In Depth: “Waiter? I’ll have the crow please. Medium rare.”

Back in June when MSNBC announced that Lawrence O’Donnell had been picked to fill in the network’s missing piece at 10pm I was skeptical to say the least. I wrote a piece openly criticizing the hiring of O’Donnell. Some of my bigger darts were as follows…

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.


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.

Then O’Donnell’s show debuted and it wasn’t more of the same which I thought for sure was what the network was looking for when it hired him. No. The Last Word was different. The vibe was different. It was still a center left to far left show with a center left to far left host but it came across more like a reasonable show, if one can use the term “reasonable” to describe what it still essentially an ideologically/politically driven primetime program.

Put it in these terms. Countdown is all fire and brimstone. The Rachel Maddow show is a more toned down program than Countdown with a progressive wonk at the helm. And The Last Word is an even more toned down (so far) version of The Rachel Maddow show with a more restrained deliberate pace fronted by another wonk, but more of the establishment variety (think Chris Matthews but without the histrionics).

The Last Word is going a different direction from MSNBC’s two previous hours. I don’t think you’ll ever find David Gregory making an appearance on Countdown. But he did last night on The Last Word. So did Chris Jansing (who got a big show plug for J&Co. at the end of her segment). Two straight news people on a cable news primetime hour on a network known for its primetime leftward turn? That’s not what one would expect to see on MSNBC primetime. But does fit a pattern for 10pm on cable news in general.

I wasn’t expecting this. I was expecting more fire and brimstone at 10pm from MSNBC. I didn’t see this coming. Nor did I get what Phil Griffin was trying to do by hiring O’Donnell. I just didn’t see it.

Nor did I see the numbers The Last Word would end up generating since its debut. I was expecting a tail off because of three hours of ideology which I didn’t think O’Donnell could deliver on his end. But I miscalculated because The Last Word wasn’t the show I was expecting and O’Donnell wasn’t the host I thought he would end up being. And that difference has been reflected in The Last Word’s ratings which have more than once now had a higher Demo number than the previous two hours, something I never would have thought possible.

I was so confident in my prognosis I openly challenged Alana Russo, then of MSNBC’s PR department, via email that The Last Word would almost certainly fail, that O’Donnell was the wrong host, and that if it did end up succeeding I would have to eat a hella lot of crow.

I don’t like crow. It disagrees with my stomach. But crow it is. The Last Word has only been on for a couple of months at best but it’s been on long enough and been successful enough that I want to get this crow eating over with. I got the The Last Word and O’Donnell wrong from the very start. I got Phil Griffin’s thinking wrong too. I don’t think if I deliberately tried I could have gotten something this fundamentally wrong. It was so wrong it’s embarrassingly wrong.

But at least I have the guts and stamina to own up to it. When I’m right, I won’t hesitate to state as much. And when I’m wrong, I can eat crow with the best of them. Now if you’ll excuse me, dinner is being served…


11 Responses to “In Depth: “Waiter? I’ll have the crow please. Medium rare.””

  1. Well, obviously the question, a fair one, with O’Donnell and his hosting was whether we would see the more sober and reasoned former Daniel Moynihan staffer (and McLaughlin Group guest) or the bombastic and boorish “You’re a liar!!” bomb thrower.

    Given the direction that MSNBC was taking, the smart money was on the latter and not the former.

    Although I’d suggest it’s still early. Let’s see how he behaves when (if?) the Republicans capture Congress.

  2. We all make mistakes, often to our gain in the learning process. Lawrence was always capable, it just seems that his direction on the Last Word has moved well into the strong success category. He is polite but still needs some improvement in being respectful (this will come). I simply enjoy listening to his clear development of the varied subjects and his engaging manner.
    So, if you feel that you need to eat crow, do remember that suprises are very good things, especially when they are so positive.

  3. It’d be interesting to see if there was anybody who did think it would work besides Phil Griffin. I was as wrong as wrong could be about it.

  4. I think you have to give a lot of the credit to the producers and bookers who have given LOD some well timed A-list guests and kept O’Donnell on a tight leash. I can think of only one segment (the one with the ‘Latinos-don’t vote’ guy) where Lawrence got out of control. The ratings are really surprising.

    The other show that’s really surprising me at the moment is the Ed Show which is now regularly beating ‘Hardball’ in ratings. It’s too over the top for my taste but it must get those hard core progressive viewers that are similar to those on the far right that watch Hannity every night.

  5. Personally, I think MSNBC should alter its pre-primetime lineup. Move Ed to 7, Chris to 6, and Dylan to 5. Fill 4pm with relatively straight news (maybe even Norah O’Donnell from DC).

  6. josh, What exactly is the time zone that you are thinking this should be, EDT, CDT, MDT, PDT?

    fritz, Leash, maybe, but Lawrence wouldn’t be this good if it was in any way tight.

  7. ^eastern time. I think they’d get better ratings if they didn’t replay Hardball an hour after it finishes airing the first time. Kinda like how LOD has improved MSNBC’s 10 pm over the Countdown repeat.

  8. sirfuller Says:

    I’ll join you in eating crow…. I never thought the show would be as good as it is.

    Mmmm tastes like chicken 🙂

  9. […] In Depth: “Waiter? I'll have the crow please. Medium rare … […]

  10. I hate to brag, but I was pretty much right on about LOD’s show from the very beginning. I was pretty positive it would be a success, for some reason. In fact, it turned out better than I thought. I didn’t know it was going to be THIS good, but still. Even the people commenting at HuffPo (majority liberals, obviously) were doubting the show doing well. So, that tells you a lot about how much crow people are going to be eating.

    I’m not surprised Spud admitted he was wrong, though. He’s a fair critic, and I always trust his judgment on these kind of things (even if he’s wrong sometimes). And, no, I’m not kissing up to you, Spud. Just the truth.

  11. You just like it because they had Jansing on 🙂


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