In MSNBC Debut, Ronan Farrow Opts to Talk Foreign Affairs — Not Woody Allen’s

Ronan Farrow
James Devaney/WireImage

Ronan Farrow took to MSNBC Monday to demonstrate his access to big-name guests, his facility with complex topics of global import and, subtly, to toss cold water on the idea that his family affairs might become part of his program’s daily conversation.

Anyone tuning in to “Ronan Farrow Daily” hoping its nicely pedigreed host would address his or his sister Dylan’s relationship with their estranged  father Woody Allen was likely disappointed. But those who expected the network’s usual dose of progressive finger-wagging may have walked away surprised: The host of MSNBC’s new 1 p.m. program steered the show away from anything salacious or argumentative in favor of something more reasoned and intelligent.

Over the course of an hour, Farrow demonstrated a detached, bemused stance toward the stories he presented. He didn’t appear to be a cheerleader for a particular cause (a slip made by more seasoned MSNBC host Alex Wagner, who used the phrase “why we chose Chuck Hagel” when reacting to the U.S. Defense Secretary’s decision to trim the Pentagon’s budget).  And he tipped his hand several times to social media, asking his viewers to use Twitter to express their opinions about a story on the show or to send a picture describing their problems with college debt.

“Ronan Farrow Daily” may not be a make-or-break program for MSNBC – though the network likely hopes the show will fare better than “Andrea Mitchell Reports” in the time slot – but it is snaring attention nonetheless. Its host is a  Rhodes Scholar, a one-time Obama foreign policy official and the child of celebrities who has quietly cut a swath in recent months by appearing on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

In his opening program, Farrow tried to mix topics on serious segments, with small doses of youthful levity, such as his use of “weed” or “pot” to talk about marijuana during a segment about the drug. His first segment, all about the unrest in Ukraine, relied on NBC’s Richard Engel, then Obama adviser David Axelrod and former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen. Other pieces centered on U.S. governors’ reaction to President Obama and a bill being mulled in Kansas that would sanction spanking. Farrow even tried to suss out whether Alex Wagner had been spanked in her youth.

Farrow’s challenge will be to gain momentum during a time slot that is not known for luring the millennials who might form his natural audience. Ads shown during the program – for Alka-Seltzer, Cialis, Bounty, Bank of America and Geico – suggested an older viewer was peering at the host, who was born in 1987 (to be fair, one spot advertised the new Liam Neeson action flick “Non-Stop,” distributed by MSNBC sister Universal Pictures).  And he will have to do it opposite Wolf Blitzer on CNN and Bill Hemmer and Alisyn Camerota on Fox News Channel.

Even so, his show stands out. The foreign-affairs segment felt more akin to something one might see on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” than MSNBC.  A future segment teased on Monday’s program has the host visiting Kenya, suggesting more travels with Farrow are on tap for the days ahead.

What Farrow studiously avoided was chatter about his family or his connections. Indeed, any time he could have made a personal aside, he instead turned his audience toward Twitter. Farrow is likely to keep the spotlight on the issues and his audience, rather than himself.