Archive for the MSNBC Category

Shotgun Wedding, Anyone?

Posted in MSNBC on July 3, 2015 by icn2

The Wrap’s Jordan Chariton writes about what’s been going on with MSNBC and Brian Williams…

Brian Williams might have his MSNBC title ironed out, but how he’ll actually be used is still very much in doubt among MSNBC executives, a network insider told The Wrap.

“Management is still developing exactly how BW”s role will work. They have the outline, but don’t have any of the details worked out. They are supposedly working on that between now and when BW arrives in August,” the insider said.

About That Williams News…

Posted in MSNBC on June 18, 2015 by icn2

The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove has alleged insider reaction to today’s Williams news…

“People in the newsroom are furious,” said an NBC News veteran who, like others who reacted to the personnel shuffle, spoke on condition of anonymity. “Everyone in the hallways is very, very upset and depressed about it.”

A second NBC veteran told The Daily Beast: “I have yet to speak to anyone in the news organization who wants Brian back and thinks Brian deserves to be back. He has zero support among the rank and file. I shouldn’t say ‘zero.’ There’s almost no support for him in the newsroom.”

A few more stories like these come out and NBC has a PR crisis on its hands again. And then there’s this…

It wasn’t a deal breaker that he isn’t being named managing editor of Nightly News; according to an NBC source, it was decided, based on the experience with Williams, that the managing editor title—bestowing final authority on the newscast’s content—gives an anchor too much power.

Baloney. How did Williams’ tall tales have anything to do with his Managing Editor role? I suppose you could make the argument that Williams felt omnipotent enough that he could skate by with his tall tales but he was going to feel that way because he was the face of NBC News, regardless of whether he was Managing Editor or not.

CYA At 30 Rock…

Posted in MSNBC on June 18, 2015 by icn2

Well, it happened. Lester Holt was named permanent Nightly News anchor and Brian Williams was named MSNBC breaking news floater. No, I don’t know what that means for MSNBC…and neither probably does NBC at this stage. FTVLive posted NBC’s full release which I will quote and comment liberally from…

“Lester has done outstanding work for NBC News over the last ten years, and he’s performed remarkably well over the last few months under very tough circumstances,” Lack said. “He’s an exceptional anchor who goes straight to the heart of every story and is always able to find its most direct connection to the everyday lives of our audience. In many ways, television news stands at a crossroads, and Lester is the perfect person to meet the moment.”

But unlike David Muir and Scott Pelley (not to mention a bunch of anchors who came before them) Holt will not be Managing Editor. This is not a trivial matter. Managing Editor controls the content and shapes the focus of the newscast. Most anchors want that title because they know instinctively it’s their ass on the firing line. The newscast, rightly or wrongly, is viewed as their show by the public. If something goes wrong on it, they catch the flak…they have to apologize. So if you are going to be the face of the network on its flagship newscast you tend to want to own it since you’ll be the first to catch heat if there’s a problem and be the first one everyone looks to for an explanation.

NBC didn’t give Holt that. Maybe he didn’t want it (and if he didn’t I want to hear that he didn’t). Instead NBC gave Holt all the responsibility of keeping the newscast on top but without giving him the responsibility of making sure it does. If something goes wrong now, Holt will catch the flak but it won’t necessarily be his fault. That depends of course on what the nature of the flak is. But if the flak is due to a poorly handled story or some other gaffe that would traditionally be laid at the Managing Editor’s doorstep, will NBC step up and say “It’s not his fault, it’s someone else’s” and say it loud enough, convincing enough, and long enough that the flak dies down? I would tend to doubt it.

If Holt did want it but NBC wouldn’t give it to him, it needs to explain itself. Why did it not feel Holt should be Managing Editor? Why should the first ever full time nightly solo African American broadcast news anchor not be given something his non African American peers have? You just know someone is going to point that out and make a racial argument. I don’t subscribe to that line of scrutiny but that doesn’t mean it won’t be raised. And it was something NBC should have anticipated and tried to avoid. The optics just do not play well there.

In fact the optics of Holt not being Managing Editor don’t play well under any scenario that doesn’t involve Holt not wanting the role. It undercuts NBC’s praise of him. Yeah, we think he’s great but we don’t think he should be Managing Editor, even though his predecessors were.

Lack and Steve Burke, CEO of NBCU, have decided that Williams will not be the anchor of Nightly News. Williams, who was an anchor at MSNBC from 1996 to 2004, will now join MSNBC as anchor of breaking news and special reports. He will work with Mark Lukasiewicz, SVP of Special Reports for NBCU News Group, who will help lead a team to strengthen MSNBC’s daytime coverage by further leveraging NBC News’ expertise in breaking news. In addition, Williams will serve as a breaking news anchor for NBC News live special reports when Holt is not available. He will begin the new role in mid-August.

I already said yesterday that the optics of Williams being put on MSNBC are bad. I noted that it raises the very uncomfortable question of why Williams was too toxic for NBC Nightly News but not too toxic for MSNBC. Politico’s Jack Shafer agrees

The shift of Williams from NBC News to MSNBC, which everyone will regard as a demotion, presents this question: How can Williams be too damaged to work as NBC News’ anchor but not so damaged that he can’t work at MSNBC? This move reveals a never before articulated but often implied contempt that NBC News has for its cable outlet: Its journalistic standards tower over MSNBC’s. Williams can’t really hurt MSNBC, the thinking must go at the corporate level, because MSNBC is only a talk-radio station made visual. A teller of tall tales like Williams will fit right in.

So does Jay Rosen

More challenging: NBC has to explain how he’s lost the credibility to anchor the nightly news but still has the cred to do news at MSNBC.

NBC does not want to answer that question. Nor, apparently, does it want to release the findings of its internal investigation.

What it does want to do is have Williams explain himself in an interview with Matt Lauer that was shot over two days. Two days? Why two days? For NBC’s sake they better post the entire interview, unedited, online. If they don’t, they leave themselves wide open for credible charges of “managing” the interview to put Williams in the best light possible. Or, put another way, to limit the damage as much as possible.

And then NBC wants to clam up and move on. How do we know this? Because of this statement from Steve Burke which was in the release…

This matter has been extensively analyzed and deliberated on by NBC. We are moving forward.

If this approach sounds familiar, it should

“We continue to have complete confidence in Fareed,” Zucker told POLITICO after a luncheon with reporters on Tuesday.

When pressed further if that meant Zakaria would continue appearing on CNN, Zucker repeated that they have complete confidence in the host.

The parallels between Williams and NBC and Zakaria and CNN are frighteningly similar. Consider…

– Star talent gets into big time trouble over matters that strike at the heart of their network’s journalism.
– Network does an investigation, doesn’t release the results, and decides to retain them.
– Whenever pressed, network retreats to boilerplate statement that says nothing other than it’s moved on.

We have yet to reach that last point with Williams and NBC but Burke’s statement strongly signals that’s the direction the network intends to go. Whether they’ll be as successful as CNN was in riding out the storm is not clear. But odds are they will because the bar for screwups has been lowered repeatedly over the years.

Lastly, I want to touch on the fact that Williams will be handling breaking news on NBC when Holt isn’t available. Two thoughts immediately come to mind.

1) This curb stomps Savannah Guthrie and others (but mostly Guthrie) who used to be the one(s) with that role. It doesn’t rule out the possibility that one day she’ll eventually be Nightly News anchor. But it does slow down her trajectory to some extent because it relegates her to just Today and whatever special assignments she gets.

2) This undermines Holt. Yeah, Holt isn’t there at that moment in time which is why Williams is on the air. But it reminds everyone that Williams was once the face of NBC News…and could be again if things go south for Holt. Williams will in effect be the equivalent of the mosquito buzzing around Holt’s face. Holt doesn’t need that.

Between that and the fact he wasn’t named Managing Editor, I have to say that NBC’s embrace of Holt as the new face of NBC News has all the appearances of the most half hearted attempt by a network since ABC couldn’t make up its mind and put two anchors on World News after Peter Jennings died. Holt deserved better.

Williams to MSNBC?

Posted in MSNBC on June 18, 2015 by icn2

The New York Times’ Emily Steel, John Koblin, and Ravi Somaiya write about the rumored fate of Brian Williams…

Exactly what Mr. Williams’s new role at NBC entails is not clear. But revitalizing MSNBC, which has suffered sharp ratings declines, is known to be a priority of Andrew Lack, the former president of NBC News who was brought back in March to head the division. With the evening news anchor decision out of the way, Mr. Lack is expected to focus a good portion of his attention on fixing MSNBC, and in the coming months, the cable network is expected to introduce more hard news and more reporting from NBC News talent during daytime hours, according to a person briefed on the plans. That would be something of a break from its more opinion-based programming.

The new role can be viewed as a humbling comedown for Mr. Williams, who before the controversy was one of the country’s most prominent and respected broadcast journalists. One point of contention during the negotiations over his new role at the network was the extent to which Mr. Williams would apologize for the controversy, according to a television executive who discussed the issue with people at NBC.

You know the phrase “throw the baby out with the bathwater”? Well there’s a corollary phrase (which I just invented); “Keep the bathwater with the baby”. The bathwater is Williams. The baby is the $50,000,000 contract he signed with NBC this year. NBC doesn’t want to give up that money without a return of some kind. It has apparently decided that even though Williams is too radioactive to have a prominent role on NBC, that radioactivity is not enough to keep him off MSNBC.

More than anything else NBC could do this year, this one move says how little NBC values MSNBC.

This isn’t the end of the Brian Williams catastrophe for NBC. It is just the first act. The second act is trying to sell America on the idea that someone who so damaged its news division that he can’t come back to its star properties in any meaningful manner is perfectly fine on a cable news channel desperately seeking a new identity and a path for relevance again.

MSNBC…featuring serial distorter Brian Williams. NBC has found MSNBC’s new identity. Its path for relevance? Not so much.

No, Mark Joyella…MSNBC Dropping Ronan Farrow Was Not A Mistake…

Posted in MSNBC on June 9, 2015 by icn2

TVNewser’s Mark Joyella writes a silly article about MSNBC’s ratings at 1pm still sucking wind after Ronan Farrow’s show got cancelled.

MSNBC announced on February 19 it would cancel Farrow’s show and The Reid Report, hosted by Joy Reid. The network replaced both shows with a two-hour block of news, anchored by Thomas Roberts, and in the first few weeks, ratings looked good–increasing 37% compared to Ronan Farrow Daily.

While much of the media coverage at the time focused on Farrow, describing him as an inexperienced cable news newcomer, a review of Nielsen data shows removing him hasn’t done much to fix the dayside problem for MSNBC.

Nor would removing Farrow and Reid single handedly reverse trajectory significantly for the network because that is not what ails it. As I wrote recently MSNBC is facing significant downward ratings pressure that is just as much about perception as it is tune out and that the network is facing the cable news ratings equivalent of a bank run, particularly in dayside.

The problem is Phil Griffin still hasn’t thrown in the towel on POV analysis and using progressive programming in its rundown and the viewers know it…or at the very least still believe it to be true. MSNBC has not yet been able to claw back the meme that dayside is for news. These things take time. A lot of time…especially when MSNBC’s programming is still schizoid as it puts non-news people in positions traditionally held by news people.

Just this week, partisan pundit Amy Holmes has been filling in on Way Too Early, a position that previously had been anchored by people from the news division. So the mixed messages are still being sent out by Team Griffin.

But the ultimate joke here is that Joyella is positing the question that because Roberts’ numbers are as bad as Farrow’s were at the end of his run does that mean Farrow shouldn’t have removed? Of course not. Farrow’s problems that got his show cancelled are still as valid today as they were then. Whatever problems Roberts’ two hour block may be having, they have no direct connection to Farrow’s departure. Or at the very least Joyella has failed to make any convincing argument of any linkage.

Who’s Running This Show?

Posted in MSNBC on June 4, 2015 by icn2

Ed Schultz bounces around a podium while the jib camera aims to make the viewer seasick I guess. This is bad, bad TV. The staging is poor, the execution even poorer. I used to say MSNBC needed a firebrand like Ed on at 8 instead of ice cold Chris Hayes but if this is what Schultz’s show has degenerated to…

Bri-Wi to MSNBC? No chance…

Posted in MSNBC on May 19, 2015 by icn2

TVNewser’s Mark Joyella tries to float a leaden trial balloon…a two hour Brian Williams show on MSNBC from 8-10pm.

I don’t think I could have come up with a more unlikely, cringe-worthy scenario if I tried.

Shall I rattle off why this won’t work, could never work, and would not even be considered?


– NBC is not going to pay Williams $50 million to work at MSNBC. Can you imagine the ad copy for that kind of move? NBC can. You think CNN had to wither through that multi-million dollar PR campaign number for Anderson Cooper that FNC and MSNBC flung in CNN’s face repeatedly? Just wait. This would be a lot worse.

– But let’s say for argument’s sake that NBC and Comcast collectively generate the biggest combined brain fart in TV history and decide to put Williams on MSNBC. For two hours? Nobody does two hours. You can’t book for two hours in prime. Hell, even the morning shows have stopped booking seriously past the first hour. The second hour is filled up with filler that you can generate and book quickly. And, here’s the thing, the morning shows have a fleet of staffers at their disposal to do this support stuff. Williams, if he were to get a 2 hour show, will have a staff that is nowhere close to that.

– Move Maddow to 10? You really want to mess that up…put all three prime hours at risk? No. You don’t move Maddow when you are messing with other parts of primetime. And since you don’t move Maddow, Williams doesn’t get two hours unless they want to bookend her show. CNN can get away with it because it’s doing news. Williams wants to be Jay Leno.

– Williams would, correctly, consider this a huge demotion. This is worse than a starting NFL quarterback being demoted to backup…or even third string. This is a starting NFL QB being sent to the European Football League as a third string backup. Williams will never go for this.

– And because of that, this means it’s Nightly News or nothing. Williams knows it. NBC knows it. Everyone out there should know it. This is why the odds are severely stacked against a Williams return to NBC. He wants the one thing that will mean the death of NBC News as a functional growing entity.


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