prediction? It will win an Academy Award and surpass “Titanic” at the box office.
But first, it has to get a distribution deal.
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