By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Hope for MSNBC?

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.

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  1. Peter Kadzis

    Motor-mouth Mathews is better more often than he is bad, but he’s very, very soft of the more thuggish elements of the GOP.Olbermann is — I think — more tongue in cheek than “contrived”, but that may be more a matter of perception. His sense of the absurb is a strong point that sometimes overshadows the strong interviews he does with commentators. That, however, may speak to our collective sense that the news, like life, is rather crazy these days.

  2. Ernie Boch III

    MSNBC or CNNN will compete for #1 news in a few years when the Fox right wing demogogury format implodes. Like Disco and McCarthyism.CNN and MSNBC’s problem right now is they have to do the fox formast to an extent. We just don’t know now what the next great format will be. Hopefully, it will be somethiong close to fact gathering, credible opinion, and real journalism.From my lips to God’s ear.

  3. Ernie Boch III

    Matthew is a “thuggish element of the GOP”?He’s all Democrat, my friend. Just not a Koll-Aid drinking, knee jerk democrat.

  4. Copy Editor

    Perhaps that “of” should have been an “on?”

  5. another face at zanzibar

    I think the nub of this issue is that cable news is becoming just about as irrelevant as the old-line evening news programs. Fox is losing viewers in larger numbers than CNN. MSNBC gained viewers recently, but, with a smaller base, that ain’t saying much. People are consuming their news during the day–at work, on the go–before they even get the chance to sit in from of the TV. Alas, the romantic notion of a 1-hour serious newscast in prime time is, unfortunately, an anachronism as well. Dan, I also like Aaron (for some perverse reason, even though he often grated on me), but I think it’s more likely that Lydon will come back to anchor The 10 O’Clock News on GBH.

  6. another face at zanzibar

    er, as copy editor will likely point out, “from of the TV” should’ve been “front of the TV”

  7. PRrag

    I liked Aaron Brown on CNN. He was a comforting anchor, who I first started watching during the initial phase of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” He would come on later in the evening and, I don’t know what it was, but he was a believable newsman. He was certainly not a ratings king as you said, but I always liked watching him.

  8. tony schinella

    I like both “Hardball” and “Countdown” but I would like to see Phil Donahue brought back – especially since his ratings were better than Cosby, Scarborough, or Carlson …

  9. John Galt

    The day that GE will ever present in any way, shape, or form a forum that isn’t slap-happy G0P dope will never come. That, plus the fact that Microsoft has, from the jump and for a variety of good reasons, viewed this investment as their worst.

  10. Anonymous

    As long as Jeff Zucker runs NBC nothing of any consequence will happen at MSNBC. Kaplan was capped because he stood up to Zucker. The new MSNBC brass is nothing but Zucker toadies will will tow the line and fulfill his vision for MSNBC, which is lots of repeats and sensationalism. Love the Dateline NBC “To Catch A Predator” series? Boy, are you gonna love the new MSNBC…

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