Alec Baldwin has played a scheming TV-executive on “30 Rock” and a vicious gangster in the 2003 movie “The Cooler.” And now, his newest role: playing himself as an opinionated talk-show host on MSNBC.
The NBCUniversal cable-news outlet said Thursday that Baldwin would join its prime-time lineup as the host of “Up Late with Alec Baldwin” starting on an unspecified date in October. The show will air from 10 p.m,. to 11 p.m. Eastern. At present, that Friday-night hour is devoted to docu-series, including the MSNBC perennial “Locked Up,” which examines life in prison. Lawrence O’Donnell hosts the hour between Monday and Thursday.
In putting Baldwin in the anchor seat, MSNBC may be distancing itself even further from the traditional image of cable-news provider. Indeed, in recent months, the network has tilted more toward opinion than objective journalism, according to research from Pew Research. And that decision appears to have cost it ratings while big news stories such as the recent Boston Marathon bombing and unrest in Egypt gripped headlines.
But Baldwin offers a different kind of draw. “He’s got such passion for ideas and what’s going on in the world – he’s going to be a great addition to our line-up,” said Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s president, in a prepared statement.
“Up Late” is billed as a “current affairs and culture talk show,” and Baldwin said in prepared remarks that he would likely use experience he has gained from hosting a podcast for New York public-radio station WNYC over the last two year to inform his MSNBC program. “I’ve developed a fondness for hosting a show that involved talking with smart, talented and engaging people in every imaginable field,” the actor said in a statement. “I’m grateful to MSNBC for helping me bring a similar show to television.”
The scheduling move takes place during an intense time in the TV-news business. Rival Fox News Channel has already announced it intends to move popular daytime anchor Megyn Kelly to its prime-time lineup, and ensuing speculation has raised questions whether she might hold forth in Sean Hannity’s 9 p.m. slot or Greta Van Susteren’s 10 p.m. perch (Fox News has long-term contracts with all of the talent in question). Meantime, CNN is about to launch a revived version of its famous “Crossfire” in the late afternoon and a second primetime hour featuring Anderson Cooper at 10 p.m.
Baldwin is likely to vie against Cooper on Friday nights, along with whoever finally ends up with the 10 p.m. slot at Fox News.
New players are entering the field as the veteran outlets tinker with their line-ups. Al Jazeera America, backed by the Qatar government, launched late last month with the intent of featuring more in-depth reportage and fewer talking heads. Fusion, a news-and-lifestyle network backed by ABC News and Univision aimed at Hispanics, is set to debut October 28.
Baldwin has transformed himself into any number of characters: the abusive real-estate boss in “Glengarry Glen Ross”; the oblivious A-list thespian in “State and Main”; and even hallowed spy Jack Ryan in “The Hunt for Red October.” And though he has been outspoken in the media regarding his political views, he has little experience as a TV-show host. On his WNYC podcast, titled “Here’s the Thing,” he has interviewed personalities ranging from David Letterman to Dick Cavett to Republican political strategist Ed Rollins.
MSNBC has developed a reputation for giving a crack at the mike to several non-traditional personalities, including political activist Al Sharpton, who has rapidly gained a following since joining the network’s lineup in 2011.
One of Baldwin’s most recognizable TV turns may help him as he joins the network’s roster: He has hosted NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” a show with little room for error, 16 different times.