NEW YORK -- With all their familial love and drama, the Cuomo brothers — Andrew during the daytime, Chris at night — have become compelling figures in the plague-driven landscape of American television.
Andrew, New York's governor, holds a near daily televised briefing on the epidemic, a mixture of statistics, aphorisms and advice together with prodding and praise directed at a fellow Queens, N.Y., native, President Donald Trump. Women and Democrats swoon.
Chris has tested positive for coronavirus and done his prime-time CNN shows this week while quarantined in his basement, describing his fever, chills and worries that his wife and children will catch the virus.
Their worlds merged Thursday, when Andrew brought Chris into his midday briefing via remote link. Chris described a fever dream where his big brother, dressed in a ballet outfit, danced around him and waved a wand to make his sickness disappear.
“Thank you for sharing that with us,” Andrew deadpanned.
Both men have inherited a trait from their father Mario, like Andrew, a three-term New York governor: Neither will say something in 5 minutes when 20 will do. Both Fox News Channel and MSNBC grew tired of their banter and cut away to something else.
Andrew, 62, has used his briefings to scold young New Yorkers about social distancing, closing playgrounds when basketball games didn’t cease. He’s talked expansively on people needing to keep their spirits up and is candid when he doesn’t know something. He offered detailed statistics Thursday on hospital equipment, with the screen behind him flashing the cliche, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
He's never been an orator like his dad. Yet some of the characteristics that cause him trouble as governor — his micro-management, constant need to be in charge and, some have said, bullying — work well now, said Elizabeth Benjamin, host of the Albany, N.Y.-based show “Capital Tonight” before it ended last year.
“He is rising to the occasion for which he was made,” Benjamin said. “This is the kind of thing that he really excels at. This is not surprising to people who have followed him for many years.”
Cuomo's performance has some Democrats wishing he was a presidential candidate. He waves off such talk.
Attacks on him from Trump's most loyal ally in the media, Fox News' Sean Hannity, indicate Cuomo has made a mark. They were wrapped into the best wishes Hannity offered to Chris on Tuesday.
“My political differences with his brother and the fact that he's lacked total preparedness and is screaming at the president ... that's politics,” Hannity said.
Chris Cuomo says he continues to appear on TV in order to put a human face on the story, so people understand his physical struggles. The dark circles under his bleary eyes Thursday made it obvious.
“Nobody can sit on the sidelines right now, least of all somebody who has been blessed with a platform to talk about it,” he said Wednesday night.
Viewers are intrigued. His show was seen by 2.8 million people on Tuesday, the day it was announced he had tested positive. That compares to the 1.1 million viewers his show averaged in March 2019, the Nielsen company said.
“He's in a position where he doesn't have to describe it second-hand,” said Mark Whitaker, a former Newsweek editor and executive at both CNN and NBC News. “He can describe what he's going through. I wouldn't call it reassuring, but I think it's something that people want to know and to see and to hear.”
Before his diagnosis, Andrew appeared on Chris' show a handful of times during the coronavirus outbreak, most recently Monday. Brother-on-brother news interviews is the sort of thing that makes journalism ethics experts queasy.
In this case, it gives viewers sitting at home a glimpse at the dynamics of a family other than their own. They've talked publicly about where their 88-year-old mother, Matilda, should stay other than her New York apartment to ride out the epidemic.
Thirteen years separate the brothers. Andrew was Mario's right-hand man and enforcer during his father's election as governor in 1982 and first term. Chris was 12 that year and has talked about how Andrew “raised” him.
Even though statistics show Chris will recover from the virus, Andrew revealed how much the diagnosis scared him.
“We're talking about my little brother,” he said. “This is my best friend. I talk to him several times a day. Basically, spend my whole life with him. It is frightening on a fundamental level. There's nothing I can do. It's out of my control.”
Their byplay, which anyone with siblings can appreciate, approaches lounge act status.
During his briefing Wednesday, Andrew sat next to a picture of his brother taken from TV, mouth frozen mid-word.
“Kudos to him,” he said. “My pop would be proud. I love you, little brother. Even though I did not pick this picture, with your mouth open, it is suitable in some ways.”
Retorted Chris on CNN hours later: “He picked it.”
“The irony of my brother joking about how I look is not lost on me, alright? Like he's some box of chocolates.”