MSNBC ready to roll the dice with Greta Van Susteren

Greta Van Susteren
Greta Van Susteren 

An announcement may be coming soon from MSNBC that former Fox News and CNN host Greta Van Susteren will be joining the network, according to a Wednesday report. 

Van Susteren, 62, parted ways with Fox News in September after contract renegotiation talks following former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes’ departure reportedly broke down quickly. But just four months later, Greta may be getting back in the game per a Wednesday story by the Daily Caller’s Betsy Rothstein. 

{mosads}For the former criminal defense and trial lawyer, signing with MSNBC to take its vacant 6:00 pm ET slot is the only and best option for someone with her resume: Fox News: 12 years. CNN: eight years. More than 1.1 million followers on Twitter. In terms of free agents, she arguably brings the most to the table, at least in terms of being an established brand.


The obvious question around MSNBC taking on Greta is this: Is she progressive enough to mesh with the rest of MSNBC’s opinion lineup of Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell?

Another way the question is posed is this way: Is she too Trump-friendly for MSNBC’s audience?

I have a question of my own: Since when is having different perspectives and voices a bad thing for a cable news network?

Take Donald Trump for example: He dominated 2016 in terms of media myopia like no other figure in the history of cable news. It wasn’t even close, even when hearkening back to 2008 and the coverage Barack Obama received when running for president.

According to Nielsen research, a rising Trump raised all boats in broadcasting. Fox News ended up being the most-watched channel on cable, beating even the likes of ESPN and TBS. CNN had its best year since 1995, a time when it was the only cable news network available (Fox and MSNBC launched in 1996). MSNBC had its best year in its 20-year history. 

So if Greta really is “Trump-friendly,” does that really hurt MSNBC?

If she is more centrist or right-of-center than any host on the network outside of Joe Scarborough, is that such a bad thing?

As someone who has followed the cable news game for years, here’s what I know about MSNBC: “Morning Joe” easily generates the most buzz and most headlines of any program on the network. Reason? The chemistry is solid around the table and the opinions diverse and candid.

And the show doesn’t resemble any other program on its schedule. It’s that simple. 

The lessons of 2013 should also be apparent to Phil Griffin and those making the 6:00 p.m. decision at the top. It was that year when MSNBC basically ditched its news programming during the day in favor of opinion. Ronan Farrow got a show at 1 pm ET. Joy Reid got a show right after. Both preceded other opinion shows like “The Cycle” (which was Fox’s “The Five,” but with four pundits instead), along with Alex Wagner at 4:00 pm and Ed Schultz a 5:00 pm. The experiment failed spectacularly while watering down MSNBC’s primetime editorial offerings. 

Another question around Greta is cost. Remember, she tried to renegotiate her contract despite already making a reported $12 million per year. So while she is likely willing to take a small cut just to get back into the game, the big money question is this: Is MSNBC really going to shell out something like $10 million or a bit more annually for her services? 

Context: MSNBC’s highest-paid host is Rachel Maddow, who earns a reported $7 million per year. Will the network therefore make Greta its highest-paid host given the likely not-so-key time slot of 6:00 pm and the unknown variable of her brand in terms of appeal to MSNBC viewers?  

Outside of MSNBC, the only other major option appears to be HLN, which recently has been importing CNN talent such as Ashleigh Banfield and Michaela Pereira over to the network in an effort to rebrand it again. Greta would be welcomed with open arms there, but not at anything remotely resembling what she was earning at Fox. 

Either way, an announcement will likely be coming soon regarding her future. With Trump’s inauguration coming up and an event that promises to be 2017’s political event of the year with all the hype one would expect, Greta will need to be in place somewhere leading up to the big day.

Cable news is a place where executives notoriously place bets on known brands rather than attempting to establish one via time and patience.

Greta Van Susteren’s resume shows she fits the “known brand” criteria.

The only final question is: Will she prove to be a successful brand outside of the pressure-free time slot she had at Fox, where she was nestled between the #3 (“Special Report”) and #1 show (“The O’Reilly Factor”) on the network?  

If the rumors become reality, MSNBC looks like its about to find out.

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama CNN Donald Trump Fox News Greta Van Susteren HLN Joe Concha MSNBC

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