Primetime tinkering

Cabler makes sked moves

MSNBC has scrapped two hours of live programming in favor of taped segments in a broad revamp of primetime under newly appointed general manager Dan Abrams.

Abrams, in his third week on the job, canceled one of the lowest-rated shows in MSNBC’s primetime, “Rita Cosby Live & Direct,” and moved the struggling “The Situation With Tucker Carlson” from 11 p.m. to the timeslot Abrams vacated at 4 and 6 p.m.

In place of live programming from 10 p.m. to midnight, MSNBC will air a two-hour block of taped documentary programming, “MSNBC Investigates,” returning to prominence a stalwart of the news net’s primetime sked before Sept. 11, 2001.

Cosby, who loses her live show, will become host of the two-hour block and head up an investigative unit, “Rita Cosby Specials.”

By canceling his own show, “The Abrams Report,” as well as “Cosby” and shifting “The Situation With Tucker Carlson,” Abrams has, in virtually one stroke, attempted to fix the net’s weakest links in primetime.

In June “Cosby” averaged 233,000 viewers at 10 p.m., a 29% drop in the timeslot from the same period last year. Carlson’s “Situation” improved the net’s paltry numbers at 11 p.m., boosting the audience 15% to 210,000 where it had once aired repeats.

Carlson shifts to the early evening, where his show will take on the more traditional cable newscasts, Fox News Channel’s “Special Report With Brit Hume” and CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”

Unchanged are shows in which MSNBC sees the most promise: “Hardball With Chris Matthews,” “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” and “Scarborough Country.”

The changes take MSNBC back to what its management believes was a programming strategy that worked before 9/11, when taped programming anchored MSNBC’s primetime.

After 9/11, Fox left CNN and MSNBC in its wake and the cabler turned to live programming to keep up with different times and an accelerated news environment.

In an interview on Fox News earlier this month, NBC Universal chairman Bob Wright told Neil Cavuto that MSNBC’s issue is primetime “and we know it.”

Net has been airing “MSNBC Investigates” from 10 p.m. to midnight Fridays since January and says ratings are up 34% in total viewers and 67% in the 25-54 demographic during the slot.

To fill the doc pipeline, web is bringing back investigative producer Michael Rubin — a senior producer of “MSNBC Investigates” in the late 1990s — to join senior exec producer Scott Hooker as toppers of an enlarged longform unit.

A distant third in the ratings to Fox News Channel and CNN, MSNBC nonetheless has seen some gains across its schedule. Primetime was up 8% in June from last year to 332,000 viewers.

Fox News Channel averaged 1.4 million viewers in primetime in June, a 21% decrease from last year, while CNN averaged 712,000, a 3% increase.

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