MSNBC Bets on Cool, Wonky in Lineup Shift

MSNBC Bets on Cool, Wonky Lineup

If you think about it, MSNBC has been flying by the seat of its pants a bit for more than two years, since the abrupt exit of Keith Olbermann, whose combative style of liberal commentary had come to define the network as a progressive counterpoint to Fox News.

With the promotion of Chris Hayes to the 8 p.m. slot — replacing Ed Schultz, who moves to the weekends — the network has officially bet on a new model of a modern major talkshow host: The cool, wonky stylings of Rachel Maddow.

Maddow, of course, was spun out of Olbermann’s rib, just as Hayes — before his cable news rebirth, a writer for such publications as The Nation and The New Republic — got his TV start opining on Olbermann’s “Countdown” show. Still, Maddow is a cooler commodity, more prone to understated dissection and arched eyebrows in skewering Republicans than Olbermann’s fire-breathing special comments.

MSNBC initially replaced Olbermann by sliding a somewhat reluctant Lawrence O’Donnell into the 8 p.m. slot, with Schultz at 10 p.m. The network later surmised (correctly, I’d argue) that Maddow and O’Donnell were a more compatible fit, literally giving the latter “The Last Word” in its nightly lineup.

The odd duck, seemingly, was always Schultz, whose form of populist bluster — honed on talkradio — always felt at odds with the programs that followed. Even his intro to the show — telling viewers, “Let’s get to work” — had a forced quality to it, demonstrating not everyone in radio is particularly suited to TV.

Hayes, by contrast, in his guest hosting and analytical stints, comes much closer to the Maddow brand of political analysis. Items are chewed over with a wry sense of bemusement — more in the vein of “Aren’t these people silly?” than the “Shame on you, sir” bombast that often characterized Olbermann’s comments, or Schultz’s “Aw shucks” approach to championing the middle class and labor.

Even if his political views are on the opposite end of the spectrum, Schultz’s style is actually much more suited to Fox than MSNBC. With the promotion of Hayes, the Comcast-owned network has brought a more cohesive tone to its lineup, and not incidentally, made itself look younger (at 34, Hayes is Schultz’s junior by a quarter-century), which is never considered to be a bad thing in television, even if the news audience generally skews older than either of them.

In its coverage of the story, the New York Times suggested the switch is “predicated on the belief that MSNBC can win a wider audience with Mr. Hayes than it did with Mr. Schultz.” But this has less to do with expanding the pool of viewers than refining it — making the MSNBC lineup a bit younger, potentially more upscale and clearly more compatible.

As for Olbermann, still on the sidelines after his Current TV gig, he couldn’t resist taking a jab at his old haunt, Tweeting about the churn that has characterized MSNBC since his departure, and wishing Hayes good luck.

The host is to be forgiven for highlighting the legacy of his departure and the long shadow he has cast, but with this latest move, MSNBC finally appears to be finally putting him in the rear-view mirror.

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  1. Ellen Lenart Spridion says:

    I wouldn’t watch Chris Hayes on Saturdays and now I switch MSNBC at 8:00. Cannot deal with the frantic hand jestures and his fast talking …dislike….Love Mr. O’Donnell and Rachel/

  2. Our household has a 55-year old female and 65-year old male. We value the diversity that the Rev, Chris, Ed, Rachel, Lawrence lineup offers. We love Chris but he ain’t our demographic. And we still matter.

  3. Jari Hazard says:

    Okay, just tweeted him to look at Variety.com comments. You know what I hated on Ed’s show (and I liked him and what he was trying to do, believe me,and I wish him the best….he would have been nice and soporific post Hayes-Maddow!) but those polls…….

  4. Jari Hazard says:

    Thank you, d n Dallas. Regarding the Lambchop Show…… here’s one thing we now know since Rachel interviewed Mr. Young Wild Hands….He reads each and every tweet he gets….So, if you want to maybe tell him to get a stress ball, or sit on his hands, or put on a tie, just send him a Tweet. Maybe they can give him a valium before the show to slow him down a bit. I’m glad they’re putting a youngster on. Does anyone remember Ed’s original opening? THAT was hysterical! I don’t text, but I think you can still tweet from a regular computer (showing my age,) but maybe a little Twitter campaign make him realize how he is viewed. I mean, my son is at the Cronkite school of Broadcast at ASU (bragging, here,) and I send him all sorts of emails about using his hands, etc. I don’t think most people know how they are coming across if you don’t tell them…… I think SNL will skewer him nicely, though.

  5. dee mclean says:

    mistake. apart from his animal hunting, schultz was a fighter for all of us and a great watch. rachel, brilliant, could lose the TRMS thing – yuk. best was keith. current, easy to watch, smart, cultured, is o’donnel.

  6. Jari says:

    I still miss Keith. He was incredible. I love Rachel. Never noticed Chris Hayes doing things with his hands, but now I guess I will certainly be watching that and not hearing a word he says. After Rachel, my game is to switch to the mindless HGTV before O’donnell get give his FIRST word. Something about him rubs me the wrong way. They should definitely call Chris Hayes’s new show “Lambchop,” which is what Rachel teasingly calls him. I like Ezra Klein except he is a little too unsmiling and the charts…..don’t get me started! That’s his claim to fame, but he is just a chart fanatic! Yeah, bring back Keith and get rid of that idiot who fired him. So, he’s impossible to deal with; deal with it. He was the most important voice on MSNBC, and Rachel has done a fantastic job in filling the spot, and showing the world just how cool and smart and acceptable a lesbian can be. My son is in love with her! But, I’d bet the return of madman Keith would up the ratings like nothing else.

    • d n dallas says:

      Jari, couldn’t have said it better myself, so I’ll say it louder, PLEEZE BRING BACK KEITH! Like Chris Hayes but too analytical for me on week nights–too much like a continuation of my work day. Admire Rachel’s clever smarts; would love to have her over with my friends to talk politics over one of her fancy cocktails. She’s so down to earth.

  7. D. Lambeth says:

    I can’t take another hour (before Maddow) of frantic speech and punctuation of every syllable with his hands as Chris Hayes does. I believe he is very bright and a great analyst, but his style is off-putting. Two hours of fast talk is not comforting in the evening hours. When do these people breathe?

  8. cliff dotson says:

    I like Ed Shultz,, There is no excuse what msnbc is doing,, They are turning into a bunch of plutocratic, snobs.. Hayes put on a tie, man, how can any one take you seriously, that is not cool, gentlemen where ties after 5, you know this already. One thing i do know is that Wonky don’t get the job done. Ed Shultz would fight for us like no tomorrow.

    • d n dallas says:

      Putting Ed on weekends is like silencing the voice of us working folks. We need someone like him to speak on the actual grassroots issues–letting us know there are folks out there who aren’t afraid to fight back. It’s like MSNBC is turning into CNN’s non-commital format–running scared of the right-wing crazies. I’m so disappointed; they’ve got to know that weekend time slot won’t bring nearly the viewership as week nights. Chris H. is not the one.

  9. mark evans says:

    Once again, an unfortunate choice…..Chris Hayes is NOT READY foir primetime….He has no warmth,humor, or audience empathy……his waving hands are only distracting, and his vocal deliverfy could break glass…I tune out whenever he’s on…will continue to watch the articulate, and
    believeable O’Donnell, and Maddow, and wiill miss Schultz. If only someone would be creative, and
    team irritating Hayes, with CNN’s smug Erin Burnett, on satellite, we could sigh a breath of relief.

  10. I cannot believe this and am just so, so sad about this. I won’t be watching at 8. I will do my best to see Ed on the weekends. How crazy is this?

  11. KRD says:

    I will no longer tune the tv to MSNBC at 8PM. I will miss Ed. KRD

  12. Ellen Lenart Spridion says:

    I have written before, I can not STAND Chirs Hayes..His hand motions drive me insane, and his fast talking leave me breathless…I WILL NOT watching MSNBC at 8..a show I watch all day..SO disappointed..

  13. Dan Welsh says:

    As a regular viewer of MSNBC, I like so many, have enjoyed their approach to covering news…
    and at least this there has finally been some positive acknowlegement on behalf of Keith Olbermann. MSNBC would not have the talent it does today without Olbermann’s nurturing the very on-air staff that presently occupies the PM slots. On some level, Keith’s voice is missed…
    and it’s too bad the execs at MSNBC did not reconsider Keith. Yes…he may be a tough person behind the scenes, but there is no one…absolutely no one who hit the nail as precisely and with both humor and bluster as Olbermann did. He deserves to be back on the sir…and not in sports.

    • Sherry B says:

      Great surmise Dan. I miss Keith O also. His reported lack of charm behind the scenes was balanced by his wit on air. I am a fan of Cnhris – I tend to appreciate brilliance. The diversity in the MSNBC programming has been delightful. The styles of the evening hosts differ – Al Sharpton the preacher and activist who exposes the injustices in our society, with quick wit and ability to hold his own when going toe-to-toe with those who marginalize large segments of our society – he mixes humor and directness to expose absurdity in the actions of politicians; Chris Matthews is an independent, unapologetic voice who conveys his love of history and politics well and exposes lack of political valour in today’s Washington; Ed Schultz, fiery, relentless advocate for middle class who draws attention to the actions of our politicians that undermine rights of workers; Rachel Maddow, speaks with clarity as an absolutely fearless liberal – she is brilliant, handling stats, under reported stories, and political missteps with ease to shine light on issues that affect the fabric of America – love what she does to focus on plight of our soldiers; and Lawrence O’Donnell is super cool, making effective use of a deliberate voice – he uniquely presents stories and, as with all the aforementioned hosts, is quick-witted and exposes “silly season” in Washington like no other. With all the diversity (and presumed personalities behind the scenes), I miss Keith O. He has established great opportunities for us to enjoy different brands of “fairness” from credibly intelligent, progressive minds. Hope he resurfaces somewhere in the future to share his brand.

      • Cal says:

        The problem is that the ownership was offended by Olbermann’s unwillingess to let them dictate his show to him. It’s the same reason that Cenk Uygur’s stint at MSNBC was so brief. They’re willing to tolerate more from Maddow because she’s not bombastic in her criticism of the right and the corporate interests, but both kinds of criticism are needed.

      • Erin says:

        I will miss Ed on the weekdays and whoever this writer of this article is, should be ashamed. Ed is well suited to the MSNBC family as Sarah B has stated before. He’s a voice those of us middle-classers and American workers have needed. He’s the one that got the Scott Prouty interview for a reason.

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