Before you say it, I will: the title of this piece is an unfairness to the jolly Gilligan and the lovable Skipper.
Unless you believe the droning fidelity to “appearance of balance” practiced by the broadcast news networks and CNN is something other than a failure at providing truly objective journalism and usefully accurate information, then MSNBC is important. If you regard Fox as anything other than baggy pants farce played as news channel, and Goebbels-style propaganda machinery for the forces of the pre-Enlightenment, then your hair caught on fire and you stopped reading this.
Numerous media outlets have reported that MSNBC will be announcing major shakeups, more specifically the defenestration of Ed Shultz, Alex Wagner and the Cycle crew, at least for starters. The rumor is that Chris Hayes is being readied for the guillotine. This is especially unfortunate, given that Hayes has reliably provided an inventive and ambitious brand of reporting and analysis during his tenure, first on his weekend morning show, and then the evening show.
NBC is said to have a strategy (ruh-roh) for MSNBC, reportedly switching more of its programming, especially during daytime hours to news coverage instead of talk. This in itself isn’t a bad thing. But mention of the names Chuck Todd (once a refreshing wunderkind, now an unidentified journalistic object) and Brian Williams (nice guy, amusing man, but you know, what about the lying?) bodes poorly for those of us not enamored of news as Narrative du jour, chosen by careerist Washington chowder heads.
In all likelihood it also means more of those dreaded Sunday morning news show type Very Serious People, as Krugman astutely labeled them, who of course, only think they are.
How did Skipper and Gillian screw the pooch instead of Mary Ann and Ginger? For starters, they did what every movie studio fathead and television chief of programming does, they worshipped at the altar of Formula. Get yourself a hit (in this case Olbermann and then Maddow) and copy, copy, copy. The peril of this, absent actual copies of Olbermann and Maddow is obvious. And to make it worse, they lost the original Olbermann (in fairness, everybody does).
But Olbermann wasn’t just an interesting personality, a man with some edge. He reliably had impressive guests, not just the same old panel of reporters, pundits and talking heads. He had, for example, economists such as Jeff Madrick or Joseph Stiglitz on a regular basis, and wise, seasoned observers such as John Dean. In other words, experts, people studied and knowledgeable about subjects germane to the issues in the news, rather than people simply talking for a living or taking notes while a politician talks.
Management hired some excellent talent, then proceeded to waste it, shoving it into the same old formula. Ronan Farrow, annoyingly youthful, yet accomplished, clearly was suited for something innovative, incorporating cultural subjects, pop and otherwise, and non-journalistic personalities into a different kind of format perhaps. Why in the hell did they have him on at one o’ clock in the afternoon, when everybody watching him was twice his age?
They hired Alex Baldwin for a Friday night show, who besides being a skilled actor, is an excellent interviewer, as anyone who has heard his podcast knows. Then they fired him for some off-air offensive epithet or other, the usual rite of self-immolating PC. It’s Alex Baldwin. Let Baldwin be Baldwin. Take a Dramamine, hold your testicles tight, and enjoy the ride.
Alex Wagner also was badly abused. Intelligent, quick on her feet, and obviously interested in more than the real significance of what the senate minority leader had for lunch today, got nailed down in the same omnipresent chair beside the same omnipresent glass desk, with the same omnipresent guests discussing the significance of what the senate minority leader had for lunch today (It was soup, and poor old Harry nearly drowned again). If I’d known who to give the money to, I would have paid the ransom to get her out of there.
Here’s another clue, MSNBC management and producers, too late to do any good of course, but I’ll say it anyhow: yes, we like your anchors, but putting them on as guests on other shows all day long is not simply incestuous, it’s boring. Redundancy is only a positive thing in airline operational systems and birth control.
NBC claims it wants more straight-ahead news coverage, yet it has forfeited hour after hour of opportunity for just such programming every weekend, running a hideous reality crime show mashup like some UHF station in Fucking Nowhere, Utah. They might as well have put up one of those old style test patterns used when networks left the air at midnight, and returned in the morning with the local farm report.
How about a show called Lockjaw? No talking, and very, very cheap to produce. Just pretty people looking at you from the TV screen as though they like you, they really like you. Better yet, let Aaron Sorkin have an actual news show. Grouchy, idealistic anchorman chews up and spits out your favorite right-wing douche at dinnertime.
Seriously folks, I hope NBC doesn’t go too far with this impending purge. In the rest of TV news land, liars lie absent challenge, or interruption, one thing said is just as true as any other, middleness is next to godliness, the Very Serious People knock the Narrative du jour back and forth across the net like a deflated volleyball, the world gets dumb and dumber, and I want to fling myself from the top of 30 Rock.