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

What’s next in the cable news wars

Rachel Maddow

Three quick hits on the continued fallout over Keith Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC:

1. It looks like MSNBC’s response has been to give promotions to everyone rather than consider what might work best. The network is feeding Lawrence O’Donnell to the wolf (i.e., Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly) at 8 p.m. And Ed Schultz at 10? Really? Aren’t all his viewers in bed by then?

If I were MSNBC honcho Phil Griffin, I’d move Chris Matthews to 8. Matthews is much maligned (I’ve maligned him myself), but he’s still weirdly compelling after all these years. His energy and passion are likely to hold Olbermann’s losses to a minimum. Let Schultz have the 7 o’clock hour and see what he can do with it.

I agree with Griffin’s decision to keep Rachel Maddow at 9. I realize she would do better against O’Reilly than anyone else, but she’s now the franchise, and protecting the franchise is important. If her ratings were to drop below Olbermann’s, it would demoralize the whole operation. And I’d keep O’Donnell at 10, too.

2. CNN, which has slipped behind MSNBC in the prime-time ratings, has an opportunity to take advantage of the Olbermann mess. I’ll confess I haven’t seen Piers Morgan’s new talk show yet, but the clips look very promising — a huge step up from Larry King.

I’ve always liked Anderson Cooper better than “Anderson Cooper 360.” Whatever’s wrong with the show can be fixed. And here’s what’s wrong: inconsistency (you never know whether you’re going to get a solid newscast or tabloid trash) and the two-hour length, which has led CNN to use much of the 10 o’clock hour to flog what’s coming at 11.

The solutions are fairly simple. Cut the newscast to an hour, rebroadcasting Piers Morgan at 11; and up the intelligence quotient.

CNN executives will still need to deal with the toxic-waste pit that is “Parker Spitzer” at 8. I’d move John King’s politically oriented newscast to that slot and cross my fingers.

3. Barring any unexpected bombshells, Bill Carter and Brian Stelter’s take on why Olbermann left seems pretty definitive. But though Comcast, the incoming owner of NBC Universal, appears to have its corporate hands clean, my expectation is that at some point the company will blow up MSNBC.

Maybe it will happen soon. Maybe it won’t happen until Comcast wants to curry favor with a new Republican administration in the White House. But it will happen.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Stephen Stein

    I think you’re right about #3. Can’t have lib’rals on the TeeVee, at least not in an election year!

  2. Piers Morgan may be a step up from Larry King, but I found him stunningly irritating. I watched the Howard Stern interview and Piers kept asking a question, than asking another before the first was answered, then asking another… He kept interrupting the guest. Granted, Howard Stern is a guest you have to control or he would take over, but I was interested in hearing some of the things he was starting to say before Piers interrupted him.

    I watched the first few minutes of the George Clooney interview, but there is little that is less boring or less irritating than hearing George Clooney talk about Sudan, and I am genuinely interested in what is going on there.

    If I were Rachel, I’d be polishing up my resume.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Jef: I’m not sure that “stunningly irritating” is a bad thing in the ratings wars.

  3. Laurence Glavin

    By writing “Aren’t all his viewers in bed by then?”, you’re trying to say “don’t they skew OLD”. Well just about ALL the news shows on cable skew old (also Rush Limbaugh on the radio). As Ed said on his radio show today (Monday, 01/24), when he’s on at ten in the east, he’s also on at nine in the midwest, eight in the Rockies and seven on the Pacific coast…thus he’s technically in prime time coast to coast, excluding Ala-a-a-ska.

  4. I think you have to be irritating enough to get people to watch you and yell at the TV and then blog about it after, Piers is not that kind of irritating, he is turn off the TV irritating. Bill O’Reilly is the former.

    I think Rachel is at her best when she gets to do a more than 10 minute sit down with someone, CNN should have tried to get her to take Larry King’s spot. I like her otherwise as well, but mostly because I largely agree with her, it is the interviews though where she shines.

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