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Jeers to Sharpton

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  August 31, 2011 12:25 PM

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I'm not sure what MSNBC was thinking when the network gave Al Sharpton his own show.

But at least we know what Sharpton was thinking: "after 5 p.m.," he told the St. Petersburg Times, "the format doesn’t call for a journalist."

Alrighty, then.

So, how much patience do viewers have for one talking head after another? Does it make sense for MSNBC to follow Chris Matthews with Al Sharpton, Lawrence O'Donnell, Rachel Maddow, and Ed Schultz? How much advocacy can an audience handle?

Remember too that those on the West Coast see Matthews starting at 2 p.m., followed by the rest of the line-up.

Another - and more glaring question - is why MSNBC has not sought to launch a prime-time version of "Morning Joe," a tremendously successful venture that lands great guests, generally eschews stridency, and feels politically balanced.

Though MSNBC may believe that they are replicating Fox News Channel's winning formula - and, indeed, Fox substantially and consistently outpaces CNN and MSNBC - Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity only reign over a two-hour block of intense advocacy. Before and after, viewers are in the far-gentler hands of Bret Baier, Shepard Smith, and Greta Van Susteren.

Certainly, Keith Olbermann found a ratings sweetspot when he decided to be overtly liberal on MSNBC's "Countdown." But endlessly replicating that formula - which, I would argue, was initially far more newsy - will not necessarily guarantee success. Instead, it may exhaust the audience and marginalize the network.

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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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