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.

19 Responses to “In Depth: MSNBC…why O’Donnell?”

  1. stevemg Says:

    I’m guessing Griffin saw his ratings when he subbed for Olbermann and said, “What the heck.”

    On the other hand, he does seem popular on the liberal/left blogosphere. Whenever he’s gone off on someone, they’ve applauded him.

    Whether that’s enough to carry him through remains to be seen.

    Okay, it isn’t.

  2. lonestar77 Says:

    O’Donnell is an angry bomb-thrower. It’s a good fit. MSNBC will never increase their audience because their hosts are so far out on the fringes. They’ve pretty much ruined the brand name so it would be nearly impossible to attract viewers who aren’t fans of Olbermann. Therefore, the best they can hope for is the status quo. This is what O’Donnell gives them.

  3. They couldn’t give Abrams 10pm when Maddow came but yeah they give it to O’Donnel oh great.

  4. laura l Says:

    They should pair him with Kelsey Grammer. Who remembers ”identical cousins’?

  5. lonestar77 Says:

    Hah. Kelsey Grammer wouldn’t be let in the building. They’ve met their qouta of right-wingers…with 1.5.

  6. ouchboy Says:

    I think thats great , for fox. He’s just another chicken in an over loaded hen house. That’s all msnbc needs is another progressive liberal distorting everything that fox has reported two to three days earlier. Any liberal can do that. he will energize the 20% of people that call themselves progressives. congratulations O’Donnell , I think msnbc deserves you. However on a personal level I like you. At least your not a rhino.

  7. O’Donnell has improved his delivery over the last year and he is one of the smartest MSNBC analysts and that I believe earns him a shot.
    If he can resist the urge to pontificate like Schultz or Ratigan and be more in the Maddow mold then in time he could do well.
    I’m not expecting a huge ratings boost just keeping the KO repeat numbers will do for now. It will be interesting to see how he does against Cooper.
    No word on the format but I assume it will follow the other MSNBC shows which basically all follow the same style.
    I wonder if they will call it the Lawrence O’Donnell Show or go for something more adventurous.

  8. I wonder how Schultz and Ratigan feel about this. I was always of the mindset that they should move Ratigan back to five, keep Schultz and 6, have Hardball’s first airing at 7 and then repeat it at 10 (all times eastern, of course). Lawrence might have been a choice for a weekend program if MSNBC was interested with putting actual cable news in weekend primetime.

  9. He’s completely unhinged, and could possibly be good viewing for those nights when we’ve had a little too much to drink with dinner.

  10. joeremi Says:

    What a lame move. How is this better than Abrams or Scarborough Country or Tucker? It barely out-ranks Rita Cosby:Live & Direct (shudder). Lawrence speaks in the same boring drone at all times. It’s hardly ‘risk averse’. He’ll be lucky to hold Coutdown’s rerun ratings. Fail.

  11. smh3477 Says:

    This sucks. I was hoping for Chris Hayes to get a show. Lawrence O’Donnell I do not find interesting at all.

  12. joeremi Says:

    -Chris Hayes-

    That would’ve made a lot more sense. He’s filled in (capably) for Rachel, and is a much fresher version of the “progressive” vibe MSNBC is cultivating.

  13. I don’t agree with Chris Hayes getting his own show… he’s already a columnist for The Nation, one of the most popular Progressive magazines in the country. There would be no point in giving him a solo show when he’s already busy enough with his great journalistic ability. In fact, he would probably be at the bottom of my list to host a show. He used to do some kind of cross-fire type program before, but, I think, it got canceled. I don’t even know if he has any aspirations to be a host, anyway.

    Besides, as boring as O’Donnell might be, it’s not about being exciting or a raving lunatic… *cough* Beck *cough*… it’s about offering knowledge and informing the viewers. If they don’t want to tune into shows on MSNBC, they can resort to the cartoon characters and teabaggers that are ranting about socialism on Fox News. I could care less what Fox does anymore. They can get ratings so far up the butt that it’s coming out of their mouth, for all I care… they are irrelevant in EDUCATING people with FACTS, and are simply there for the fringe ideologues who don’t have anywhere else to go. MSNBC, on the other hand, has a better ratio of factual claims to lies and actually have reporters who do their job very well.

    Those Fox viewers are typically the people like lonestar, ouchboy and boogiewoogie, some of whom that live in the fantasy world where Fox is somehow “Fair & Balanced” and that progressives/liberals are “distorting everything that fox has reported two to three days earlier“, even though they can’t show evidence of anybody on MSNBC distorting anything. It’s always some secret conspiracy theory with these kind of wing nuts. They need their daily dose of far-right rhetoric and ANY time there is a liberal/progressive giving their point of view, they throw a fit and close their ears yelling “LA-LA-LA”… obviously, a beacon of maturity in today’s political climate.

  14. lonestar77 Says:

    dougieness Says:

    “I could care less what Fox does anymore.”…. then rants about Fox until I fall asleep only to awaken in time to post this. Heehee.

  15. To dougieness: News FLASH; I watch very little fox news. Its borning. You see fair and balanced news is not to exciting.
    Msnbc gives me a thrill when they steal real news and spin it to fit thier agenda.

  16. lonestar: I wouldn’t call that much of a rant… just more of a reminder of what Fox does and what gullible sheep they attract. I’m glad it brought out a “heehee” from you, though.

    ouchboy: You watch “very little” of them, yet, you somehow know they are “fair and balanced“? Interesting. And, again, show evidence of your baseless claims… when has MSNBC ever stolen news? Spinning to fit an agenda is common… that’s what news commentary is, and every station and network takes part in it. Don’t tell me you don’t know that.

  17. I don’t agree with Chris Hayes getting his own show… he’s already a columnist for The Nation, one of the most popular Progressive magazines in the country. There would be no point in giving him a solo show when he’s already busy enough with his great journalistic ability.

    He could do both and truth be told The Nation is big in progressive circles but not in the mainstream. Hayes getting his own show, if it worked out like Maddow’s did, would be a step up for him and increase his mainstream exposure in ways that solely writing for the Nation ever could.

  18. I know I’m several days late to this post… sorry…

    Going back to the original premise of this post:

    Maddow was hired when Obama was still on the rise, in good with progressives, didn’t need Republicans, and didn’t need to compromise. We all noticed that Obama couldn’t even say the words ‘cap and trade’ in his speech the other night. Times are different. I honestly don’t think MSNBC would hire a Rachel Maddow today. It all has to to with where Obama and the country are at; that’s my take.

  19. […] CNN should trade Rick Sanchez to MSNBC for Lawrence O’Donnell.  O’Donnell’s a left-wing bore (he’d fit in well at CNN), and Sanchez is a loud-mouthed idiot (he’d fit in well at […]

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