Now that the news of Keith Olbermann‘s stunning departure from MSNBC has sunk in, and the speculation as to why the departure occurred — Keith’s relationship with MSNBC had been deteriorating for a long while (true), Keith made Comcast nervous (also, true) — is dying down, one wonders how significant the damage MSNBC has inflicted on itself is.
Without question Olbermann leaves MSNBC with a strong line-up. Both Rachel Maddow (9pm) and Lawrence O’Donnell (10pm) have been pulling in ratings comparable with what Olbermann did at 8pm.
But will that be enough?
Olbermann has long been the linchpin in MSNBC’s primetime schedule as well as the voice (for better or worse) that gave the network its identity and some might add, was able to do for the left what Fox’s biggest stars have done for the right: namely, provide it with a loud and public voice.
What MSNBC will now have to figure out going forward (leaning forward?) is who they are without Keith. And as CNN has so ably demonstrated, a lack of direction can be fatal.
Speaking of CNN, MSNBC has got to be worried about Piers Morgan. Morgan’s ratings in his first week were up and down to be sure, but they weren’t down enough to lose Rachel Maddow whom he beat every night last week in the demo. That’s a concern, especially considering that with Olbermann gone Maddow is the most recognisable person at the network.
Without question, however, the weak link in the new schedule will be Ed Schultz who is moving to the 10pm after O’Donnell is shuffled to 8pm.
Schultz has been an inconsistent and combative figure in the 6pm slot. rumours that he has had to be reined in by management in the past for losing his temper on set pop up with some frequency. In August he was reportedly reprimanded for threatening to “torch the place” after not being included in MSNBC promos and, according to Page Six “broke down crying” after he was told he would be fired if it happened again.
The other week he announced that Republicans are “bastards that want to destroy the American dream” before dialling back on the statement.
I’ve long suspected Schult’s overheated rhetoric was simply a ploy on his part to divert some of the next-day media clip coverage devoted to Glenn Beck and Olbermann his way, so perhaps he will tone it done. However, the fact this is the person MSNBC is booting up to the 10pm slot is either a measure of MSNBC’s shallow primetime bench, or evidence that Olbermann’s polarising on-air demeanor really had nothing to do with his departure.
At 10pm Schultz will find himself up against Fox powerhouse Greta Van Susteren and the struggling Anderson Cooper. Cooper ratings may be on a downward slide, but as his new syndicated daytime talk show deal indicates he is at least a recognisable name. And if it’s true the nation is tiring of angry yellers, he may seem that much more appealing than Schultz’s often angry take on the day’s news. In fact, Anderson Cooper may prove to be the biggest winner here.
The question remains. Who will recover from this split sooner: MSNBC or Olbermann? At this point, the latter may be the better bet.
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