Now MSNBC’s President AND Lawrence O’Donnell May Be Out as Top Boss Sharpens the Axe

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By Joe Simonson | 6:08 pm, May 19, 2017
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Looks like Lawrence O’Donnell isn’t the only one facing a possible pink slip from MSNBC.

According to a report from The New York Post’s Page Six, MSNBC president Phil Griffin, who built MSNBC’s successful prime time line up, is facing a contract expiry in two weeks. So far, he hasn’t been renewed.

O’Donnell and Griffin may both soon prove victim to MSNBC / NBC News Chairman Andy Lack’s efforts to rehabilitate his old friend, Brian Williams, and take credit for MSNBC’s successes.

As Heat Street reported earlier this week, liberal talk show host O’Donnell is facing the expiry of his own contract amid speculation that Lack wants to pull his successful 10 pm show and replace it with a Brian Williams hour.  On Wednesday, O’Donnell threw a public tantrum, tweeting out that his “Contract expires June 4,” and that he’ll  “let you know where you can watch me June 6 if it’s not MSNBC.  I’m sorry this situation has become public.”

On Thursday, O’Donnell confirmed to a fan on Twitter that he wants to stay at MSNBC with “the best team mates on TV”.

Despite having the No. 2 show on the network (and sometimes in all of cable news) after cable kingpin Rachel Maddow, O’Donnell may be a lower priority to Lack than Brian Williams, who was fired from his prestigious gig at NBC Nightly News after he was caught making up self-aggrandizing stories. Williams was demoted to a “breaking news anchor” role at MSNBC in 2015 and has been steadily trying to rebuild viewer trust in hopes, sources say, of returning to his Nightly News chair.

Lawrence O’Donnell

If Lack, 70, dumps O’Donnell, it will be the latest move by the elderly executive to torpedo MSNBC’s progressive hosts and shows in favor of conservative or middle-of-the-road programming. Lack has been pursuing these changes despite MSNBC’s progressive programming enjoying a ratings surge as liberal viewers eat up hours and hours of anti-Trump TV.

O’Donnell may not have Lack’s backing, but scores of of progressive viewers are expressing their support for O’Donnell on social media.  And a petition on calling for O’Donnell to keep his show has garnered over 14,000 signatures.

As for Griffin, he too may be facing the axe even though he enjoys strong support from Maddow.

Sources close to MSNBC speculate to Heat Street that Lack suspects Griffin is behind the detailed takedown of his management in a wildly-circulated HuffPost piece that came out earlier this month.  The piece, authored by former MSNBC contributor Ryan Grim, details how many employees within MSNBC are confused by Lack’s hostility to progressive programming and apparent desire to dump O’Donnell for Williams.

Lack, who’s famous for his titanic ego and love of executive perquisites, may also be loath to share any credit for MSNBC’s success with Griffin. The HuffPost‘s Yashar Ali reported last week that Lack bristles at any suggestion that the left’s aversion to Donald Trump may be behind MSNBC’s ratings surge. He prefers to credit his programming gifts. Lack’s ego puts Griffin — the architect of MSNBC’s programming strategy over the last decade — in a tight spot.

Lack is close personal friends with Brian Williams and NBC News’ biggest star, Matt Lauer

Indeed, MSNBC is the one bright light for Lack amid a tranche of sorry stories elsewhere in his purview. The beleaguered Today program — showing double digit year over year declines — is widely expected to sink to third place behind CBS This Morning sometime in the next year. And Lack is facing almost certain doom for his baffling and very expensive decision to hire Megyn Kelly for a morning hour that seems a terrible fit for the icy prime time princess.

Which brings us back to Brian Williams, who currently has an MSNBC show airing at 11 pm, immediately after O’Donnell. The Williams program, The Eleventh Hour, features a number of low-quality advertisements often sold in the so-called spot market, meaning they don’t command a premium and are bought somewhat indiscriminately by advertisers just looking for eyeballs.

Insomniacs watching Cops reruns in the early morning might be familiar with the famous jingle “Cellino & Barnes injury attorneys, 800-888-8888.”  The sleazy law firm’s spots is perhaps the most prominent advertiser during the “Eleventh Hour,” next to other companies hawking cures for “dental anxiety.”

If Lack gets his way and moves Williams to the more coveted 10pm slot, the disgraced former Nightly News anchor would presumably be in a position to attract less embarrassing advertisers. But how will MSNBC convince blue chip advertisers to associate their clients with an admitted liar who’s now trying to masquerade as a source of truth? Moreover, it’s safe to say Williams has completely lost his mojo — if he ever really had any to begin with.  Network TV insiders always considered Williams mediocre, and viewed his entire straight-shooting, humble persona as totally contrived and removed from the difficult, imperious man off-camera.

NBC President Phil Griffin.

Even in the 11pm slot, Williams’ tortured and cringe-inducing references to The Godfather and other hokey lines come across as nauseating.  Moving him to 10pm and displacing a beloved host would significantly raise the stakes — and risk deeply antagonizing MSNBC’s loyal and progressive viewers.

Older generations might have ignored Williams’ pomp and affect when he was hosting the evening news, but times have changed and MSNBC is in the midst of a real renaissance. Now that network evening news broadcasts are slowly spiraling downward, Lack has a real choice to make: Remake Weekend at Bernies with Williams as Bernie Lomax and risk an advertiser exodus, or recognize reality and tell his old friend to get lost.

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