Rick Kaplan Out At No. 3 MSNBC

MSNBC's ratings improved during Rick Kaplan's 21/2-year reign, but not enough.
MSNBC's ratings improved during Rick Kaplan's 21/2-year reign, but not enough. (Msnbc)
By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, June 8, 2006

Two and a half years after he was named president of MSNBC and about two years after rumors started to fly about his imminent departure from the job, Rick Kaplan has stepped down from the network that continues to finish a distant third to its cable news rivals in the ratings.

"Rick has done a good job . . . stabilizing the place and putting it in a good position," NBC News President Steve Capus told The TV Column, adding, "It's time to push . . . and grow the channel in a way it hasn't to date."

The decision was "mutually agreed upon," he said.

"NBC News knows a thing or two about transitions; we've done them from positions of strength at 'Nightly,' 'Today' and at our front office and maintained a leadership position at all those places," he said.

"This was a time, while we have momentum at MSNBC, to capitalize and make a change from a position of strength."

Kaplan's contract reportedly was scheduled to run to February.

Though MSNBC has made ratings gains this calendar year, the network remains stuck in third place, despite its close connections to genre leader NBC News and its own successful Web operation.

Weekdays in prime time, MSNBC's ratings rose 14 percent compared with the same time last year, though it is still only clocking about 360,000 viewers. CNN and Fox News Channel are both down compared with last year but still laps ahead of MSNBC with 800,000 viewers for CNN and 1.7 million for FNC.

Kaplan was not available for comment late yesterday. But in an e-mail to staff, he said, "It is not often in professional life that someone has the opportunity to end his tenure on such a high note."

Kaplan had more success with shows he inherited than those he created.

The number of viewers watching Keith Olbermann's "Countdown," for instance, has climbed nearly 50 percent among viewers overall, though it came in fourth during May, behind FNC's Bill O'Reilly, CNN's Paula Zahn and CNN Headline News's Nancy Grace.

Olbermann was up 70 percent among viewers 25 to 54 years old, which is the target demographic group of news programming. In the demo, Olbermann's show now ranks No. 2 in its prime-time slot -- something MSNBC has not accomplished in prime time in more than five years -- behind O'Reilly's show, but edging out Zahn and Grace.

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