Tucker Carlson: A Ratings Black Hole

In the first half of 2007, MSNBC’s ratings surged more than 30 percent over the previous year. A fair amount of that progress was thanks to the breakout performance of Keith Olbermann’s Countdown. This comes at a time when competing cable news networks were struggling to maintain single-digit growth. But not all of the players on MSNBC’s team were pulling their weight. Looking at the schedule from 4:00p to 10:00p, there is an obvious underachiever in the mix.

The two poorest performing programs in the lineup are the ones hosted by Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson. There is something about his presence that, when broadcast, sucks the audience into a space/time continuum and disgorges them from the TV universe. And it isn’t just that he vaporizes viewers, he also has the dubious distinction of declining 9% while the network that employs him is enjoying a ratings revival.

It is a little surprising that, in the face of such manifest failure, the network brass cling so tenaciously to this loser. What do they see in Tucker that persuades them that he will ever deliver an audience that compares to his network colleagues? It certainly can’t be the detritus of his broadcast career that includes such notorious bombs as CNN’s Crossifre and PBS’ Unfiltered. Neither has he distinguished himself as an author or newspaper columnist. He couldn’t even survive the first round of his embarrassing outing on Dancing With the Stars, where his choreography consisted largely of his remaining seated. [About which, Olbermann chided, “Any dance a man spends part of which in a chair is, by definition, a lap dance!”]

As there is no professional explanation for MSNBC’s mysterious loyalty, there must be some other excuse for carrying Tucker’s dead weight in the midst of the network’s bull run. Perhaps it has something to do with his pedigree. Tucker is the son of Richard Warner Carlson, a former U.S. ambassador, director of the U.S. Information Agency, and president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He is currently Vice Chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a pro-war, right-wing think tank whose Board of Advisors includes Gary Bauer, Bill Kristol, Zell Miller, and Richard Perle. Crime may or may not pay, but nepotism and having friends in high places certainly does.

If MSNBC were responsibly managing its resources, Tucker would be on the chopping block and the development team would be auditioning Olbermann clones. Wouldn’t it make sense to emulate a winner? When you consider the financial consequences at stake, it is incomprehensible that the network would abandon this time slot to a proven washout when they could significantly increase ad rates and sales by turning it over to a fresher, better informed, and more talented personality (The News Corpse Report?).

The problem may be that their development staff is even less talented than Tucker himself. It’s not as if they don’t have a broad variety of AAA players that could be called up: Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Thom Hartmann, Rachel Maddow, Stephanie Miller, Sam Seder, Taylor Marsh, Jim Hightower, Laura Flanders, Harry Shearer, or any other of the many distinguished progressive commentators.

It should also be noted that there is no law against introducing some actual creativity into the process. How about shaping a new model for cable infotainment that incorporates some of the dynamics and vitality of these here InterTubes™? If I were VP of program development for MSNBC, I would be proposing a hybrid show that was not just a parade of talking (butting) heads robotically spinning predigested blathering points. It would be a multi-host program with distinct segments that draw on the wisdom of the crowd.

One segment would feature news on politics and popular culture ala The Huffington Post. Another would concentrate on investigative reporting that allows viewers to participate in the sort of citizen-powered journalism that Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo does so well. There would be a segment that holds the media accountable to higher standards by documenting its successes and failures as Media Matters does. And, finally, I would include community moderated stories that are promoted to the air by the recommendations of viewers in a manner similar to that on the Daily Kos.

The segments would not be of fixed duration, but would expand or contract as dictated by the urgency of the content. There should be a liberal sprinkling of humor where appropriate, with regular comic voices invited to appear. This format provides the opportunity to feature numerous hosts and guests that are not often granted airtime in today’s constricted TV environment. And all of the above segments should include heavy doses of viewer participation via an affiliated web site that permits users to post articles, comments, videos, and even fully produced stories.

Now, I’m a realist, and I don’t expect the toadies in TV development to suddenly grow spines and produce something that is innovative and challenging. This is a problem that is pandemic in the industry and not in any way limited to MSNBC. CNN is likewise coddling a ratings disaster named Glenn Beck. But I do believe that the studio bean counters know how to read a balance sheet, and if they have any inclination to actually do their jobs, then Tucker will shortly be canceled and the two daily hours that are currently being wasted on him will be put to better use. That’s not a particularly tall order when you consider that, next to Tucker, infomercials for Ginsu knives would qualify as better use.


18 thoughts on “Tucker Carlson: A Ratings Black Hole

  1. This is a rhetorical question, right? I mean we all know why Fucker er…Tucker has a job. Crony Capitalism the new black for Amerikkka. Yer dad somebody well-known and ‘powerful’ why have a nice high paying job kid!

    • Yeah, I know. But you’d think that at some point someone would say, “Hey, this guy is killing our network.”

  2. FYI: Tucker is only on at 6 o’clock now.

    Tucker’s show is at least a hell of a lot more watchable than Hardball, especially now that Chris Matthews has gone off the creepy-old-guy deep end. Tucker is a genuinely funny and engaging guy, especially compared to Matthews. His problem is that every show consists of three or four blocks of him talking to Bill Press and A.B. Stoddard. Sometimes they’ll throw Jonathan Alter or Pat Buchanan in there to mix things up.

    If I were VP of program development for MSNBC

    And it’s funny you should mention that, because all ratings aside, I can safely say that Tucker is in no danger of cancellation.

    MSNBC’s VP of primetime is also – survery says! – Tucker’s EP.

    • Personally, I find Tucker annoying and smarmy.

      As for the prospects for cancellation, I agree that there are forces at work that are unrelated to ratings, but that is not the way to run a business. Also, unless something changed recently, Bill Wolff is Vice President of primetime programming at MSNBC and he is not Tucker’s EP.

  3. Does every Rethug loser have a more famous bankrolling daddy..

    Bill Kristol
    Kagan boys

    • Good point. Add Jonah Goldberg to the list.

  4. Today I was enlightened…I’ve been wondering for YEARS why Tucker Carlson is on TV. His great uncle was Senator Fulbright (political) his grandmother married into the Swanson frozen food family ($$$+), and his father was President of PBS (television) = Tucker Carlson landing prime gig as a TV journalist WITHOUT EVEN HAVING AN UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE !

    We all know that anybody elses application and resume would have been tossed straight into the trash without without a second thought. What a phony – he tries so hard to come off as an east coast conservative intellectual with those stupid bow ties. Tucker Carlson is just another example nepotism at its worst – let someone else who has EARNED the right to have their own show on their own merits. He has absolutely no right what so ever to be spouting his UNEDUCATED opinions on the air. How does he look at himself in the mirror at night knowing that he is only on air due to his connections. What a LOSER.

  5. Surprise, surprise. MSNBC cancelled Donahue because he didn’t have enough ratings… Olbermann is kicking butts and yet the keep Carlson on the air.. enough said…

  6. Obermann is popular because he is old school progressivism. If anyone bothers to study the history of progressivism, it is reformist in nature–it is certainly against corruption. During the 1890s there were progressives in both the Democratic and Republican Party. President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, was one of the first progressive presidents.

    Tucker Carlson, by any measure, is a defender of corporatism which means: let corporations write the bills for Congress and to hell with the people. If Tucker were back in the 1890s, he would be a defender of the big trusts (i.e., monopolies), elitism, political corruption, labor suppression, and imperialism.

    • “If Tucker were back in the 1890s, he would be a defender of the big trusts…”

      That’s exactly what he’s doing in the late 2000’s.

  7. Wow. The last couple of days have really explained why I want to barf every time I see this useless jerk. Last night I saw his “Health insurance should be a choice. When my first child was born I wasn’t making a lot of money and chose to not have health insurance” comment and got bruises on my chin when my jaw hit the floor. He and his wife and child were never at any risk of not having access to any health care they might need. Health insurance is not the goal, access to health care is the goal. If he, his wife or child needed any type of care, the worst that would happen is that his daddy might have to sell of part of his million dollar cane colletction. The value of the cane collection is in the range of the entire lifetime earnings for a significant fraction of the people in the US. I see now that in addition to being totally insensitive to the plight of a great fraction of the people in the country, he is uneducated and probably not able to form the logical thought structure to understand that not every family has a rich daddy. He’s just another rich kid that was born on third base and is going around thinking he hit a triple.

  8. You mean to tell me that not even a million people watch MSNBC? How do they stay in business? Do their sponsors know this? Good grief! Why am I watching this trash when no one else is?

  9. The strangest think about types like Carlson is that his life is a litany of getting ahead because of who he is and knows, yet he says with a straight face that people should succeed or fail based on their talents. In basically understanding how someone can advance themselves based on their parentage while screaming at others who are imprisoned by this same bias system is but one part of wrecking ball that is swinging at our democracy.

  10. Tucker has long has such low ratings that it was a mystery to everyone why he remained through all of the cancellations and changes at MSNBC. Nepotism plays a huge part and the M$M hanging on to the old school probably plays a significant part as well. Tucker’s view of himself as a Libertarian is probably part of it too, because even though the Libertarian line is closer to the neocon movement that liberalism, it sounds sorta the same, and the bosses likely thought it meant the same thing…so in this way they had a varied lineup.
    It wasn’t until Tucker started to dis his small audience (as in “goodnight to all 8 of you…”) that he started to get in trouble with the higher-ups…Ive figured that it was only a matter of time, since boy toy Dan Abrams went back to broadcasting and the suits took over, since the numbers just don’t lie. Tucker has such low ratings as to be a joke…in that time slot, its inexcusable that the show has continued.
    Chris Matthews is also a mystery of cronyism, though they do talk about how he is so “knowledgeable” and “brilliant”…hardly!
    What a crock!
    Lets see if they mess up the good thing they have with the development of Rachel Maddow. I would like to see her in a group show, but they likely want to match her with Buchanan or some such craziness (to be “fair”) and see if that floats.
    I’m just hoping that if we get to see more of the intelligent liberal voice of Rachel on MSNBC, we will hear more of the intelligent liberal voice of Sam Seder on Air America Radio!
    (which is under new management again, and hopefully this one will be the charm…its an important outlet for the left)
    meantime, faretheewell Tucker show….the only better thing could be that they might boot Carlson entirely…and Willie Giest too, who seemingly rode in on Tuckers tiny coattails from the frat house and has found his niche as butt boy to Scarborough…jeeze!

    One things for sure, MSNBC is heavily polling the masses to try to figure out whats up with Morning Joe and the rest…
    Now, will they take the advice of the audience? or are they gonna continue the nepotism model?

  11. Ahhhhhh!
    I just got the ‘news’ that Tucker Carlson has been (once again)FIRED!

  12. i like tucker, i like his exuberance and humor. i think keith should in prison, i cannot believe how people can like keith obermann with his constant harranging of bill. and fox. hey i like to watch both channels and i like bill o’reilly, i like to watch chris too, i really like joe scarbourough. but after reading all these left type haters i am sure joe will be replace by , oh yeah that, bull d rachel maddow, oh boy. dnc tv is responsible for the civil war in this country. civil dissent is not as fun as watching some one like keith and maddow undermine with smug authority, throw verbal crap and undermine the valiant charactor our country used to have.

    • Keith should in prison??? They’d love you in China.

      I love comments like yours because they make my points so well. You are obviously opposed to free speech. And as for civil war, you are the one that called liberals haters and Rachel Maddow a “bull d” in the same sentence. Keeping digging, dude.

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