By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Fifteen months after making the leap from MSNBC talk-show host to general manager, Dan Abrams is going back to fulltime yakking.
The third-place cable news network announced yesterday that Abrams is giving up his management job to concentrate on his 9 p.m. show, "Live With Dan Abrams," which has been on the air for several months. Abrams took over the slot when former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough moved to the morning perch previously occupied by Don Imus. The network made the status of "Morning Joe" permanent yesterday.
The MSNBC operation will be run on a day-to-day basis by Phil Griffin, an NBC senior vice president, marking the first time in MSNBC's 11-year history that someone from the mother ship will directly manage the cable outlet. The move reflects the consolidation of the two units, a cost-cutting effort that entails MSNBC abandoning its Secaucus, N.J., campus next month to join NBC at Manhattan's 30 Rock.
Griffin, a onetime "Hardball" producer who was already overseeing MSNBC as Abrams's supervisor, said yesterday he will be "a little more hands-on" while also continuing his role of overseeing the "Today" show.
"I don't want MSNBC to believe they've got to change when they enter 30 Rock," he said. "It's important they keep their identity."
Abrams said he gets a boost from Keith Olbermann's 8 p.m. show "Countdown," whose ratings are up 75 percent.
"Olbermann is serving up numbers that MSNBC has never seen before, so 9 o'clock becomes the crucial hour," he said. "That's where I can have the most impact." He said the "Live" program -- focusing on "the most talked-about stories of the day, with a sort of snarky edge to it" -- is a more exciting opportunity than the 6 p.m. show he previously hosted on legal affairs. Segments often begin with his "take" so viewers "know where I stand -- I'm not hiding it."
Abrams, the son of First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, was considered a surprise choice last year because he had no management experience. Just as he had to initially convince executives that he could run MSNBC, Abrams said, he also had to lobby for the prime-time slot: "They had to make sure I was the right guy for 9 o'clock. I'd already been pegged as the general manager guy."
Abrams said he believes he contributed to the network's ratings growth. But as a manager, he said, "you are constantly putting out fires. Did I love that part of the job? No."