Off the heels of a rare Fox News primetime shakeup this week came reports that MSNBC is set to make a big splash hire, nabbing Alec Baldwin as a weekly primetime host on Fridays at 10pm. The media reaction has been mixed, and my colleague Tommy Christopher penned a bold piece criticizing the hire, suggesting it is a move that will lead MSNBC in the wrong direction, one moving away from its brand of diversity and potentially alienating viewers.
If you read Christopher’s column (which you should), one of the main reasons he sees Baldwin as a bad fit rests on a twitter rant Baldwin went on against a British reporter, calling him a “queen” and suggesting he’d stick his foot up the reporters ass but ultimately wouldn’t because the reporter would “dig it too much.” The issue was soon squashed as GLAAD accepted a lengthy apology by Baldwin.
Although I agree with Tommy taking offense to Baldwin’s insensitive and inflammatory comments, I respectfully disagree that Baldwin’s offensive comments toward homosexuals, and suspect apology afterward, will ultimately drive away MSNBC’s audience, one that has been fleeing the network since the 2012 election ended, resulting in apocalyptic ratings that are simply unsustainable.
If horribly offensive comments made by cable news hosts is the bar for having or not having a robust audience, then how do some of Baldwin’s soon to be colleagues still have loyal followings? I might agree with him politically, but was Chris Matthews completely tone deaf comment thanking the political Gods for Hurricane Sandy not a slap in the face to the millions of tri-state area residents who had just lost their homes and livelihoods, many whom watch him nightly?
Was former primetime host Ed Schultz’s off the rails comment on radio, calling Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut,” not an attack on a huge ratings demographic, women across America?
Lawrence O’Donnell seems to be doing just fine in the ratings, and he offended an entire religion after calling Mormonism an “invented religion”?
Commentators like Tommy and I can have our opinions, but the ultimate decision on which voices will help lead MSNBC in the right direction lies with network President Phil Griffin, and parent company Comcast. They have to choose the personnel with the best potential to rate and represent their brand effectively.
The argument in support of Baldwin’s hire goes beyond the aforementioned double standard—it is simply a smart TV move. If the decisions made by MSNBC since the 2012 election have taught us anything, it is:
A. Wonking out at 8 pm primetime is not a smart programming decision (have you seen Chris Hayes’s ratings lately?)
B. Being the “place for politics” is great during the buildup to and in monumental election years, but your ratings will take a nosedive if you don’t offer a variety of programming when political interest wanes.
C. If you’re all opinion all the time, you might as well close up shop during big breaking news stories like the Boston Marathon bombing and the George Zimmerman murder case.
As I’ve argued before, MSNBC President Phil Griffin made a bold, but boneheaded move in yanking Ed Schultz out of primetime to drop him into his current weekend wasteland, so he should be applauded for attempting the course correction that Baldwin’s hire signifies. Friday night at 10 pm isn’t exactly the most prized time slot, but Baldwin will surely move to a more prominent slot if the results are there. In Baldwin, MSNBC if getting an already made star with a huge following in entertainment circles, that obviously has the potential to cross over to political circles as well.
Sure, adding Baldwin does not visually expand MSNBC’s diversity, but it is not simply having African-American hosts in prominent roles that has made MSNBC a ratings powerhouse among African-Americans: it’s the message and support for issues African-Americans care about that gravitate them toward MSNBC. There is no reason to think Baldwin, a staunch liberal, wouldn’t cover stories that groups other than white males like himself would want to watch. More importantly, there is reason to think he’d present stories in a different and fun way, utilizing his acting and performance skills to help drive home his political points while driving up the ratings.
And in the end, whether or not you like Alec Baldwin’s acting, attitude, or politics, suggesting his show on on MSNBC will lead it in the wrong direction is forgetting an important fact.
MSNBC is already moving in the wrong direction, as since the 2012 election, ratings have either stalled, plateaued, or fallen off a cliff. It’s Griffin’s job to fix all three. He could sit back and relax, standing idly by until the next election cycle, accepting mediocre to declining ratings until viewers come back as election excitement mounts, or he could be proactive, realizing his network needs to be building its momentum in all years, those politically heavy and not.
Alec Baldwin is a great start.
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Image via NBC/In-House