MSNBC announced today that Rachel Maddow will be getting her own show following Keith Olbermann’s Countdown. The program is scheduled to debut on September 8, 2008, just in time for the general election circus. This is a move long expected by insiders, or at least by me.
Maddow is one of the brightest stars in the cable news galaxy. She is insightful and courageous and elegantly articulate. Her show will help to fill a gap in the MSNBC line-up. Dan Abrams, whom Maddow will replace, has failed to capitalize on Olbermann’s lead-in. His show was more a collection of segments than a show, and it had no personality. Maddow, on the other hand, has the potential of creating a program that will build on its lead-in. She appeals to a young demo which MSNBC draws in large numbers. Countdown actually beats its competition, including the O’Reilly Factor, in the 18-49 demo. And Maddow will appeal to MSNBC’s core audience that recent surveys show leans Democratic by 2-to-1 (compared to Fox News’ 9-to-1 right leaning audience). Abrams was a political fence-sitter who couldn’t hold Olbermann’s viewers, but Maddow could make use of him for episodes of “Beat the Press” and commentary on legal stories (his work on Don Siegleman was the best on TV).
Success, however, is not guaranteed. First of all, we have not seen the show or its format. If they make the mistake of patterning it off of David Gregory’s “Race for the White House” it will be a huge disappointment. The last thing cable news needs is another descendant of the Crossfire genus of shouting matches that has already proved to be a failure. Secondly, she will air opposite Fox News’ popular “Hannity and Not Hannity,” and CNN’s Larry King. She will need to aggregate progressive, reality-based viewers from across the dial in order to compete. As I’ve previously noted, Fox News has cornered the market on right-wingers. Democrats and progressives are scattered across the grid. The key to success for Maddow (and for MSNBC overall) is to do a better job of pulling this audience together.
There will be a built in high interest for the debut week that will have to grab the viewers and make them instantaneously loyal. At the same time, she should expect to take some heat from the Foxian Culture Warriors like Bill O’Reilly, who has made bashing MSNBC, NBC, and Keith Olbermann, a sacrament of his demented faith. Rightist media is unlikely to welcome her into their club as the only woman anchoring a political show, and a lesbian at that.
Congratulations Rachel, and good luck.