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Could MSNBC’s real problem be it’s boring?



On September 13 2013, New ran a story about a major traffic jam on the George Washington bridge. Traffic had been grid locked like that for the entire week and it was devastating the small town of Fort Lee.  MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was the first to break that story (at least on MSNBC) on air.


Maddow’s reporting was a bombshell. It turned out the story would have national implications and, perhaps, bring down a governor who had overwhelmingly been reelected by the citizens of his state.

And as the story continued and gained traction with other outlets, Maddow kept reporting and reporting, and reporting and reporting. Every change, every nuance, every interview all became the lead, the “breaking news” on not just Maddow, but on all of MSNBC. They had a big, big story and in the words of a famous convicted ex-governor it’s like “I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden, and, I’m just not giving it up for fuckin’ nothing. “ The network treated the story like CNN treated Flight MH370.  And for CNN, ratings soared. The same was true for MSNBC – for a while. Rating went up when the George Washington bridge story, dubbed bridgegate, first broke.

But eventually like with CNN, people got tired of it and tired of MSNBC’s coverage of it. By February even liberal champions of the network had enough. Bill Mahar a friend of Mrs. Maddow’s show even came out against the wall to wall coverage. It became a running joke.

For the network,   I think this was a turning point.   MSNBC had become boring and predictable. Same stuff no new news. The Hayes-Maddow timeslots became mirror images of one another. Then add The Last Word at 10pm and it was a virtual echo chamber. What ensued was a drop in rating.

Even now on the eve of the Republican debates, all either hosts can talk about is how much of a train wreck the debates could possibly be and who’s going to make it in (curiously Chris Matthews appears to be the only one going to Iowa for the debates).  They’ve been talking about the same thing for weeks now.   Its so boring, I find myself skimming though the episodes.

To fix the problem MSNBC’s new President Andrew Lack has set its sights on a full overhaul of the cable network. The question, as posed on last week’s Reliable Sources, is what will MSNBC become?


Ironically two developments have occurred. 1. The suspended Brian Williams is soon to be active once again and has been moved to MSNBC. 2. Keith Olbermann – who some credit as the creator of the current MSNBC – is going to be looking for a job soon. A reporter even asked (perhaps jokingly) when is Keith Olbermann coming back.

What we do know is Andrew Lack wants more integration between NBC and MSNBC and to focus on hard new.  So does MSNBC become more like NBC or does it remain a liberal bastion it currently is?

As somewhat of a sign of things to come,  the 3 pm to 5pm hour consisting of The Cycle, Now with Alex Wagner and Ed Show, have all been canceled. According to the report, Ed Schultz, Abby Huntsman, Krystal Ball and Toure will leave MSNBC. Chuck Todd will have a new program in the slot taking over for Ed (who was curiously absent for his show today). And Brian Williams new role at the network has yet to be revealed.

Canceled shows The Cycle (right), Alex Wagner (left) and The Ed Show


Shultz himself has had a great following at MSNBC. Although he has moved all over the place, having at least 5 or 6 different time slots, his presence was felt. When he moved to weekends a few years back, ratings immediately tanked in prime time, forcing President Phil Griffin to put Ed back in primetime.

According to the Variety story, the changes may not be over:


“In the coming weeks, as we complete our plans to create a new look and flow for our dayside programming, our 3pm to 6pm hours will begin the pivot towards live, breaking news coverage – with interim hosts from among our very talented ranks,” the memo stated. “And then, in September, we’ll unveil a 9am to 5pm schedule driven by dynamic coverage of breaking news events that are shaping the day.”

But is MSNBC making a mistake?  If they begin to merge too much into standard news do they really think they can undo CNN much less Fox News?  And in doing so do they risk being boring?

Someone like an Olbermann will spice things up.  He’s funny, he brash, he’s a great personality.  The same thing can be said of Brian Williams who is still a star.  Both men have been embroiled in controversy and I think both men will be forgiven for their past transgressions.  We all know cable news is not the news of Walter Cronkite.  You can make mistakes and still come back.

I think the best bet is to have a foot in both worlds.  Opinion news is what sells.  MSNBC is known as a liberal news station.  They need to stick to its liberal roots, but it also needs to act like a news organization and getting Brian Williams will help that.

The changes have just begun. Curious to see where it goes.

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