Martin Bashir, MSNBC’s host at 3 p.m., is adapting to a brand new life — at home and at work
The bookshelves in Martin Bashir’s office at Rockefeller Center are empty. Hundreds of books sit in boxes, but they remain unopened.
“I came here a year ago, and I am never particularly confident things will be a success,” Bashir told TheWrap. “I decided I will not put anything in my bookcase until we pass a year.”
Bashir’s MSNBC show hit that one-year mark on Tuesday, and signs are trending up. His ratings have been on an upward trajectory since September, capped off by an average of 453,000 daily viewers in February. That is a 25 percent increase over a year ago.
He is getting more pick up in the media. His Facebook and Twitter followings are growing.
Still, Bashir remains unsatisfied.
“We’re a big work in progress,” he told TheWrap. “There are very strong signs of positive impact […] but there are lots of things that I am still really concerned about. I’m not particularly happy with some of the interviews I’ve done and I’m not happy at all with my knowledge in some of the key areas.”
But MSNBC President Phil Griffin said Bashir was just being hard on himself.
“He’s just begun to develop an audience and figure out what he wants his show to be,” Griffin told TheWrap. “You can see slowly but surely his ratings going up. This is how it begins.”
Still, over 45 minutes, Bashir speaks far more about how the show can improve than what he has done well.
One big reason is that the 49-year-old London transplant has had to adjust to an entirely new life, both personally and professionally.
Prior to getting his MSNBC show, Bashir spent 28 years balancing a peripatetic lifestyle (“I was always on the road”) with his home life (he is married with three kids).
Before moving to New York eight years ago, he had traveled to 30 of the 50 states, but has since crossed every one off his list, save Hawaii and Alaska.
His career was built around being a correspondent, reporting on major world events and domestic stories “that were very high-profile.”
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Two interviews in particular stand out. While at the BBC, he scored an interview with Princess Diana that landed on the cover of newspapers across the globe. While with ITV, he filmed a controversial documentary with Michael Jackson culled from interviews gathered over an eight-month period. The documentary, which covered everything from Jackson's career to his uncomfortable relationship with young boys, was watched by tens of millions.
Such interviews represented Bashir's signature reporting style, in-depth coverage gathered over an extended period of time — a luxury he no longer enjoys in his new job. A piece on The Church of Scientology took 18 months to put together for ABC’s “Nightline,” where he was a correspondent and co-anchor.
“Martin has, in my experience, a very unusual and perhaps unique ability to deal with very difficult subjects,” David Westin, the former president of ABC News told TheWrap. “Both in sense of subject matter and also people who are interview subjects. He handles things that other people would struggle with or would get wrong.”
But when Bashir left ABC for his show at MSNBC, it marked, in his words, a massive departure.
For one, no more travel.
Bashir still remembers when news of the Rwandan genocide broke. He got a call in a supermarket from his producer at 10 a.m. By 5 p.m. he was on a plane, not to return for four weeks.
He still carries his passport with him everywhere, but he hasn’t used it in more than a year.
“When the [Japanese] tsunami hit, I wanted to go, and I couldn’t,” Bashir said. “Not because my management was saying you can’t go; it’s because I’m developing a show. It’s in its first year, and I can’t go.”
Bashir has also transitioned away from doing lengthy, in-depth stories to daily banter on a very new subject – American politics.
“I’ve never been a political correspondent,” Bashir said. “This has been much like an undergraduate course in American constitutional history.”
His new teachers include Bill O’Reilly, Jon Stewart and MSNBC colleagues, such as Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews, who are used to the faster-pace work environment he's now a part of.
“If I’m an elementary school student," Bashir said, "these people are post-graduate scholars.”