MSNBC is the sleeping giant of cable news. As the only one of the three all-news channels backed by a network news division, MSNBC could establish itself as the quality leader tomorrow — make that tonight — if the owners at General Electric so desired. Instead, it staggers on in third place, year after year, foisting dreck hosted by the likes of Rita Cosby, Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson upon an unsuspecting public. (Or not, since no one’s actually watching.)
Let me qualify that a bit. Cosby’s nothing but a third-rate sob sister, but Scarborough, stiff and weird though he may be, is willing to listen more and shout less than most of his peers. Carlson is a terrific writer and a charming guy, but I don’t think he’s ever found his footing on television. Each may be capable of doing better, but neither of their shows was ever conceived of as news.
So Media Nation did not exactly hang the black crepe when Rick Kaplan was shown the door earlier this week. Ratings have gone up during his tenure, but from where I’ve been sitting (that is, on the couch), MSNBC has just been marking time the past couple of years.
Now Dan Abrams will get his chance. As the host of a tabloid law show, he is not, to say the least, the first person who’d come to mind if your interest is in seeing MSNBC become a serious news outlet. But I was somewhat heartened to see that he considers Keith Olbermann‘s and Chris Matthews‘ shows, easily the two best on the network, to be models for the direction in which he wants to move. (I’m not saying I’m a huge Matthews fan, and I’m not saying I don’t wish Olbermann’s program, “Countdown,” were a bit less contrived. I’m just saying that everything else is much, much worse.)
And, Dan, here’s an idea, free of charge: Hire Aaron Brown to be the host of a prime-time, hour-long newscast. Give it a try. What the heck. Brown wasn’t exactly a ratings king on CNN, but he did better than his replacement, Anderson Cooper.
Somehow, though, I don’t think much is going to change at the News Channel That Viewers Forgot.