With Halloween on the horizon, October is a month full of such scary things as ghosts, goblins and … a possible return to MSNBC by fire-breathing former anchor Keith Olbermann.
According to an exclusive article by Joe Concha on the Mediaite.com website, NBC News president Andy Lack is looking for someone to solidify the network's prime-time line-up and may replace the low-rated All In With Chris Hayes with a new program anchored by the former ESPN, Fox Sports and (now-defunct) Current TV channel host.
Concha noted that the hostile former sports broadcaster “wore out his welcome” at ESPN and left that network in July. This development follows his departure from the post as chief news officer on Current TV on March 30, 2012, and his tenure as anchor of the weeknight political commentary program, Countdown With Keith Olbermann, until he left the liberal channel in January of 2011.
The Mediaite.com columnist explained one reason MSNBC might want to return to “the good old days,” when Olbermann provided harsh liberal bias on a nightly basis:
The apex of MSNBC’s 19-year existence was arguably its run during the 2008 presidential campaign. Barack Obama was an electric, historic and therefore ratings-generating candidate.
Sarah Palin -- who joined the fray relatively late just three months before the election, served as the perfect foil for progressives. And leading the charge was the face of the network, Keith Theodore Olbermann.
While it's possible that the return of one of the “Worst Persons in the World” could provide a boost in MSNBC's ratings during the upcoming presidential election, the idea that it could help the liberal channel on a long-term basis is definitely unlikely – but still something frightening in the cable news ratings contest.
MSNBC “still enjoyed a successful 2012 fueled largely by the president’s successful re-election campaign, but then faltered badly during the following (non-election) year,” Concha stated. However, things got worse in 2014, with the channel falling behind the Cable News Network in the important 25- to 54-year-old demographic and into third place in ratings behind the hugely successful Fox News Channel and CNN.
Eventually, Lack changed the channel's line-up, dropping liberal firebrand Ed Schultz's The Ed Show and replacing him with NBC News political director Chuck Todd while relegating anchor/activist Al Sharpton to Sunday mornings.
Concha noted that Lack's strategy was to replace all the opinion-based afternoon programs with hours of “relatively traditional news” from Thomas Roberts and Kate Snow.
“So now that afternoons are settled,” the Mediaite reporter noted, and Morning Joe expanding to four hours -- beginning at 6 a.m. -- “the last piece of the puzzle appears to be prime time.”
Concha cautioned that the 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. slots “will remain safely in the hands of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell, leaving 8:00 p.m. … as the next possible time slot for alteration.”
With that in mind, “a meeting has been set between Olbermann and Lack to discuss his return to the network and his old 8:00 p.m. slot,” the Mediaite reporter noted.
Concha's source for this information said the change was being considered to “jumpstart sagging ratings under Hayes, which despite an Emmy win this year has been a consistent drag on the rest of prime time since launching on April Fools' Day in 2013.”
“At one point this year in May, All in averaged only 74,000 in the vital demo, making it the worst performing MSNBC program at 8:00 p.m. since 2005,” he stated, “and given Olbermann is now a free agent, and a huuuuuggge campaign season with plenty of comedy to play with is already underway,” Lack may be willing to return to a staff that resembles the one when the channel drew its highest ratings.
“There probably isn’t a moment on this roller coaster ride that Olbermann wishes he isn’t attacking with a snarky remark from his old Countdown chair again,” Concha asserted.
The columnist then stated:
He may have burned (OK, napalmed) the bridge during his sudden exit last time. But bridges can be repaired if the ends justify the means. In the end, Olbermann and MSNBC make sense, at least until the inauguration in 2017.
And if one discussion leads to another which leads to a contract, perhaps MSNBC prime time as a whole can get back to being truly competitive once again.
While it's likely that Olbermann's return might attract some liberals who have not yet taken an interest in the upcoming presidential campaign, it's really doubtful that the comeback might catapult MSNBC into the same league as Fox News -- even though the thought of putting up with Olbermann's snarky attempts at humor is a truly scary concept.