The audition process isn’t over for Al Sharpton at MSNBC.
So said the cabler’s president, Phil Griffin, when pressed at the Television Critics Assn. tour on whether Sharpton will have a permanent gig as a host of a 6 p.m. program. The veteran activist has a semi-regular presence on the channel as a substitute host.
“No decision has been made,” Griffin told scribes assembled at the BevHilton. “We’re looking at a lot of people. … You don’t have to rush into these things.”
One personality who will remain at the net for a while is Rachel Maddow, who signed up for a multi-year pact. Griffin did not disclose the length of the deal.
The 6 o’clock slot remains open following the exit of Cenk Uygur, who parted ways with MSNBC and later went on to say that Griffin had asked him to “tone down” his style. Ratings for Sharpton, who has been on the air since Uygur’s departure, have been a slight improvement.
As for Uygur leaving, Griffin said, “He fit our sensibility and I was disappointed that he didn’t stay. We had hoped to keep Cenk, but for some reason it didn’t work out.”
Griffin refused to comment on how specifically MSNBC has changed since longtime “Countdown” host Keith Olbermann left and went to Current, offering only, “We like where we are today.”
He took some shots at his right-wing opposition, saying the left-leaning MSNBC is “beginning to chip away at Fox News” and claimed to have defeated Fox 13 separate times in 2011 in head-to-head timeslot battles in the 25-54 demo, compared to only once in 2010.
When asked about whether his hosts — Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews were on the panel — were just talking heads for the Democratic Party, as some called the Fox hosts on the Republican side, Griffin replied, “I don’t see an equivalency between us and Fox News. Nobody works harder or researches more than these people.”
Maddow added: “There is more nuance and unpredictability on our side.”
As for CNN and its ability to draw viewers who have strong political views, Griffin said, “The media landscape has changed and you have to stand for something. You can’t be in the middle.”