“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…