In an unusual move, NBC News has tapped on-air personality Dan Abrams as the new head of MSNBC, filling the spot vacated by Rick Kaplan late last week.
Abrams, host of “The Abrams Report,” will manage network affairs on a day-to-day basis, reporting to NBC News senior VP Phil Griffin, who will oversee the New Jersey-based net from the Peacock’s HQ at 30 Rock.
“Dan is an unconventional pick — I get that — but unconventional times call for you to be creative in your selection, and that’s what we’ve done,” said NBC News president Steve Capus.
The appointment of Abrams and Griffin puts two MSNBC insiders at the helm of the third-place news network. Abrams has been at the net for nine years, including the last five as host of “The Abrams Report”; Griffin did nearly 10 years at the web, most recently as veep of primetime programming, before he was moved to become executive-in-charge of “Today.”
Capus also spent a significant part of his career at MSNBC, as producer for Brian Williams.
“We all have a similar vision for this network,” Abrams said. “We know there’s a distinction between network and cable (news). Our programming is going to be edgier, grittier and more opinionated.”
Abrams’ first task will be to find a replacement for “The Abrams Report,” which will be canceled as he shifts up to the executive suite.
“The Abrams Report,” which is suffering from decreased interest in the legal beat, is an increasingly distant No. 3 to Fox News Channel’s “Special Report With Brit Hume” and CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”
In May, the show was in fourth place in the 25-54 demographic behind CNBC’s “Mad Money.”
But the network has achieved some momentum in the past year. A year ago, MSNBC was being threatened in the ratings by CNN’s Headline News. Now, the net beats HLN handily, and MSNBC’s “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” wins the 8 p.m. hour over CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now.”
The net’s other tentpole, “Hardball With Chris Matthews,” is in third place behind FNC’s “Big Story With John Gibson” and CNN’s “The Situation Room,” but the show is gearing up for a push into the midterm elections this fall.
NBC execs said Abrams became a stealth candidate for management at MSNBC through a series of emails to Capus critiquing the net and its approach to stories.
As it became clear that Kaplan wanted to leave before the end of his contract, NBC execs began considering Abrams’ ideas more closely.
Griffin said Abrams, a lawyer, knows MSNBC inside and out, but the leap from talent to management presents a challenge.
“It is by no means the natural step; it’s a career change for him and a big one,” he said.