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.
And "Hardball With Chris Matthews" is on the rise both in viewers of all ages and in the demo.
But Kaplan's much-ballyhooed new show headlined by Ronald Reagan Jr. and Monica Crowley was scrapped in a year. And a high-profile move to launch a prime-time show hosted by former CNN regular Tucker Carlson was something of a ratings bust and was moved out of prime time.
Kaplan also started a prime-time show with former Fox News Channel host Rita Cosby. Since it moved to 10 p.m. in late April, it's averaged 245,000 viewers, down slightly compared with what Joe Scarborough's program had averaged in the time slot the same time last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Kaplan, an accomplished press schmoozer, kept an uncharacteristically low profile during his MSNBC tenure, turning down most interview requests. But inside the company he was credited with building morale and forging a tighter partnership with NBC News.
"Rick came in and got the stench out," Phil Griffin, MSNBC's vice president for prime time, told The Post's Howard Kurtz in January 2005 -- a reference to the turmoil and constant program-shuffling that characterized much of the 5 1/2 -year reign of his predecessor, Erik Sorenson.
Put another way, Capus told staffers yesterday in a memo, "Rick has been a tireless champion for the network and all the hard work you do each and every day."
There will be no radical changes made, Capus told The TV Column yesterday.
"It is still a news channel and will always be a news channel and we're going to work within that . . . . Under that umbrella there are all kinds of opportunities to do some things and we're committed to grow the channel."
Before joining MSNBC, Kaplan had overseen ABC News's hard news programming and its political unit. From 1997 to 2000, Kaplan was president of CNN-US, responsible for all news and programming at the flagship network of the CNN News Group. From the late '70s until joining CNN, he had held a variety of positions at ABC News, including stints as executive producer of "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings," executive producer of "Nightline" and creator and executive producer of "Primetime Live."
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CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier arrived at Andrews Air Force Base yesterday and was transported to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where she will be assessed by the medical staff and a comprehensive care plan will be implemented, CBS News said yesterday.
Dozier was injured in a car bomb attack in Baghdad on May 29 that killed CBS News cameraman Paul Douglas, soundman James Brolan, a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter.
CBS News will be responsible for the cost of her treatment, the network said in its statement.
CBS News Senior Vice President Linda Mason, who has been with Dozier since her arrival at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, reported Tuesday that Dozier's facial swelling has decreased significantly, she had the first physical therapy session on her legs, and she had her hair washed.
Dozier and the two men were traveling with the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division and had exited their armored Humvee at a checkpoint when a vehicle filled with explosives blew up. Dozier had two surgeries in Iraq before being moved to Germany. Her parents said during a CBS News interview that she will have to have rods in her legs.