For his first major TV appearance since the announcement he’ll soon be launching a new primetime show on NewsNation, Chris Cuomo sat down for — let’s be honest — a softball interview with his friend Bill Maher on Friday’s episode of Real Time.
The chat between the two was as amicable as one would expect, since as they mentioned more than once, they’re friends in real life. Cuomo even said Maher had been a comfort to him in the months since he was fired from CNN for several ethical lapses and an accusation of sexual harassment (he denies that accusation.)
“Bill so you know is not just good on the show he’s good off the show, so I thank you for that,” Cuomo said, prompting Maher to joke “we’re just friends.”
Cuomo said that “happy” is “probably not the right word” to describe how he feels now that he’s headed back to cable. But, he said, “I want to help. I want to give back into a way of doing a form of what [Maher does], breaking through the toxic twosome of partisan politics.” He said he hopes to speak to “the vast majority” of Americans he says don’t fit neatly into either political side.
Maher tried a few times to get Cuomo to speak ill of his former employer, something Cuomo refused to do. “It’s a great organization and a lot of great people there,” he said. “I want good things for people there, I don’t like how it ended, I had a great team I didn’t get to say goodbye to… I want everybody to do well.”
Other than that, they mainly elided Cuomo’s exit from CNN; instead, the interview served as basically a promo from Cuomo’s upcoming show.
The conversation briefly turned to Cuomo’s older brother, disgraced former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “I have never seen a fall that steep,” Maher said.
“I’m supposed to say ‘oh, he’s great,’ but that would be what we call bulls—,” Cuomo said, adding that “we learn a lot about the people in your life when you watch them struggle… he has been in a struggle, and I’ve watched it and I’m proud of how he handled himself.”
After some more back and forth along those lines, the chat turned to the subject of cable news. Maher noted that especially under Trump, channels including CNN “made a conscious decision to move more toward opinion.”
“I don’t see that as a move to opinion. I think that is addressing a need of serving people’s interest. We were faced with something that [we] had never seen in America… a guy who declared war on the truth,” Cuomo countered.
Cuomo said that was actually a more difficult move than simply normal reporting. “You are better off keeping your head down and saying you’re playing it straight,” Cuomo said, before adding that he isn’t about that.
This led to a discussion of the political state of affairs in America. “I believe the majority of people in this country are what I call free agents,” which he contrasted to the more common term, “independent.”
“I don’t think it’s about the middle,” he said. “I don’t like ‘independent,’ because in America we have to be interdependent.”
After once again using the term “toxic twosome” to describe Republicans and Democrats, Cuomo compared supporting those parties to sticking with a terrible sports team, and said in his view Americans are experiencing the “exhaustion of being forced to play a game that people don’t want to see played.”
During this part of the conversation, Maher and Cuomo said this is also a problem for the media, though Cuomo defended the media’s role as reflecting the desires of viewers. Then he laid out his personal prescription for the country: “End the two party system. We need more parties, we need ranked choice.”
Cuomo also called for a “shame campaign” against “purple states” to correctly apportion electors.
At all of this, Maher asked why Cuomo hasn’t entered politics like his brother or their father, Mario Cuomo, who was Governor of New York for most of the 1980s and into the early 1990s.
“Why not you, why did you choose this instead of politics, you seem like such a natural,” Maher asked.
“I see all of that as insults,” Cuomo replied, telling Maher he thinks he can “make a difference” more in broadcasting than politics. “They are stuck in a game that I don’t have to play,” Cuomo said, adding that “I think newsnation has a chance to not be seen as groupthink.”
So now you know what they talked about, and if you want, you can watch part of the interview at the top of the page.