Tuesday, January 5, 2010

MSNBC's Weekend Problem

Recently it was reported that the most watched cable news channel in 2009 was Fox News, a finding that must be scaring liberals. It bested MSNBC by a wide margin. The big loser, though, was CNN, which remained in third place. Ratings for MSNBC produced mixed results; though more people watched Fox, MSNBC gained among viewers in the 25-54 age demographic. Rachel Maddow's show has become appointment television, and Ed Schultz has cultivated a core audience of his own. But facts are stubborn things. For all of Keith Olbermann's lampooning of Bill O'Reilly as "Billo the Clown," O'Reilly's show has been highly rated, usually attracting more viewers than Olbermann in the same time slot, and even Rachel Maddow has faced tough competition against that other Long Island Irish fascist on Fox, Sean Hannity.
Fox's higher ratings don't necessarily meant that the country is tilting more rightward; it could easily mean that conservatives, feeling that their ideology is under siege, are tuning in to Fox more frequently. The political faction out of power normally rallies together and stirs up trouble, and it's been that way since newspapers sympathetic to Thomas Jefferson regularly assailed the administration of John Adams. MSNBC is actually doing pretty well overall, but it has one Achilles heel that makes it seem less like a serious cable news channel than even Fox.
I'm talking about MSNBC's weekend programming.
MSNBC always airs documentaries, usually on prisons, murders, and domestic abusers, on Saturdays and Sundays. The channel, like the fabled middle class Ed Schultz is trying to represent, pretty much takes the weekend off. Occasional updates from Christina Brown are as much news as you get from MSNBC on the weekends, except when they come from Milissa Rehberger. Naturally, the channel also goes in to hibernation on holidays, as it did on Christmas Day a couple of weeks ago. Therefore, MSNBC was the last channel to get in on the attempted airline bombing over Detroit, and the channel seemed just as slow to react as President Obama was while in Hawaii.
And some of MSNBC's commentators actually had the nerve for chastising Obama.
MSNBC has always frustrated me with their weekend programming. I don't like their sensationalist documentaries, and I never find out what's going on in the world when I tune in on Saturday or Sunday. It sounds trivial, but if cable television news had been around in 1941 or 1979, and if MSNBC then had a programming format like the one it has now, they would have been out of the loop during, respectively, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran, both of which happened on Sundays.
If MSNBC wants to be taken more seriously as a cable news show, they should have weekend news and talk shows and not just show those stupid documentaries, many of which are reruns of "Dateline NBC." They don't even show reruns of "Meet the Press" anymore on Sunday evenings, and they've had little if any weekend news programming since Tim Russert died. Even its loyal weekday viewers now have to go somewhere else for breaking news on Saturdays and Sundays.
It is not true that MSNBC has more initials in its name than it has viewers. It is true, however, that MSNBC has more initials in its name than it has weekend news reports.

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