Prior to July 10, 2006, the show was known as The Situation with Tucker Carlson. In the show, Carlson debated with a number of guests: one segment involving a liberal and one with former Around the Horn sports show host Max Kellerman. Kellerman would provide an argument against Carlson's opinion, regardless of whether he himself disagreed with Carlson. This style prompted comparisons to sports talk shows that use a similar format, such as ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. Tucker was produced by Bill Wolff, who worked with Kellerman on two other PTI-styled sports shows, Around the Horn and I, Max.
In addition, Carlson interviewed guests, most often politicians or newsmakers. The show aired on MSNBC weekdays at 6 PM ET. Commercials for the show branded it as Tucker (Live).
The show had seven regular segments. This format was generally followed, except in such extraordinary cases as the two episodes broadcast from London after the July 7 bombings and episodes broadcast during (and after) Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
First, there was an opening segment in which Carlson introduces his panelist and debates four to five news stories with him or her. Second, in "Crime Blotter," Carlson introduced three stories about "wrongdoing and justice served" and typically discussed one of them with a guest, usually via satellite, on a number of topics related to a situation. Third, in "The Outsider," Carlson debated a variety of news-inspired issues with Max Kellerman, who played devil's advocate regardless of his personal viewpoint. Fourth, in "Curious Situation", Carlson introduced a story in the news and was joined by a guest, usually via satellite and typically pre-recorded, to discuss this situation. Fifth, in "First Look", Carlson was joined by his senior producer, Willie Geist, to take a look at tomorrow's news. Sixth, in "Voicemail", viewers were encouraged to call in and leave messages for Carlson. Four to five messages, on a variety of topics ranging from stories that aired on the program to a drinking game for the show to Carlson's bow tie, were aired and commented on. Finally, in "The Cutting Room Floor," Carlson joked about non-serious stories with Geist, son of Bill Geist from CBS.
The original format of the program, prior to its move to 11 p.m. on August 8, 2005, initially had six regular segments. First, there was a segment in which Carlson introduced his two panelists and debated five to six news stories with them. Second, in "Op-Ed Op-Ed," Carlson introduced three editorials from newspapers nationwide and debated them with the panelists. Third, in "Free Speak," Tucker spoke with a politician or newsmaker, usually via satellite, on a number of topics related to his or her situation. The fourth segment followed the same structure as the first. Fifth, in "The Outsider," Carlson debated a variety of news-inspired issues with Max Kellerman. Finally, "The Cutting Room Floor" segment of the show remained the same.