In Defense of TV's Most Irritating Brit
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you want to learn about the world without going to sleep right afterward.
By Kevin Brass
No matter where you are in the world, from Qatar to Indonesia, Richard Quest’s voice is a beacon of familiarity. It’s 3 a.m. You’re jet-lagged and stressed, and CNN International is the only English-language channel on the hotel TV. And there is Quest, his über-jaunty British accent and oddly lecturing tone serving as a reminder that the world is a small place, and a good scone may not be far away.
CNN International often appears to keep Quest on some sort of diabolical perpetual loop. His ubiquitous “Quest Means Business” segments, business travel features and various news reports run into one another and repeat, mesmerizing and irritating, like a video from The Ring. He is always on, using his excellent diction to explain the best route through airport security, or chatting with a Korean technology expert. Just when you think you’ve had enough, he will pop up as CNN’s token British correspondent, covering a royal wedding, economic collapse or some other U.K. event requiring his particular brand of Britishness.
He is a “personality” in an industry that should embrace personality, but rarely does.
In Quest’s vernacular, he is undoubtedly an “odd duck.” Entertainment Weekly called him “one of the smartest — and most caffeinated — men in the world of conversation and punditry.” His enthusiasm is undaunted by whatever crap assignment his producers toss at him. A visit to a Bulgarian tractor factory sounds like a tour of an old London bordello in Quest’s hands.
His mantra is “Business is not boring,” which is a crock. In fact, business is really, really boring. But Quest is not. He is a “personality” in an industry that should embrace personality, but rarely does. More often, business news is delivered by bland reporter-bots or “money honeys” who all look and sound alike. Certainly none of them sound like Quest. He talks into the camera with the assurance of a condescending teacher explaining the best way to floss. The words roll out of him. He never, ever appears to be working from a script. No doubt the Britishness helps. He can make a report on Cuban sugar futures sound like an excerpt from Dickens.
Quest has his haters, of course. To many viewers, he is the TV news equivalent of nails on a blackboard. His reports are rarely more interesting than reworked press releases. His interviews with business leaders are usually lightweight, Oprah-level chats. He was a tad too comfortable hosting 500 Questions, a recent game show on ABC, his critics noted. All that is true. It doesn’t matter. Quest has attitude, an ingredient sorely missing from business news. Asked several years ago why he turned down an offer from Al-Jazeera, he replied that “being gay and Jewish might not be suitable,” The Guardian reported. Regular CNN International viewers were perhaps not surprised when Quest was busted in 2008 in New York’s Central Park for carrying crystal meth.
CNN International didn’t seem to care. After a rehab stint, Quest was back on the air, cavorting with CEOs and world leaders and making snippy comments about air travel. The network had no choice. What would CNN International be without him? How else would it fill the time between ads for Macedonia investment and Singapore tourism?