NBC staff on double duty

Peacock trio move to cabler for election coverage

Six days before the midterm elections, MSNBC is beginning to look a lot like NBC, with Brian Williams, Tim Russert and Andrea Mitchell taking anchor shifts at the cabler as part of its “Decision 2006: Battleground America” coverage.

Net is devoting its entire daytime schedule to politics every day until Election Day.

But with MSNBC moving to 30 Rockefeller Center, and the merging of some network and cable newsgathering functions, it’s also a sign of the MSNBC to come.

“One of the reasons we are moving operations together here at 30 Rock is we want to be in the position to do this as much as possible,” said NBC News prexy Steve Capus. “This is not a merger to be feared; it’s about being smarter about how we deploy our people.”

Bringing the cable network into the NBC News nerve center means a lot of NBC News talent will be doing double duty for MSNBC, which net execs believe is key to improving the performance of both as well as achieving the planned staff reductions that will be carried out by early next year.

Effort comes as MSNBC is looking to politics as a niche for a network that has searched for one with varying degrees of success since it assumed long-term residence in third place in the cable news ratings soon after 9/11.

“I think it’s a good brand for us going into the 2006 and 2008 elections,” said MSNBC general manager Dan Abrams.

To boost its coverage, the net partnered Tuesday with Hotsoup.com, an online political community founded by former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd and former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart.

NBC execs point to MSNBC’s focus on politics as a factor in helping the net to a 35% increase in the 25-54 demo in October over the same month last year.

MSNBC is up more than any other cable news net for October, with gains for “Hardball With Chris Matthews (27%), “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” (61%) and “Scarborough Country” (13%), according to Nielsen Media Research.

MSNBC’s Olbermann beat CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now” at 8 p.m. in the 25-54 demo, an achievement for a network beaten by CNN in every other hour.

Fox News Channel, which has spent 250 consecutive weeks in first place, slipped slightly in total viewers in October but isn’t credibly challenged in the ratings by either CNN or MSNBC.

But if MSNBC’s future depends on fairy dust from the network, then it also changes the job descriptions of NBC’s anchors and correspondents.

“Nightly News” anchor Williams, “Meet the Press” anchor Russert, “Weekend Today” anchor Lester Holt, White House correspondent David Gregory and chief international correspondent Mitchell have all been logging hours at the MSNBC anchor desk.

“The hard part is the added role of booking guests and making sure you’ve got a show,” Mitchell said. “There are a lot of synergies with what I do for ‘Nightly News.’ ”

On Tuesday, Mitchell contributed a segment on North Korea for “Today” before anchoring an hour on MSNBC. Then, she did a live report on the cabler about John Kerry’s comments on the U.S. military before working on her piece on North Korea for “Nightly News.”

In between, she managed to persuade Lynne Cheney to appear on her MSNBC show the following day.

“On less crazy days, I do some blogging and writing for dot-com,” she said. “I do think this is the new paradigm.”

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