Sunday, July 26, 2015

TV: The train wreck known as MSNBC

To term MSNBC "troubled" is to put it mildly.

Headlines like "MSNBC Finishes 5th Place in Demo, Behind CNBC and HLN" and "MSNBC Hits 8 Year Low" have become common place.

And last week, more cancellations were announced: Ed Schultz lost his show, Alex Wagner lost her show and The Cycle is no more.


This followed earlier cancellations this year of Joy Reid and Ronan Farrow's programs.

In fact, there's a long, long list of MSNBC departures and cancellations over the last few years including Contessa Brewer, Martin Bashir, Alec Baldwin, Cenk Uygur and, most infamously, Keith Olbermann.

Two things specifically do not speak well for MSNBC today.

First, the trickle of cancellations.

Nothing is working.

Revamp or die.

The cable chat network is said to be moving back towards news.

That would be a huge improvement.

But they can't do that with the current evening programs.

Rachel Maddow is not a hit.

She is not a success.

What is she?

7th Heaven in season nine.

The ratings are sliding and the best days are gone.

Maddow is only a success in a 'by comparison' manner.

Her show, more and more, has become televised radio.

She blathers on endlessly as if she's Rush Limbaugh.

Chris Hayes?

He's an analyst.

He's not a talk show host.

He should be a regular on Morning Joe.

Al Sharpton has no place on the network though he might argue with the disgraced Brian Williams rejoining MSNBC shortly, he has a right to be there.

The reality is that the same NBC News insiders objecting to Brian Williams over the last few years have also objected to activist Sharpton being able to use his talk show to promote various causes he's is involved in.

It's that sort of thing that's really harmed MSNBC.

Cenk could have been a way forward for the network.

He offered a point of view and it was consistent.

If he was opposed to spying on Americans, he was opposed to it regardless of who was in the White House.

But too many MSNBC hosts, not just Al Sharpton, based their right and wrong judgments based upon whether Democrats (specifically Barack Obama) were supporting something or not.

On something as basic as TPP, the hideous trade pact, Rachel Maddow, for example, was against it repeatedly until it was hailed as a victory for Barack at which point she was slobbering over the deal as something wonderful and amazing.

Viewers noticed this nonsense long ago and have fled.

The second thing that does not speak well for MSNBC is the attempt to return it to the past.

That's bringing Chuck Todd back and, of course, Brian Williams.

But, mainly, it's the rumors that the network is courting Keith Olbermann.

Of the three, Olbermann's return would make the most sense.

We are not now and have never been fans of Keith Olbermann.

But he did deliver ratings and that might happen again.

Or it might not.

Chances are it would be a Here's Lucy type return.  It would get ratings but more out of nostalgia than for anything new actually offered.

The main thing though, Olbermann's return would mean Maddow's departure.

Not only would he want his old time slot back, he can't stand Maddow.

This is no longer a private issue.

He made it public.

He considers her a traitor.

He brought her to the network, he supported her and then when MSNBC turned on him/tired of him, he feels Rachel Maddow refused to offer him support.

Having one attempt to toss to the other in prime time would make for tense television.

Again, Olbermann, of all the potential returnees, is the only one that makes business sense and only because he delivered an audience.

That said, does MSNBC have a strategy?

Because election 2016 is not election 2008.

Far too many announced changes and whispered rumors indicate the network is attempting to move -- but backwards, not forward.  Nostalgia rarely works when it comes to the ever changing landscape of breaking news.

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