Accuracy in Media

MSNBC, which has struggled ratings-wise since the departure of Keith Olbermann earlier this year, announced that it will be adjusting its primetime lineup starting next week.

By swapping the time slots of two shows, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and The Ed Show with Ed Schultz, MSNBC is acknowledging that O’Donnell’s show didn’t perform as well as they had hoped when they moved it to Olbermann’s old time slot. While O’Donnell has attracted one million or so viewers on average per night, he has frequently trailed CNN’s Anderson Cooper in the key A25-54 demographic and was never able to win back the old Olbermann audience completely.

There is no guarantee that this switch will work but MSNBC is betting that Schultz’s style, which is similar to Olbermann’s, will attract more viewers than the dour O’Donnell. But this move is also fraught with some risk as Schultz’s ratings have slipped over the last month against a rerun of AC360 on CNN. Now he will be facing Cooper head to head with his live show.

MSNBC’s press release tried to put the best face on the changes:

“This move will strengthen the flow of our programming throughout the evening. As the name implies, “The Last Word” belongs at the conclusion of our programming day, thoughtfully wrapping-up the day’s political dialogue,” said Griffin. “Ed’s passionate voice is a perfect kick off to primetime at 8 p.m.”

As The New York Times pointed out last month, MSNBC is perilously close to falling to third place in the cable news ratings. The Times focused on O”Donnell’s show as the main culprit, since it has lost viewers compared to Olbermann’s MSNBC numbers, and therefore hurt the ratings of Rachel Maddow’s show as well.

This move smacks more of desperation than inspiration as MSNBC tries to revive its flagging fortunes. It is more like trying to put a band-aid on a gunshot wound than a brilliant programming move.

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