For comeback kid Phil Donahue, being No. 2 may have a nice ring to it.
Coming off six years of retirement, the godfather of gabbers had a small victory last week with his MSNBC debut.
Competing against CNN’s Connie Chung — another anchor of yore returning to the mahogany — Donahue edged her out in the ratings for the first three nights.
Chung drew a 0.6, while the Great Gesticulator pulled a 0.7.
While Donahue admits he doesn’t really have a prayer of catching frontrunner Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, his skein did manage to hold onto its auds quite nicely in its first week.
But the cabler isn’t popping corks just yet.
“It’s harder than hell to disabuse people of their viewing habits,” says MSNBC’s editor-in-chief Jerry Nachman, whose own 7 p.m. skein is trying to get a foothold against CNN’s “Crossfire,” the No. 2 show at the hour. “But that’s what this war is about — catching up — and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
While the cabler’s reshuffled primetime sked boosted its own ratings vs. the previous quarter, it still hasn’t eroded CNN’s big lead, which at .9 handily beats MSNBC’s .6
But for now Donahue seems like a contender, and the reviews of the cabler’s revamp aren’t too cruel, either.
“For the first time in my life, I’m grateful for the things the press has written,” says Nachman.