Saturday, February 21, 2015

Is MSNBC Shifting Away from Leaning Forward?

Television and radio are prone to sudden and dramatic shifts in schedule, in editorial tone, and even in complete formats. In the case of programming that caters specifically to liberals, these changes can often be almost inscrutable. For instance, though liberal talk radio has always had difficulty getting a
Keith Olbermann handing off to Rachel Maddow.
Those were the days.
market foothold for a variety of reasons, it has often been the case that a station (or chain of stations) will abandon the format for programming that gets worse ratings.

It's not hard to feel like there's something more at work than mere market forces sometimes. As a long-time consumer of liberal-oriented information (not to the exclusion of all else, mind you), I'm very, very, very familiar with this phenomenon. I had to chase The Randi Rhodes Show all over the internet, through two or three sudden complete disappearances, and finally her rather abrupt retirement. Other favorite hosts have come and gone with no word, and poor Stephanie Miller is now operating out of her house!

So, I rather scoff at the old "liberal media" trope. It's a moldy, lazy, inaccurate assessment of how things really are. So, if it is indeed true that MSNBC--struggling this year in the ratings--is about to abandon its liberal leanings, it won't surprise me much, though I'm not happy about it. For one thing, their biggest star is Rachel Maddow, whose eponymously named show is unlikely to shift focus without both irritating its host, and losing its audience. What she needs is a stronger lead-in, or a shift to 8:00 pm, putting her in the actual lead spot that Countdown with Keith Olbermann used to occupy.

I like Chris Hayes, but he's a bit dry, as is the curse of many a scholarly liberal (see: Thom Hartmann). And I like Lawrence O'Donnell, but he's better at his current spot. Still, I'd prefer either to a return of the likes of  Scarborough Country, Joe Scarborough's old gig before Morning Joe. By the way, can we talk about Scarborough for a second? His very presence as host of a three-hours-per-day show on MSNBC ought to single-handedly dispel any "MSNBC is the flip-side of FOX 'News'" comments. At least until Ronan Farrow or Joy Reid show up as hosts of the oddly named Fox & Friends. But I digress. . .
Frank's kid (I mean come on) is out at MSNBC,
at least as host of his own show.

If Rachel Maddow finds herself smack-dab in the middle of Right Wing World in a format shift, she'll balk, and probably walk. If they lose her, they might as well change the format of the channel to something completely different. There's very little chance MSNBC can compete with FOX as a cloned or "lite" version of that channel. They could instead go hard news--Maddow might even welcome that, and hell, they'd be unique if they did--but would ratings actually go up for that? Righties still wouldn't watch, because reality has that unfortunate "liberal bias" they don't have to worry about on FOX.

I don't envy the position Phil Griffin is in, being in charge of programming there, and undoubtedly with corporate overlords breathing down his neck to improve ratings. But quick fixes don't come easily, especially when you consider that the situation may correct itself with the political and news cycle and the 2016 election. Getting rid of Farrow and Reid can't hurt, and putting in Thomas Roberts again is actually heartening. He's newsy and known to be (gay) liberal, so he's a good blend without feeling traitorous to the audience. Some shuffling around with the schedule? Fine. A wholesale change in tone? A mistake with a capital "M." It all comes down to this, I think: Does Comcast care if MSNBC improves in the ratings, or are they trying to squelch their liberal leanings before a big election? After having seen Clear Channel's treatment of liberal formats on radio, I think that's the most germane question.


MSNBC Shifts Ronan Farrow, Joy-Ann Reid; Thomas Roberts Returns to Dayside

First on TVNewser: A year-old experiment at MSNBC is coming to an end. As TVNewser first told you earlier today, “The Reid Report” is being canceled, and we can now confirm that “Ronan Farrow Daily” is also being shelved. Both Reid and Farrow will take on new roles with the network. . .

Read more at: TV Newser

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