Some familiar visages for cabler's new face

On July 15, MSNBC brings its revamped roster of feisty old cats to the frisky business of cable news.

TV legend (and major paw-waver) Phil Donahue will take the 8 p.m. slot, vying against Fox News’ frontrunner Bill O’Reilly and CNN’s recently installed Connie Chung.

Scrappy TV vet Jerry Nachman (also the cabler’s editor-in-chief) will have his own gabber at 7 p.m. “Hardball” anchor Chris Matthews moves to 9 p.m., followed by Ashleigh Banfield.

Daytime schedule includes former CNN stalwarts Bill Press and Pat Buchanan.

So now that the deep-third-place cable news net has reinvented itself (a wag calls the latest incarnation MSNBC 4.0), the question is whether the so-called “fiercely independent” brand will stick.

“It has become like radio on TV,” says Kathryn Thomas, associate director of entertainment at media-buying agency Starcom. “They’ve embraced the format, refined it and started the promotion train.”

One TV exec likened the gab-heavy format to “America’s Talking,” an ill-fated effort in the ’80s to launch a news gabber. (helmed by Roger Ailes, now head of Fox News).

But Nachman doesn’t agree with the comparison. “You’ll have to do some homework,” he says. ” ‘America’s Talking’ was about relationships and impotence.”

Nachman says his news cabler has a staff waiting for news to break. “We’re like the R.A.F., getting ready to pounce,” he says.

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