In a marathon must read, The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh gets extensive access to MSNBC’s primetime talent in a story that focuses on MSNBC trying to find itself after the 2012 election. (sub req.)
The only thing I find fault with is Sanneh’s inference that MSNBC’s current incarnation can be traced back to 1999 when Hardball moved from CNBC to MSNBC. I disagree. I trace it to 2006 when Olbermann started really getting under O’Reilly’s skin.
Hayes is popular at MSNBC, but even people rooting for his success wonder how long he will be given to ﬁx the show. Griﬃn has every incentive not to rush him: if Hayes fails, the decision to give him Schultz’s slot will seem like an unforced error, proof that the network still hasn’t ﬁgured out its new identity. One of the truisms of cable news is that a network depends on just a handful of big personalities: each “show” is essentially a single person, or a few people, sitting at a desk. When people talk about the dominance of Fox News, they are talking largely about the dominance of O’Reilly, without whom the network might never have dethroned CNN. In an odd way, this takes some pressure oﬀ Hayes, because it suggests that it would be futile for him to radically overhaul his program. Still, he says, he talks to Griﬃn every day, and meets with him once a week, to review focusgroup data.
Hayes wouldn’t say exactly what the data were telling him, but in recent months he has often adopted a more vehement tone, and this summer he occasionally indulged in one of Olbermann’s favorite pastimes: baiting his higherrated rival. One night, after playing a clip of Bill O’Reilly holding forth about crime and drugs and out-of-wedlock births in African-American communities, Hayes accused him of delivering a “cheap, crack-like high” to his “old, fearful white audience.” Another time, Hayes referred to House Republicans as “a bunch of really ideologically zealous teen-agers—teen-agers who have just discovered politics, and view politics as a means of self-expression.” Frowning into the camera, he tapped his desk to emphasize each word. “Get. It. Together,” he said, doing a pretty good impression of a traditional cable-news host.
Despite the ratings trouble, Maddow and Hayes have remained close; his handoﬀ to her, at nine o’clock, is the warmest and often the funniest on the network. On June 10th, he made one conspicuous change to the show: after more than two months of open-collared broadcasts, he wore a tie. During the handoﬀ, Maddow smiled mischievously and raised her eyebrows. “Chris,” she said, “am I allowed to congratulate you on the tie?”
He grinned and reddened slightly. “Yes,” he said. “I’m all grown up.”