In Depth: MSNBC…why O’Donnell?
When I first saw that Keith Olbermann tweet announcing Lawrence O’Donnell getting his own show my initial reaction was to check further down Twitter to see if this was the punch line to some joke Olbermann had started earlier. But it’s no joke. O’Donnell will now have a 10pm show. But the same question keeps ringing around in my head….why this guy?
If you asked me to compile a list of possible candidates to host MSNBC at 10pm, Lawrence O’Donnell would be down near the bottom of it. Sure he’s been associated with MSNBC for 14 years. Yes, he kept Countdown alive and kicking while Olbermann was off the air after the death of his father. Yes, he’s the safe choice because you know what you’re going to get.
But he is also one of the most boring, most uninspiring choices MSNBC could have made. When MSNBC hired Maddow, they got someone on the rise and not part of the establishment who was generating a buzz and had outside followers that she could bring in to MSNBC. None of those things apply to Lawrence O’Donnell. He’s an “old democrat” long part of the establishment and not considered part of the new progressive movement that Maddow hangs out on. He has no meaningful following and though he is a “name” he has no inherent buzz surrounding him. And he is not likely to bring in fresh new viewers the way Maddow had.
Put it in these terms. Say I run a network and I just got the rights to the NFC conference of the NFL and I want to bring in new viewers in to football and my first decision is to go pull past-his-time Pat Summerall out of retirement for play by play. That’s what MSNBC putting Lawrence O’Donnell on 10pm is for the network. It’s a Pat Summerall move.
When Maddow was hired, and Abrams was fired (yes, I know he wasn’t really fired…he’s still an analyst. But it rhymes! Work with me people!) that was a risky bold move by Phil Griffin. You weren’t sure what was going to happen with MSNBC primetime. But the risk paid off. Lawrence O’Donnell’s hiring is an anti-bold risk adverse move. It’s not designed to expand MSNBC’s progressive presence with brash attitude or new views. It’s not designed to inspire or bring in new viewers and generate buzz. It’s designed to preserve what MSNBC already has and not make waves.
A much more daring move, more in the Maddow vein, would be to put Ed Schultz on at 10pm. That MSNBC didn’t do that or turn to some of the others out there in the Progressive movement like the Young Turks or (fill in blank here) suggests that MSNBC either couldn’t or wouldn’t go down this route and went with the safe albeit unexciting and un-energizing establishment choice. Lawrence O’Donnell.