MSNBC Puts Search for New Show on Back Burner

by | October 28, 2009 at 4:20 PM | TV News

Keith Olberman (Getty)

Keith Olberman (Getty)

BY: David Bauder

NEW YORK – MSNBC is much less likely to start a third prime-time news show because its executives are pleased with how well a repeat of Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” is doing at 10 p.m. ET.

MSNBC chief executive Phil Griffin talked this year of actively searching for a new 10 p.m. host. Reruns of Olbermann’s 8 p.m. show have aired there since March 2008.

Yet in October, Olbermann has averaged 600,000 viewers in that later time slot, nearly on par with Anderson Cooper’s 689,000 on CNN, the Nielsen Co. said. In the 25-to-54 demographic, which MSNBC most actively courts, Olbermann’s rerun beat Cooper’s first-run show in that hour for the first time ever. Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren leads with just under 2 million total viewers.

Olbermann’s rerun is getting nearly 60 percent of the audience that his first-run show does earlier in the evening, Nielsen said.

“We’re looking, but nothing (new) has even come close to going in there at 10,” Griffin said. “We’ve set the bar so high we don’t want to break that success.”

Continuing to air a rerun at that hour would save the news network millions of dollars.

October’s news network ratings were similarly a boon to Fox News, locked in a battle with the Obama administration that has seemingly energized the network’s fans. There was tougher news for CNN, whose play-it-straight goal is increasingly at odds with what viewers of these networks seem to want.

It’s not as if CNN is unaware of the trends: its HLN (formerly Headline News) sister network has a prime-time lineup of opinionated personalities that has become competitive in the ratings with its big sibling.

CNN’s troubles even brought about the unlikely event of agreement between Olbermann and his Fox nemesis, Bill O’Reilly. They both characterized the network as behind the times.

“CNN seems to still think it is the primary source for its viewers, that they know nothing until they tune in,” Olbermann told The Associated Press. “This is, ever increasingly, nonsensical. People now watch news on TV for elucidation and context and analysis. They have brought the facts with them, the way we used to bring TV dinners.”

O’Reilly, during an appearance last week at his alma mater, Boston University, cited CNN’s “Campbell Brown” show as an example of an approach that no longer appears to be working. Brown has averaged 648,000 viewers this month in her 8 p.m. ET time slot, compared with O’Reilly’s 3.39 million and Olbermann’s 1.02 million at the same time, Nielsen said.

“You have to evolve if you want to survive in the commercial world,” O’Reilly said, according to BU’s Daily Free Press. “If you are going to do a straight newscast in prime-time, you are going to lose.”

Brown said that embracing journalism that is nonpartisan and without bias “may not always be a ratings grab in prime time, but I am a journalist, and I believe in what I do and what CNN represents.”


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