MSNBC is adding a jolt of star power to its prime time schedule, recruiting
veteran TV talker Phil Donahue to host an 8 p.m. EST show.
Fiercely liberal Donahue will battle Fox News Channel's conservative star, Bill
O'Reilly, and Cable News Network's Connie Chung, whose show is expected to launch in June.
"Me from the left, him from the right, that's fine with me," Donahue said on
a conference call Wednesday of his matchup with O'Reilly.
MSNBC president Erik Sorenson said the scheduling was a deliberate
counterprogramming move, adding that it is also strategic.
"Phil represents op-ed or point-of-view programming," he added. "By 8 p.m.,
everyone has the news in this country, so 8 p.m. is a time to sit back and reflect,
put the news in some context."
Donahue -- out of TV since his syndicated talk show ended in 1996 -- said Sept.
11 motivated him to return to air.
His unnamed MSNBC show, slated for a summer launch, will air live from MSNBC
studios in Secaucus, N.J., and feature guests and audience call-ins.
Donahue said he'll address top news stories, politics and pop culture, among
The addition of Donahue shakes up MSNBC's evening lineup.
The News with Brian Williams will move to 7 p.m. and Hardball with
Chris Matthews, now exclusively an MSNBC property, will move to 9 p.m.
Ashleigh Banfield and Allan Keys will shift back one hour.
MSNBC had been sharing Williams and Matthews with sister network CNBC, with both
shows airing multiple times per day.
MSNBC had been anxious to end the sharing arrangement, which eroded ratings.
Williams, however, will still repeat on CNBC.
The changes come at a critical time for MSNBC.
While both Fox News and CNN experienced double-digit ratings increases for
the first quarter of 2002 compared with the year before, MSNBC was flat, recording a
0.4 in first-quarter 2001 and 2002.
O'Reilly hosts cable's top-rated news program, The O'Reilly Factor,
which averaged a 2.0 in first quarter.