“Jansing & Co.”: Will it Work?

“To throw things up, which we did for many years and see if it sticks, is not a strategy. And I’ll never do it again,” he tells me. “It’s too painful.” – MSNBC Phil Griffin to New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman in Sherman’s jaw droppingly must read opus on cable news.

This week MSNBC took the wraps off the first third of a three part revamping of MSNBC dayside; the third such revamping in the past 18 months. The first third is the two hour program “Jansing & Co.” The other two will be an as yet not unveiled branding for Tamron Hall’s hour at 2pm and the debut of Martin Bashir’s hour at 3pm.

It’s no state secret that I think highly of Chris Jansing, perhaps to a fault. I and others have long held the belief that she’s been criminally under appreciated at NBC for what she brings to a newscast in terms of her experience, poise, and interviewing skills. So the news that MSNBC chose to finally give Jansing her own branded show – two hours worth – a duration nobody else at MSNBC dayside is going to get – is not insignificant. It is therefore unfortunate that she’s going to be tied down to a show that, left unchanged, may not result in the success MSNBC is hoping for.

Rigid and monotone. I looked at a lot of adjectives that would best describe “Jansing & Co.” but rigid and monotone are probably the most applicable. Normally, the point of branding programs is to create a program where the host’s strengths are accentuated. Countdown is tailored to Keith Olbermann strengths. The same thing goes for The Rachel Maddow Show, The Last Word, Morning Joe, Hardball, The Daily Rundown…and even The Ed Show and Andrea Mitchell Reports.

But Jansing & Co. is not. Instead it’s a shotgun marriage of an ill thought out format to a host that’s capable of more than the format’s rigidity will allow. What is that format? It’s mostly a talking head format where a bunch of talking heads are brought in to talk about various issues. While that might work if the talking heads were not the usual subjects one normally sees on MSNBC – which would create an interesting differentiator vs. the rest of MSNBC dayside’s talking heads – it’s mostly, though not always, just the same old analysts we already see all the time on MSNBC. And it’s too much of the same old analysts. The show’s name is Jansing & Co but it might as well be retitled Co. & Jansing because the show so far seems to be more about the talking heads than it is about Jansing. Group after group of talking heads come on in a nearly unending stream that leaves the viewer with little time to decompress from the constant onslaught of nattering nabobs.

Jansing isn’t the star of this show. The format is. You can’t separate Keith Olbermann from Countdown and expect the show to still function well long term. But you can separate Jansing from this show and put on some other news anchor and the show will pretty much operate the same because with this show it appears it’s the format that matters and not the host. That’s a branding killer if the point of the show is to accentuate the host. But if the point of the show is to implement a new format, that’s another story.

News has taken a noticeable backseat to kibitzing. This means if you really want to know what’s going on in the world you have to wait until Contessa Brewer comes on at Noon for a real newscast. You don’t get a lot of news on Morning Joe. You get about the same, excluding political news, during Daily Rundown. Now MSNBC has implemented another two hour relatively newsless block from 10-12pm. When the show debuted on Monday, gone were most of the news reports, the newsmaker interviews, and the weather.

If this format sounds eerily familiar to you, it should. MSNBC tried something similar to this a year ago. That show was called Morning Meeting. It didn’t last a year. When Ratigan was moved to 4pm MSNBC President Phil Griffin had the following to say to the AP

“We did some experimentation to find out what the audience during the daytime wants and I think we found out they want your basic facts — give me the facts, ma’am,” Griffin said. “We can still do it with our passion and a fast pace.”

And that MSNBC did do. And MSNBC’s dayside newscast has continued to improve since the start of the year as a result. But that was then and this is now. Now, we have a quasi return to what was tried a year ago; more talking head analysis and less news. Unlike Morning Meeting, Jansing & Co doesn’t feature a host that throws out a bunch of opinions while peppering their guests with agenda setting questions. But aside from that, the formats are very similar, right down to Jansing having an infrequently seen sidekick (Jansing’s Richard Lui to Ratigan’s Contessa Brewer). It almost seems like MSNBC decided “Okay, the opinionated host was a bad fit for that timeslot but what about the format? Let’s try the format again with some tweaks but with an impartial host. Yeah, that’s the ticket!” All of which brings me back to the quote at the top of this post.

“To throw things up, which we did for many years and see if it sticks, is not a strategy. And I’ll never do it again,” “It’s too painful.”

Griffin was clearly talking about primetime when he said that, but that lesson should be applied to dayside as well. Three format changes in 18 months qualifies as “throwing things up and seeing what sticks” in my book.

The show is only three days old but it debuted, like Parker Spitzer, with a big thud. The show lacked energy and pace. This is primarily due to the talking heads. The talking heads themselves had plenty of energy but it is the over reliance on the talking heads that drains the energy from the program because it is an unending stream of talking head analysis. You can have tons of energy coming from your talking heads but if you have wave after wave of talking heads the viewer becomes desensitized to the spectacle and what was intended to be innovative and exciting becomes, well, boring. This format of show with all these analysts coming on is better suited for Sunday mornings or late night TV than it is during the height of the news cycle day.

With Jansing & Co. the desk is the center of activity. Morning Joe and The Dylan Ratigan show both use a similar operating style but they are different shows with opinionated hosts in different timeslots and the expectations are different precisely because of that. The rest of MSNBC dayside tries to use as much of the set as possible. This isn’t happening with Jansing & Co. and I believe the reason is logistical. Because of the deluge of talking heads it becomes a logistical nightmare to use different parts of the set without running into trouble with getting the last panel out and the next panel in. Indeed the only time the desk isn’t the center of activity is when Richard Lui makes an appearance. That’s the only time the rigidity of the show is broken up and we achieve some modicum of pacing.

I believe there is room for modification here, the plethora of talking heads nonwithstanding. Move the panels around the set instead of having them always at the news desk. Have a panel discussion at the desk. Have another standing at the table. Have another sitting down in chairs away from the desk. Change things up. This can only increase the pacing of the show and take some of the repetitiveness out of having all those analysts on.

This is Jansing’s show but Richard Lui is her sidekick, for lack of a better word. But Lui only pops up sporadically; so far only three times during the two hour show. This is a problem because it gives precious little time for any sort of chemistry to develop between the two. How can it when the only time the two are together talking one on one is when one tosses to the other? Here’s an idea. At the end of the show sit the two of them down together, away from the desk, and just talk to each other, perhaps about what’s happened today and what will unfold the rest of the day. Build some chemistry between them. As of now the two are practically operating in different universes. That’s bad because the whole point of the sidekick gimmick is to have someone to play off of. Joe and Mika do it all the time. Even back during Morning Meeting Ratigan and Brewer would play off each other, though not as effectively because Brewer was on about as much as Lui is now.

This is actually the second whack I’ve taken at writing this. My first attempt was based on the first show and was far harsher than this one. On the second show things remained the same. But on the third show things changed a bit and I started revising this article. Up until Wednesday there had been no one on one interviews. I’m not talking about talking to a single analyst/talking head but an interview with someone in the news. But Wednesday I counted two one on one interviews. There has also been an increase in news stories since Monday. There should be a bit more of this going forward. This will serve to break up the rigidity of the show with all its blathering analysts.

Jansing & Co. is the ultimate soft launch and not in a good way. They redid the graphics for the show but outside of that and the format change, if you weren’t already watching, you wouldn’t know it existed. There’s been zero publicity for this show and I do mean zero. MSNBC is about to blow millions of dollars on a branding campaign but it won’t do some of the basic things people expect for a new show like Jansing & Co. There’s been zero changes to MSNBC.com. If you went to the TV section you’d have no clue there was a new show. There’s no dedicated page for the show. The schedule still lists “MSNBC Live” starting at 10am ET. Jansing and Lui still are not even listed in the TV sections Bio pages and Jansing has been back with MSNBC since June. Inexcusable.

There’s no social media tie in with Jansing & Co. I’ve read a few tweets from viewers wanting Jansing and Lui on Twitter. I can’t say about Lui, but based on my understanding I think you’ll find that getting Brian Williams on Twitter was a far easier proposition than getting Jansing on Twitter (and that’s saying something). And that’s her prerogative because Twitter isn’t everybody’s cup of tea so she gets a pass from me on that. But for the network to not bother to set up a generic “Jansing & Co” Twitter account where people can give feedback to the show, and they haven’t because I’ve been checking, was a grossly negligent oversight.

Jansing & Co. isn’t a total disaster by any stretch of the imagination but there is a lot of room for improvement. I’m not arguing against having talking head analysis but talking head analysis ad nauseum with news and interviews taking a very back seat. Right now the format is too rigid and monotone. Bring back the newsmaker interviews. Add a bit more news. Don’t get rid of the talking head analysis entirely but make it more proportional to everything else. Make better use of the set. Tailor the show more towards Jansing’s strengths, the things she excels at. And give Jansing and Lui more time to play off each other and bring out more of their personalities which will definitely work in Jansing and the show’s benefit. And honestly, isn’t that the whole point of creating a branded show for her in the first place?

But the time window for change is relatively small. If MSNBC doesn’t start shaking things up, and quickly, the show as it currently exists may end up doing a slow fade into obscurity…

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51 Responses to ““Jansing & Co.”: Will it Work?”

  1. Ha, I’m a Jansing groupie and forget this show even started..

    It seems to me MSNBC should hire Spud to fix things around there. He couldn’t be worse than what they’ve been putting on for years.

    Btw, Richard Lui is a pretty good anchor. Its a shame MSNBC is just using him sparingly.

  2. iraqwarvet1201 Says:

    This is gonna sound so bad, and sexist but MSNBC should take a look at what works for FOX. Fox uses hotties in short, tight dresses to read the news and it works. Better angles of Tamron Hall, Contessa Brewer and add Norah O’Donnell and that equals ratings. It’s soooo wrong, but it’s true.

  3. I’ve watched the show, and it’s definitely just like the MSNBC Live type format, which is lame as a branded show for Jansing. She’s a great anchor, and I love Lui, as well… but, they don’t step out of the box too much, so it remains pretty boring. The only thing I like about the show so far is the graphics, which are pretty creative.

    I think they should do something similar to the style of Megyn Kelly from American Live. As much as I can’t stomach her personality, she has a very go-getter style, making a buzz out of her interviews and commentary, while still maintaining the feeling of a straight news show. She jumps out of the screen and makes herself heard. I don’t think Jansing is like that, and I don’t know if she can be, but she needs to do something different than she’s always done.

    Also, another good example of interaction and chemistry was what MSNBC had before with David Shuster and Tamron Hall when they were on during the late afternoon (3-5pm EST, I believe). It was a while ago, but I remember they got along so well, did their little banter, and laughed at jokes. It was fun to watch. This is what I thought Jansing and Lui would do, but he’s basically her sidekick. That’s so played out. I didn’t like when Ratigan and Brewer did it, either.

    C’mon MSNBC, you need to step it up. And, seriously, they NEED to put Jansing and her show on MSNBC.com, and put up clips of the show just like they do with all the other ones. It’s a daytime branded show, just like Andrea Mitchell, and it deserves some attention. If it wasn’t for TVNewser and ICN, I would have had no idea the show even started.

  4. – what works for FOX —

    That sounds like a good, if piggish theory, but if you’ll pardon me for a moment…you’re not gonna out-snatch Fox News. They’ve got a package-deal going, and trying to pick-out one element just looks like ‘me, too’. No idea what will work, just a random thought..

  5. I’ve watched the show, and it’s definitely just like the MSNBC Live type format

    No it isn’t. It really isn’t. That’s part of the problem. MSNBC Live’s format would be a step up from what the show is currently doing. MSNBC Live, the hours when Jansing was anchoring, had more zip in them than the two hour Jansing & Co. does.

  6. You make some valid points, though, I would disagree with you far more than I would ever agree with you. I am biased in that I believe that Chris Jansing is absolutely fantastic in any setting with the highest standard of professionalism, discipline, grace, all with a heavy dose of warm humanity. Her mastery of comunication and interviewing skills exceed anyone else that I can think of (granted, I am not the expert that you are) and she can command the room from any location at any time.
    I contend that the MSNBC staff have brought forth an intense two hours with enjoyable guests and fluid points of view (not even counting the ability to fit in a taste of humor). I would prefer that we continue with the subject flow and not worry too much about the movement of people. I would agree with you that Richard is very good and an ending wrapup makes total sense. I just don’t appreciate your opinion about the success of all of the hard work that everyone, in front of and behind the camera, have succeded in providing.
    Obviously, I could go on and on, but, I need to calm down now and simply state that your being a critic is appreciated, but, understand that many prefer to celibrate the experience of what these people and this program offers.

  7. Are we being punk’d?

  8. No we’re not.

  9. I just don’t appreciate your opinion about the success of all of the hard work that everyone, in front of and behind the camera, have succeded in providing.

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about here exactly so I really don’t know how to respond.

  10. icn2, I am not the expert here, but, I believe that the presentation has been quick, precise, and seems excellent in the flow of ideas (which is what I learn from). I know that Chris is a VERY smart person that is exceptionally graceful as she controls the pace and rhythem of the conversation, however, I am of the opinion that her success requires high quality people behind her to make the whole program work.
    Regardless of your evaluation of the ebb and flow, I, as a true Midwestern outsider, believe that the finished product is rather impressive – with, of course, the highest marks for Chris herself. This is my opinion andI’ll stick with it. Please feel free to teach me where I am wrong. I am older, but, my favorite task in life is to learn. Love it.

  11. I wouldn’t find fault with what most of what you say. However where we diverge is whether the finished product is the right thing for a news network at that time of day. History suggests it’s not. And regardless of how well the show is put together I still believe it’s too repetitive. I acknowledge that MSNBC made a conscious decision to set it up that way. But it doesn’t work for me. You may feel differntly. That doesn’t make either of us right or wrong since it’s subjective.

  12. icn2, Obviously, I grant to you your point. I am wondering who you believe that the target audience should be? I suspect that there is a natural attraction to the West Coast time zone and also the idiot crowd, like myself, who are willing to adjust their schedules to spend time watching Chris conducting her “orchestra” (and she does it so well!). I suspect, though, that the numbers are in very busy people, going crazy, trying to get everything in their lives done, in time increments of twenty minutes, now and then. Otherwise, all news will be background to the events of the day.
    The advantage that Chris has is thay she truely commands attention. Some will be irritated by the distraction, but, the majority will yield to her never ending appeal. Chris keeps these souls involved my quick witted movement of facts and opinion with style and grace that will keep people willing to endure some commercials to see more of her performance.
    Will this work? On this we disagree, but, I will fully embrace your thought that evolution will take place. Nothing in the media is static for long, or it dies. Very tough business. I will take the position that Chris is so skillful that she can fully shift gears and opperate in whatever format is necessary. MSNBC should give to Chris whatever format and environment that she wants. She will push it forward, to the betterment of MSNBC.
    Nice “talking” with you.

  13. Hi Fred. I like Chris Jansing a lot, but I’ve had her show on the last few mornings (West Coast) and barely noticed it. The endless stream of talking head segments is less attention grabbing than the standard MSNBC Live format.

  14. I’m on the west coast as well. But that doesn’t figure into anything because I have a DVR and use it like crazy.

  15. As my Mother told me, fiftyfive years ago when I was eight, “if you want to live right, you must stop and look at the roses that make our world beautiful”. Chris is a very special rose, worthy of the time and effort to check out. Enough said.

  16. Your mom was very wise, my good man. I’m having a truly awful time right now, and think I’ll take her advice.

  17. Joe, best of luck, and your hard work, to change awful to wonderful, as soon as possible. Have to tell you that life is full of pain and struggle and we all need the guts to keep it going sometimes. Having a disciplined inspiration will really help us step up and take on the challanges of life. Again, good luck.

  18. icemannyr Says:

    I think over time the show will be adjusted.
    If you remember MSNBC in the early days, they would do a few news stories then bring in the contributors to discuss them.
    I think in it’s current format the show is to much interviews and discussion and not enough news stories.

  19. I’m paying attention this morning, and Spud is right. It’s like Morning Meeting. It drags on endlessly.

  20. icenannyr, If one is more into facts/news only, there is always the web. I take the position that Chris is at her best when she is conducting the story. Gives a bit of a view of viewpoint from all sides as to what they feel is important.
    Joe, If this is the definition of endless, maybe we have discovered a portal to Heaven. Just saying……………

  21. Fred. You’re freakin’ me out. Just saying…………

  22. It drags on endlessly.

    Today wasn’t as bad as yesterday which wasn’t as bad as Monday or Tuesday so it’s improving slowly but in my view it still has a ways to go.

  23. icn2, Everything that mankind has anything to do with has “a ways to go” The point is that something very excellent has started (again) and we should welcome the start and the opportunity for growth. Love the fact that you recognize the improvement.
    joe,You have to catch me in a certain mood to cause me to even freek out an Aardvark. You just caught me dreaming. Will try to be more into reality. Sorry.

  24. icn2, Wondered if you could help me out. There was a segment on, I believe Tuesday, towards the end on the first hour, that all of the participants were laughing and giving one liners. I was laughing so hard that I missed half of it. Anyway, the topic was not my favorite but the laughs were a treasure.
    Being a rather old type, I’m no expert on all of this internet stuff, so, how do I find a video of this segment on line?
    Your help would be greatly appreciated.

  25. You can pray for divine intervention but that will probably not make a difference. As I noted in this article MSNBC has not set up a dedicated Jansing & Co web page, unlike ALL their other branded shows, so getting clips from her show up on the web is not a priority for MSNBC. I did a search last night and found one lone clip from the first three days and it was a news report and not any interview or round table panel discussion.

  26. Cheapskates! I do greatly appreciate your making the effort. Thank you.

  27. motownman Says:

    I liked the down to the wire segment Chris was doing. I wonder if there’s any chance they could resurrect that? I notice there have been more one-on-one interviews as the week has gone on. Still, the way it is now, it’s background noise to me and Chris should be much more than that.

  28. icn2, Well, despite the criticism, I’ll still contend that Chris, etal. are substantive and highly professional. They got even better as the week progressed. Chris has mastered every aspect of this business and places it all in a perfect package. Absolutely first class.I’ll never get to know her, or even talk to her, but, she inspires my life, and, noone can ask for more from a person.

  29. I never argued otherwise…

  30. You won’t get an argument from Spud about Chris Jansing. To paraphrase Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science: he’s crazy..for the woman. ;-)

  31. joe, I TOTALLY concour with Spud on that, as well as, I’m guessing, 93.6% of the humanity that spend the time to watch her. I just hope that this fantastic woman is safe, secure and happy. Chris more than deserves that.

  32. This thread is getting wayyyyyyyyyy too weird from me. And Joe, don’t take movie quotes that are in one context and try to apply them to a totally different context. It just looks stupid.

  33. This thread is getting wayyyyyyyyyy too weird for me. And Joe, don’t take movie quotes that are in one context and try to apply them to a totally different context. It just looks stupid when you do that. Stick to the facts…

    Besides….I’m just crazy. Period. I have to be to keep doing this blog…

  34. icn2, I doubt, very firmly, that you are crazy. Reasonable, compasionate, sincere, maybe, but not crazy.Just saying this from reading your points.
    This blog is creative, interesting and through. On some subjects, including this topic, you challenge the status quo and our imaginations. Thank you for hanging in with this effort.

  35. Stick to the facts…

    It was intended as a humorous reference to your longstanding support for Jansing’s work, but yeah, this thread is pretty weird. Joe, out.

  36. – Stick to the facts… —

    When did that become a requirement?

  37. laura, you are so right. Since when is expressing opinion ever construed as factual? And, what exactly is wierd about liking someone? Guess it all comes down to how we, individually, look at life.

  38. Throw in the word “necessarily” prior to “factual”. Sorry.

  39. When did that become a requirement?

    It’s more of a plea bordering on wishful thinking at this point :/

  40. So……, are we going to receive your wisdom on Monday? We promise to be good little boys and girls.

  41. Half way through Tuesday program and I see continued evolution of the show. Chris is gaining more and more control. Flow is smoother and subject discussion more complete (getting subject within the timeframe). The “packages” are flowing much better. Other than a few bits of choppiness on Monday, I see nothing but excellence.
    Sorry to you all, but, I do so love it when Chris has that wonderful, subtle, smile when she knows that she is in control and running in top form. Beautiful.

  42. We disagree. The show had a relapse this week. It’s much more monotone than it was at the end of last week.

  43. icn2, Guess that is why you are the critic and I am the hopeless fan.

  44. Well, two weeks done and I’m still a hopeless fan. Friday also brought some energy. New outfit (as always, spot on), kept away from awkward subjects (at least from my prespective), consistant excellence.
    Interplay with Richard seems to be kept at a low level. Not sure of the logic here. Seems to be placing Richard in an awkward, off balance, environment which is not allowing him to be at his best.
    So, I go into the weekend, hopeless and loyal. Norah is on now (another great professional – they all are, to some extent, or they wouldn’t be where they are – in front of the camera) and I’ll look for contrast. Won’t matter what I find, I’ll always come back to Chris. Loyal to a falt.

  45. [...] it from every other hour on MSNBC. Not that I think that format change is such a great idea as it’s currently implemented but it was definitely in need of a dedicated show name because of the change. I can’t say the [...]

  46. Wednesday 10/20/10, Three days into the week and I still contend that Chris Jansing continues to get better and better. I really like the product and I greatly enjoy the way she conducts the conversation. I’m starting to look at this as “the fastest two hours in news”.
    I certainly hope that Chris gets the opportunity to continue this as long as she wants and I’ll even accept any changes, so long as she wants them.

  47. Thursday was not a great day. Professional, as always, but I sensed that people were not in the best of moods. Cause could be anything, but, when it is there, it shows.
    Everyone has bad days and, believe me, I have full empathy for everyone involved. Sometimes we have to just pick ourselves up and push forward – just like Chris did today.

  48. Friday and we are back in top form. Fantastic flow, smooth transitions, fabulous grace and presentatioon. Great way to go into a weekend.
    As ususual, stunning outfit just adds to the overall sense of perfection. Inspires everyone to be at their best.
    Otherwise, textbook or text book, who cares (at least for those of us whose spelling skills are a joke)., though, “she or she” needs to have an examination, maybe a mental one.

  49. We are almost through November and Jansing & Co continues to evolve. Each week it has gotten smoother and better organized. I must confess, every time that I think that the program can’t get better, Chris leads the Company to a higher level. I am even getting to enjoy the trivia that used to irritate me. These people work very hard to put on a totally professional product and they should be encouraged. There are even better things to come.

  50. icn2, Hey, it is almost Christmas and Chris Jansing and staff are calmly moving on up the latter of excellence. Chris is smoothly growing in control and discipline. She seems to consistantly upgrade, my opinion, of what professionalism can provide. She can’t do this, especially this well, without a strong, hardworking, support behind the camera. So, icn2, I continue to believe that Jansing & Co is working, and will continue to work, exceptionally well.

  51. [...] & Co. and Daily Rundown/Mitchell Reports. Recall that when Jansing & Co. debuted it was all talking head analysis and no news. Well that pretty much sums up Now with Alex Wagner. It’s all talking head analysis and no [...]

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