MSNBC’s “Donahue” has made it through its summer debut — but not without some major scrapes and bruises, dropping 50% in average weekly auds since its July 15 bow.
Predicting the show’s fate this early would be premature, but seeing some room for improvement, some TV elders have proffered advice for the godfather of gab to goose the show.
Donahue, they remind, made his name turning TV into a box populi, so rather than going for the get, the progressive pundit should instead channel the frustrations of the common man.
“Phil is at his best when he’s talking to ordinary people,” says CNN and Food Network founder Reese Schonfeld. “He used to speak as much to his guests as he did to the audience.”
As the age of outsize morphs into the era of outrage, there’s plenty of partisan fodder already on cable, so why not cultivate the Donahue dynamic of old?
Phil could invite a cross-section of Americans to explain how tax cuts have affected them. Or bring in the participants in a class-action suit against AOL Time Warner — if only to cause a little trouble with AOL-owned rival CNN.
Another pioneer of gab, Joe Franklin, believes the time is ripe for an avowed liberal like Donahue to bring in the Democratic masses.
“Conservatives are getting all the ratings,” says Franklin, a former talkshow iron man. “If 51% of the popular vote went to Gore, you’d think the liberals would have a winner.”
Franklin, who now hosts radio shows on WOR and Bloomberg, suggests some old gimmicks.
“Do a nationwide giveaway, like Fred Allen did. Or a national phone-in,” he says, referring an old trick of the trade used to democratic effect — and success — on Fox’s “American Idol.”
After all, says Franklin, “Everything old is new again.”