Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Missing numbers. (Originally posted 10/15/02 at 9:55 a.m.) Ashleigh Banfield, the youngish, attractive, bespectacled MSNBC anchor/reporter, has always held more fascination for media critics than the public. Yet now that her 10 p.m. show On Location has been canceled, it's the one missing detail that makes all the difference.

Variety reports that Banfield's ratings have fallen from more than 400,000 per night to just 218,000 -- way, way behind the Fox News Channel's On the Record with Greta van Susteren (866,000) and CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown (704,000). Yet Banfield has also had another major competitor from within her own network: The News with Brian Williams, on sister station CNBC, which moved over from MSNBC on July 15, the same night that On Location made its debut. I don't know what kind of numbers Brian has been doing -- for all I know, they suck -- but The News is by far the highest-quality newscast that either of NBC's cable outlets offers.

It seems only logical to suppose that Williams -- the designated successor to Tom Brokaw -- is cutting into Banfield's ratings. Yet a quick search of Lexis-Nexis reveals not a single story on Williams's audience share since The News moved exclusively to CNBC.

MSNBC, which at this point is utterly lost and irrelevant, is bringing back its wonderfully tabloidy MSNBC Investigates in the 10 p.m. time slot. If you don't want to watch Brian, Aaron, and Greta chew over the day's news, you can switch over for such treats as The Inside Story on the World of Tattooing! and Amazing Videos from Store Security Cameras! (I'm not making these up.)

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