Dump Phil Griffin?

Mediaite’s Joe Concha argues that MSNBC President Phil Griffin should be removed from his position. Concha goes on to list his reasons. I will examine each in turn and give them grades of 0-10 in terms of being a firing offense…

“The Declaration”

Griffin told The New Republic in March he expected to beat Fox by the end of the calendar year. An odd declaration given it’s a non-election year (when breaking news/human interest stories are more apt to outflank political analysis) and the lack of a big-time progressive star (say, Jon Stewart or Bill Maher) being signed by the network. Instead, Griffin misread the tea leaves of higher ratings leading up to the 2012 election and thought the audience would remain loyal to MSNBC personalities.

Ok, if we dropped a network president every time they said something that was woefully off the mark every single network would have a help wanted sign hanging on its front door. Literally. Run down the networks…NBC, ABC, CBS, FNC, FBN, CNBC, CNN, HLN, MSNBC…each has had a network president say something that was ridiculous at one time or another…some multiple times.

ICN Firing Grade: -1,000,000. It was a dumb thing to say. But that’s all it was. Learn and move on.

“We’re not the place” for breaking news. “Our brand is not that.”

When asked why his ratings were tanking in June, Griffin punted on a major aspect of being, you know, a cable news station. By stating publicly that his network isn’t terribly interested in breaking news stories—where the biggest ratings can often come from—he essentially turned MSNBC into the Olympic games (which occur once every two years). You want coverage of terror attacks like the Boston Bombings, natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy or the Oklahoma tornadoes…or human interest stories like the Cleveland kidnappings? Griffin inexplicably says don’t even bother coming to MSNBC unless politics are at the forefront.

It is well known among those who have followed this network and its parent for any length of time that MSNBC is not viewed as capable of competing with CNN on breaking news, so they don’t try. I was hearing this very point as far back as six years ago. It was the institutional view of the 30 Rock brain trust that they couldn’t compete. All they wanted to do was not look bad. As Concha himself points out, many times MSNBC doesn’t actually fare that badly with breaking news. However, there are times when it doesn’t perform very well at all.

But this is not a new thing, nor is it a byproduct of MSNBC having gone left. The move away from doing news and doing it well has been going on in bits and pieces since as far back as after the Afghan War when MSNBC launched an ill-fated talk format (Curtis and Kuby, anyone?)

All Griffin did here was own up to it. Yes, the optics are bad but the fact remains that the move away from breaking news and in depth news started well before Phil Griffin took over MSNBC.

ICN Firing Grade: 3.

Moving Chris Hayes to 8:00 PM and Ed Schultz to weekends and again back to weekdays.

Mr. Hayes is an intelligent guy. His weekend morning show before moving to primetime was wonky, thoughtful and perfect for that timeslot. But moving him to primetime–absolutely the wrong place and time for his kind of show and personality–has resulted in the opposite of a rising tide lifting all boats. Keith Olbermann averaged 1.2 million viewers when he fired in 2011. Hayes has been averaging half that since taking the reins of any cable network’s most important timeslot. Maddow’s and O’Donnell’s numbers have noticeably suffered as a result.

Yes, this was a bad move. No question about it. Lots of people, myself included, questioned this move before it even took place.

ICN Firing Grade: 8. It has hurt MSNBC’s bottom line and given CNN reason to hope when it should have none.

Hiring Alec Baldwin

If Baldwin did a show that actually featured guests who 98 percent of the audience actually recognizes (See: Not Bill De Blasio, Gary Lockwood, Keir Dullea, Cristina Tzintzun and Mary Brosnahan in the first five weeks of the show alone), it might be succeeding. But the tedious hour has instead produced ratings that have been substantially lower than the cheap and easy repeats of prison documentaries (Lockup), which once occupied the slot. Then there’s the cost of signing Baldwin, hiring producers, writers, other resources…with little return on investment.

This is a sideshow. Or freak show. But it doesn’t have a major impact one way or another on MSNBC’s bottom line. Just in the papers. And that too will pass…one way or another.

ICN Firing Grade: 1. Baldwin’s show is once a week in a throw away timeslot. It’s an experiment. Experiments sometimes fail. But they usually don’t cost someone their job for having dreamed it up. It didn’t Rick Kaplan (Maury & Connie, anyone?)

…that Martin Bashir still has a job.

It’s a consistent, disturbing theme at MSNBC: Griffin allowing anchors to say just about anything without consequences. Could you imagine if Neil Cavuto or Jake Tapper, who occupy the same timeslot on Fox and CNN, respectively, suggested anyone s*it in anyone’s mouth on national television, as Bashir did last week?

And it’s not as he’s killing it in the ratings. Day after day, Bashir easily owns the lowest-rated show in his timeslot among the big three. If Griffin were smart, he’d use this episode as an excuse to get rid of Bashir. But as of this writing (Sunday evening), nothing has been said or done. No suspensions have been handed down. Maybe Bashir will announce his punishment in Politico…

No argument here. Bashir has been an embarrassment for MSNBC since he first showed up on its air. And I wager he’s been an embarrassment to NBC News too. Whatever happened to those planned Dateline contributions anyways?

ICN Firing Grade: 10. The sooner Bashir’s gone, the better.

There are other things Concha didn’t mention that could have been mentioned…

– Dropping Cenk Uygur.
– Demolishing the news/opinion barrier which has had an adverse effect on some of MSNBC’s daytime news anchors as they stick their necks out and make themselves targets. I don’t need to name the names. We know who they are.
– Putting pundits on instead of traditional NBC/MSNBC journalists during big news/breaking news stories and expecting MSNBC’s credibility, not to mention its ratings, to not take a hit.
– Over-reliance on Progressive voices throughout the day. Echo chamber, as a description, doesn’t do it justice. This is monotone TV. It’s boring.
– Ronan Farrow. This has the potential of really sinking Griffin’s ship if Ronan stumbles out of the gate and doesn’t walk on water after his recent gushing PR blitz ran wild. Griffin has all but deified him as the “second coming”. No way he lives up to that. Nobody could.

But, the bottom line is that none of these examples…even in total…should get Griffin replaced. Every one of them had a 30 Rock sign off at some point. 30 Rock was perfectly happy as long as the ratings continued to go up. Now that things have gone south a bit, if Griffin does get removed it will be more along the lines of what happened with Jon Klein at CNN…Griffin will be a convenient scapegoat for decisions others agreed to.

22 Responses to “Dump Phil Griffin?”

  1. Putting pundits on instead of traditional NBC/MSNBC journalists during big news/breaking news stories and expecting MSNBC’s credibility, not to mention its ratings, to not take a hit.

    MSNBC should’ve adopted a policy about breaking news coverage after Alex Wagner went on and politicized the Aurora shooting. That was bad enough. Then she goes on during Sandy Hook, with a smirk on her face, and says it’s a good time to talk about gun control.

    Ronan Farrow. This has the potential of really sinking Griffin’s ship if Ronan stumbles out of the gate and doesn’t walk on water after his recent gushing PR blitz ran wild. Griffin has all but deified him as the “second coming”. No way he lives up to that. Nobody could.

    MSNBC needs to find a decent progressive voice that people know if they’re going to go down this road. Ronan Farrow is awful and his show, like Chris Hayes’ show, will probably be terrible. Put Stephanie Miller on.

  2. I tend to leave the TV on MSNBC most of the afternoon, but there’s no way I’m sitting through a Ronan Farrow Show. It’s like watching a precocious 8th grader.

  3. “Ronan Farrow. This has the potential of really sinking Griffin’s ship if Ronan stumbles out of the gate and doesn’t walk on water after his recent gushing PR blitz ran wild. Griffin has all but deified him as the “second coming”. No way he lives up to that. Nobody could.”

    “Ronan Farrow is awful and his show, like Chris Hayes’ show, will probably be terrible.”

    “but there’s no way I’m sitting through a Ronan Farrow Show. It’s like watching a precocious 8th grader”

    ^^As far as I can tell Ronan Farrow doesn’t yet have a show on MSNBC; so why you’re objecting to a program that doesn’t exist escapes me. Your basing your hate on a few pundit appearances and the fact he’s a good looking minor celebrity. Let’s at least wait until he makes a couple of sub-hosting appearances before you all start sounding like farris.

  4. Joe Concha doesn’t like MSNBC or Phil Griffin so why you would take anything he has to say about either subject seriously.

    Sure Phil Griffin has made lots of mistakes (just like every other cable network president you can name), but he’s also made just as many smart decisions.

    Giving Rachel Maddow a prime time show; hiring Chris Jansing, taking a gamble with Joe Scarborough in the AM slot, moving Steve Kornacki to “Up With”, giving Chuck Todd a dayside show are a few positive hiring moves that worked for me.

    But the big thing is his move to continue making MSNBC a liberal version of FNC which has moved the network into a solid second place in the ratings and caused CNN to flounder in third place, with nowhere left, in the political spectrum to look for an audience. It was a genius move, whether you like it or not.

  5. hiring Chris Jansing

    Griffin didn’t hire her. He’s the one who sent her packing to LA in the first place. Then he realized he screwed up and wanted her back but it took two years for that to happen.

  6. Good stuff, Spud. I should have particularly explored the news/opinion aspect on breaking news further (I mentioned Matthews during the Boston Bombings but should have eloborated on the practice as a whole after broaching Pete Williams). And you’re right on the echo chamber (save for Morning Joe)…I’ve written about that before but simply didn’t include it.

    Regarding Cenk, I was trying to limit the scope to this year. As you said, all cable execs make mistakes. My point is that Griffin had a horrible year and appears to have lost his troops.

    Re: Farrow. Until he gets a show, I’m holding off. They’ll likely put him on weekend afternoons at first, which is a good place to take chances since the bar is set low already (See: Disrupt).

    Anyway, appreciate the feedback and ICN. It’s always part of the breakfast rotation. -JC

  7. “Griffin didn’t hire her. He’s the one who sent her packing to LA in the first place. Then he realized he screwed up and wanted her back but it took two years for that to happen.”

    ^^You’re splitting hairs Spud. Being smart and humble enough to correct a mistake is the sign of a good leader, not one you should push out the door.

  8. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that compared to CNN the demo ratings for MSNBC are doing just fine, thank you.

    For example, there are seven programs on CNN from 5PM – 10PM EST — i.e., five one-hour programs and two 1/2 hour programs.

    Most nights MSNBC wins the vast majority of the seven time slots.

    To wit (MSNBC vs. CNN):
    MON; 6-1
    TUE; 7-0
    WED: 6-1
    THU: 5-2 (CNN televised specials at 9:00 & 10:00)

    Last week MSNBC also beat CNN in ‘Total Day’ demo viewers 3 of 4 days.

    Many right leaning critics of MSNBC, like Joe Concha, tend to single out MSNBC without context because of its more left-leaning bias than CNN.

    There’s noting wrong with that. It’s just that when you put it in context MSNBC is not the biggest ratings loser to the dominance by Fox News. That would clearly be CNN. But it’s more inviting for those on the right to take on MSNBC like the house is falling. 🙂

  9. The biggest factor, to me, is that MSNBC has to be a complete embarrassment to NBC. Chuck Todd hosts a program on a channel that spends all day calling the opposition racists and who has hosts who call people “coc&sucking f@gs” and who advocate defecating in the mouth of a former governor (who happens to be female).

    NBC personnel regularly appear on screen with these moonbats. How can Chuck Todd ever ask a Republican to defend something another Republican said without having Bashir, Matthews, Baldwin or any of the other hyperbolic cranks thrown back in his face.

    Regarding ratings; you could get big ratings by broadcasting all kinds of crazy sh!t but when you have NBC in your title and you’re a “news” channel, that hurts NBC. I have zero respect for anybody at NBC because they won’t call out their own. When has Chuck Todd or David Gregory taken on the crazy that is MSNBC? They are not separate entities.

  10. Regarding ratings; you could get big ratings by broadcasting all kinds of crazy sh!t

    Fox proves that every night.

  11. Lonestar gets a cokie for his on target comment…

  12. bushleaguer Says:

    Great post, Spud.

    Just out of curiosity……when you said “dropping Cenk Uygur” did you mean not fighting to keep him? I could be wrong but as I remember it Uygur was lured away by Current TV…..he wasn’t shown the door by MSNBC.

  13. Uygur was dumped after liberal guests complained about being yelled at on air, then he appeared on Current’s Olbermann show, where KO told him, “We’ll be calling you.”

  14. You’re basing your hate on a few pundit appearances and the fact he’s a good looking minor celebrity.

    First, in order to be a minor celebrity I would’ve had to have heard of him. Second, your premise is no different than people who claim I don’t like Megyn Kelly ’cause she’s good looking. Wrong and wrong.

  15. You’re splitting hairs Spud.

    No I’m not. A good leader doesn’t make that kind of mistake. Especially when everyone else under him knew her value.

  16. “First, in order to be a minor celebrity I would’ve had to have heard of him. Second, your premise is no different than people who claim I don’t like Megyn Kelly ’cause she’s good looking. Wrong and wrong.”

    ^^So I guess it’s based solely on the few pundit appearances.

    You, Spud and Andy may be right. I don’t know. The problem I have is neither do you. I’m sure when it was proposed that Rachel Maddow get a PT show lots of people said giving a PT slot to a snarky liberal l*sbian activist would be a ratings disaster. They would have been mistaken. And I remember thinking MHP would be a great host based on her sub-hosting on TRMS and other MSNBC appearances. Boy was I wrong.

    It was only this week that I finally made up my mind about Howie’s new program on FNC and decided it wasn’t worth watching, on a regular basis, any more.

    Time will tell if Farrow’s show – if he gets one – will be any good. I’m just saying lets wait and see before passing judgement.

  17. “A good leader doesn’t make that kind of mistake. Especially when everyone else under him knew her value.”

    ^^You may know more than me about why the original Jansing move was made but your estimation of her value by others, at the time, may be colored by your personal appreciation of her talents. There may be a perfectly good reason for the original move to LA, just as there was one for bringing her back. Neither is more than an executive doing their job to the best of their ability.

  18. ^^^ No. My estimation is not colored (though I am biased regarding her abilities). It’s based on what people were TELLING ME and based on the inside info I had well before the news broke that she was being sent packing (I had three months warning it was coming).

    Sure, there’s a perfectly good reason for the original move to LA. She was making too much money and Griffin wasn’t a fan but Capus didn’t want her out of NBC entirely. LA was middle ground, though there was a trial balloon of having her anchor WNBC and MSNBC part of the time but that went nowhere.

    The reason she got to come back was it took her absence for people in the corporate structure to wake up and realize what they were now missing. Griffin wanted her back quick but the LA Bureau Chief didn’t want to give her up. So things went sideways for a couple years.

    I’m sure when it was proposed that Rachel Maddow get a PT show lots of people said giving a PT slot to a snarky liberal l*sbian activist would be a ratings disaster.

    Not really. There were no expectations really…or very low expectations. The exact opposite of what’s going on with Farrow where he’s had huge write ups in the NYT and other places about how he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread yadda-yadda-yadda and MSNBC has done nothing to tamp down those expectations. He’s being set up to fail big time. Could he pull it off. Sure. He’s got a puncher’s chance. Is it likely? No. They set the bar too high.

  19. Spud: Your explanation of the Jansing moves make sense and I would only add that if you are right it would seem to be a short sighted corporate decision, including Capus, made to save a few bucks and not all on Phil Griffin as you suggested.

    Re Farrow: Yeah, just like Baldwin, he got write ups because he was a celebrity with a high end resume. And MSNBC would be stupid not to use all that free positive publicity to promote his hiring. If that’s setting the bar too high it’s a problem I’m sure they prefer to having no one care about him hosting a dayside show on the network. Sure he may blow up big time or he may be great. We don’t know because he hasn’t hosted even a single show on the network.

    Of the stuff I’ve seen of him as a pundit he has been OK, but not great. The only real problem I have with his performance is his fixation with Hillary Clinton. As I’ve said here before; he’s way overqualified for the job and I expect he’s only getting some free media training for a major role in the Hillary 2016 campaign.

  20. ^^^ I doubt that. MSNBC wouldn’t grab him for a major high profile M–Fr position if it thought there was the danger of losing him in a year or two. It would have kept him on weekends.

  21. “^^^^ I doubt that. MSNBC wouldn’t grab him for a major high profile M–Fr position if it thought there was the danger of losing him in a year or two. It would have kept him on weekends.”

    ^^Your probably right. It’s just my personal conspiracy theory based on his strange animated defense of any slights to Hillary on his recent MSNBC appearances. BTW he doesn’t have to tell MSNBC of his future plans. He can just decide to leave. 😉

  22. True.

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