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MSNBC tosses talker ‘Ventura’ out of ring

Ex-wrestler, ex-gov to stay on as a political commentator

MSNBC pulled something of a scrooge act Christmas Eve, announcing it was canceling Jesse Ventura’s frosh talkshow after 12 episodes.

Troubled from the start, the hourlong “Jesse Ventura’s America” aired Saturday nights at 7.

“I’ve decided to focus the majority of our resources on Monday-Friday primetime. Consequently, the holiday hiatus for ‘Jesse Ventura’s America’ will continue indefinitely,” MSNBC prexy Erik Sorenson said in a memo sent to staffers. Notice was released to the press Wednesday.

Announcement came just after NBC chair Bob Wright put newly titled NBC prexy of entertainment, news and cable Jeff Zucker in charge of the Peacock’s news properties. Sorenson still reports to NBC News prexy Neal Shapiro, who now reports to Zucker.

Ventura — the bombastic wrestler and former Minnesota governor — will stay on the air at MSNBC as a political commentator during the 2004 presidential race, Sorenson said.

Even though Ventura had improved the ratings for the timeslot, MSNBC insiders said the program was simply too expensive to produce. Show was taped in St. Paul, Minn., before a live studio audience.

Originally, the show was set to air weeknights. During development, however, MSNBC execs in Secaucus, N.J. — where the news net is headquartered–grew concerned about the show’s direction and scaled it back to a weekly program.

MSNBC said it would begin airing taped documentaries in the Saturday 7 p.m. timeslot.

Reps for Ventura could not be reached for comment.

“My thanks to the entire production team in St. Paul and in Secaucus — they increased the ratings in the time period for total viewers and adults 25-54 during the past three months, so hats off to them!” Sorenson said in his staff memo.

Ventura is skedded to appear at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab in January, speaking on a panel titled “Loose Cannons: They Say What They Mean and Mean What They Say.” Panel, which will include Pat Croce, Mark Cuban, Roger King and Jerry Springer, is set for Jan. 19. CNN talkshow host Larry King will moderate. It was unclear if Sorenson’s announcement would upset Ventura’s NATPE plans.