It's no secret that MSNBC is, ahem, ratings-challenged. Put more bluntly, the cable news channel has been mired in last place for most of its history (at least, since Fox News Channel hit the airwaves), despite a staggering investment of money by NBC and Microsoft, and a veritable revolving door of news anchors and hosts. Borrowing a page from the late Andy Warhol, everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame--as a primetime host on MSNBC.
When former programming honcho Rick Kaplan (that famous Friend of Bill) stepped down last week, there was some speculation among the chattering class as to who might take charge of the sinking ship. Today, NBC answered that question by appointing Dan Abrams, who currently hosts a nightly legal show on the network, as its next general manager. Abrams has been with NBC News since 1997, but has no prior experience as a producer or programmer.
But he does write one hell of a memo. At least, that's what NBC News President Steve Capus said in making the announcement. Seems that Abrams has been peppering Capus with suggestions for improving the network for the past year. "His memos were thoughtful and insightful and provocative," Capus observed, "there was one that was eight pages long. That was the mone that made it clear to me he was serious about an examination of the channel."
Gee, if that's all it takes to get a six-figure job at MSNBC, maybe I should fax some of my old terms papers and my master's thesis to Capus. Given their length, that should put me in line for Bob Wright's job as NBC President. Never mind the fact that I haven't worked in broadcasting since the early 1980s. If executive qualifications at NBC News are based on one's ability to crank out a lengthy memo, then, Steve, I'm your guy.
Not that it really matters. As long as FNC and CNN are on the air, MSNBC will remain a laggard, no matter how many executives they hire and fire. And the reason is really quite simple, in case Mr. Capus and Mr. Abrams are wondering.
From: The Former Spook
To: Steve Capus, President, NBC News
Phil Griffin, Vice-President, MSNBC
Dan Abrams, General Manager, MSNBC
Subject: Improving Ratings
First off, congratulations to Phil and Dan on your new jobs. Hope your agents negotiated cushy severance benefits, because you're going to need them in a couple of years. But I digress.
This memo isn't long enough to get me into the executive suite, but I don't need that much space to tell you what's wrong with MSNBC.
A. Your news coverage is nothing more than the same old liberal pap we see on NBC, and in the rest of the drive-by media. Your audience would like something a little more lively and balanced. Ever hear of FNC?
B. Your talk show hosts suck. Chris Matthews and Keith Olberman are pompous jerks; Rita Cosby's voice grates on my nerves, and Joe Scarborough is nothing more than a poor imitation of Bill O'Reilly. So much for innovative programming. But hey, they're still better than Donny Deutch, if that's any consolation.
C. Judging from his appearance and demeanor, Don Imus apparently died several years ago, but someone keeps propping him up in front of the camera in the morning. You might try an actual living, breathing host in that timeslot. Couldn't hurt.
D. If all else fails, you might try some kind of activist consumer news, like investigating exploding fuel tanks on pick-up trucks, or convicting security guards of heinous crimes in the court of electronic opinion. Ooops, I forgot. NBC's already been there, done that.
E. "Pervert Round-Up with Chris Hansen." Hey, it's kept Dateline on the air for the past six months.
Lots more where these ideas came from. If you need a new consultant, let me know. I'm a lot cheaper than Magid, and besides, ratings can't get any lower--or can they?
P.S.--Steve/Phil: When are you going to tell Abrams he got the job because no one else wanted it?