MSNBC’s POV Metamorphosis: Appendix B
(Appendix B of this series chronicles the failed 2009 attempt to overhaul MSNBC’s dayside into POV analysis)
Despite whatever bumpiness that had occurred with regards to the election coverage in 2008, the storyline for MSNBC had been very positive overall. The network was flirting with beating CNN in primetime and Morning Joe was starting to give that network’s American Morning a severe identity crisis. But MSNBC President Phil Griffin wasn’t satisfied.
Afternoons and dayside for MSNBC were still kind of rough. While Hardball had achieved close to institution status because of the years the show had been on MSNBC and CNBC before that, it was basically an island in the afternoon surrounded by a series of programs that couldn’t gain traction. Griffin saw what prime and mornings were doing and saw what daytime and afternoons were doing and probably wondered how to translate the success of primetime and mornings to the rest of MSNBCs critical hours. What was the secret?
Evidently Griffin decided the secret was POV analysis. It was all over primetime, it was a staple of Morning Joe, and it was on its way to becoming a fixture of MSNBC’s political news event coverage (See Appendix A). MSNBC’s POV was the beginnings of a brand and an identity. The question and challenge for Griffin became how to extend and unify that brand across all of MSNBC. The solution Griffin came up with: less news and more POV analysis.
There had been attempts at dabbling with various forms of POV at MSNBC going back practically forever. But those took place under different management in a different era and with different types and levels of corporate support at NBC.
Griffin’s less news/more POV concept was implemented for the first time in mid 2009 when MSNBC overhauled most of dayside by eliminating the 9-1pm news block entirely, replacing it with Morning Meeting with Dylan Ratigan, Carlos Watson, and Nancy Snyderman. Afternoons changed in that Tamron Hall was paired with conservative lightning rod and overall loose cannon David Shuster for a two hour edgy semi-POV newscast. It would mark the beginning of the end of Norah O’Donnell’s relationship with NBC News as her show was eliminated from MSNBC. Evenings saw Chris Matthews joined by another conservative lighting rod and even bigger loose cannon, Ed Schultz, at 6pm.
To be fair not all of the changes were Griffin’s idea. The inclusion of Snyderman was essentially MSNBC’s implementation of a GE mandate for health initiatives across its holdings. But Griffin was upbeat about the changes and said the following to Marissa Guthrie at Broadcasting & Cable
“We’re changing dayside away from the TelePrompTer headline news to Dylan Ratigan and Dr. Nancy. And we’ll continue to do that less–of people sitting behind a desk, reading TelePrompTers,” Griffin says. “Our audience knows what’s going on. They’ve got BlackBerrys. They’re on the Web. So we’ve got to give them more.”
Overall, the changes were a disaster. Predictably, Snyderman’s show cratered and was cancelled. Carlos Watson mysteriously dropped off the network for reasons that still have not come out publicly. Ratigan’s show was one hour too long and not well suited for the morning and was eventually shortened and moved to 4pm. And that was pretty much it for Griffin’s first quasi-attempt at extending POV across MSNBC. Dayside returned to news and information headlines.
To say that Griffin had been stymied would be putting it mildly. Contrast the change of heart between Griffin’s comments in the Broadcasting & Cable piece and what Griffin told the AP after his changes fell apart…
“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.”
“All three cable networks kind of struggle during the day trying to figure out their identity,” he said. “We’re going to get into a more aggressive headline and information programming.”
But, in reality, Griffin wasn’t conceding anything. He had suffered a defeat, a bad defeat, but had not surrendered. Like the return of POV anchors for primetime political coverage after the Olbermann/Matthews pairing triggered a revolt inside NBC News and publicly blew up in MSNBC’s face (see Appendix A), Griffin would again attempt a POV overhaul of the network, this time using a different strategy. (see Main Story)