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Lawrence O’Donnell’s Future At MSNBC Is Unclear

  • Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” has just four weeks left in his contract, and the cable network does not appear to be interested in renewing his deal.
  • Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News, is no fan of O’Donnell’s program, sources say.
  • A senior NBC News executive disagreed with the idea that Lack isn’t a fan of O’Donnell’s show saying, “He is proud of and enthusiastic about all the work that’s being done across all of MSNBC’s primetime slate, including Lawrence’s program.”
  • And in Lack’s previous stint as NBC News president he was the one that pushed for O’Donnell to appear on the then nascent cable MSNBC network when it was founded in 1996.
  • If MSNBC failed to renew O’Donnell’s contract, it would be unprecedented, given his high ratings, but multiple sources tell HuffPost that Lack attributes O’Donnell’s high-ratings to heightened interest in Trump and the fact that his program’s lead-in is the top-rated Rachel Maddow show, and doesn’t credit O’Donnell’s star power and fan base for the high-ratings.

As his contract nears its end, a renewal doesn’t appear to be on the horizon for “The Last Word” host.

@davidfrum: MSNBC is apparently considering cancelling its 2nd most popular show

Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” has just four weeks left in his contract, and the cable network does not appear to be interested in renewing his deal. Four well-placed sources tell HuffPost that MSNBC has not been in contact with O’Donnell’s team of representatives to negotiate a new deal.

The absence of active negotiations weeks before a contract expires is highly unusual and often a sign that a contract won’t be renewed. News networks normally don’t risk letting the contract of a host who has a highly rated program expire or even come close to expiring before renegotiating. A short time-frame puts the network at a strategic disadvantage in talks, that’s why cable networks often start negotiating renewals six to nine months in advance of a contract ending. 

If O’Donnell’s contract is not renewed, that would not come as a surprise to many network insiders. Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News, is no fan of O’Donnell’s program, sources say. Some say it’s because he doesn’t appreciate the liberal nature of “The Last Word,” but others say it’s about the fact that O’Donnell rejected Lack’s request to move his program from 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time. This decision was O’Donnell’s prerogative, two sources said, because his contract stipulates that his program must air in prime time. 

O’Donnell’s refusal to move his program could have led Lack, who is known to bristle at dissent, to sour on O’Donnell, sources said. A senior NBC News executive disagreed with the idea that Lack isn’t a fan of O’Donnell’s show saying, “He is proud of and enthusiastic about all the work that’s being done across all of MSNBC’s primetime slate, including Lawrence’s program.”

A senior NBC news executive said that Lack doesn’t take a heavy-handed approach with the cable network’s on-air talent and that frequent face-to-face meetings are often a sign that he isn’t satisfied. Sources familiar with the production of “The Last Word” say that Lack doesn’t interfere with the program’s editorial direction. And in Lack’s previous stint as NBC News president he was the one that pushed for O’Donnell to appear on the then nascent cable MSNBC network when it was founded in 1996. 

Lack’s programming decisions and leadership style have caused tension internally at MSNBC leading staff members and on-air talent to express their displeasure internally and externally. For this story, HuffPost spoke to more than 10 sources inside and outside the network who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly about network business.

According to three sources, Trump has pressured MSNBC President Phil Griffin to fire O’Donnell on multiple occasions. Griffin alluded to Trump’s push for O’Donnell’s ouster in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last month, saying, “[Trump] started calling me all the time in 2011 to say Lawrence O’Donnell was a ‘third-rate’ anchor.”  Griffin and O’Donnell enjoy a cordial relationship but Griffin’s power as the President of MSNBC has been diminished by Lack since he returned in 2015. As a result, Lack will be the one to decide whether O’Donnell stays and under what terms.  

If MSNBC failed to renew O’Donnell’s contract, it would be unprecedented, given his high ratings, but multiple sources tell HuffPost that Lack attributes O’Donnell’s high-ratings to heightened interest in Trump and the fact that his program’s lead-in is the top-rated Rachel Maddow show, and doesn’t credit O’Donnell’s star power and fan base for the high-ratings. Despite this, Lack is said to dislike when people attribute his cable network’s blockbuster ratings to Trump: He believes, according to multiple sources, that the high ratings are largely a product of his programming decisions. 

A senior NBC News executive disputes both of these characterizations saying that Lack believes ratings success is more nuanced than attributing it to one or two factors. “He considers prime time to be the “op-ed section” of the cable news network, and believes MSNBC is on top right now because it has the smartest, most insightful and most dynamic opinion hosts in the business,” the executive said.

Lawrence O’Donnell’s Future At MSNBC Is Unclear