Now that Current TV has built its primetime lineup around not one but two former MSNBC show hosts — Cenk Uygur and Keith Olbermann — one might think that founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt are gearing up to challenge Phil Griffin and his 30 Rock cable network.
After all, Uygur, who per an announcement Tuesday will bring his “Young Turks” show to Current’s 7 p.m. slot, left MSNBC in July, leading to a somehwat public airing of grievances.
Yet neither Hyatt nor Uygur — nor President David Bohrman for that matter — casts Current as a rival to the cable news networks.
They continue to promote a rebranded channel — one with a minute but growing constituency — as a singularly “progressive” network with a unique focus on analysis and commentary.
Also Read: Cenk Uygur Joining Current TV
Such a characterization is debatable, since many of Current’s key hires — including Wednesday’s addition of CNN alum Jason Odell — come from those same cable news backgrounds.
Yet whether you buy the sell, Uygur’s arrival does signal once again that Current is not afraid to invest in brash, outspoken personalities with loyal followings. Bohrman, who oversees programming, is banking on those firebrands to give the network a boost next year for a big election push.
TheWrap talked with Hyatt, Bohrman and Uygur about the new Uygur-Olbermann team, the channel’s plans for 2012 and CNN’s “fake neutrality.”
Let’s start with the news. Why did you pursue Cenk? HYATT: For Al and me, Cenk’s success online fits so well into the original DNA of Current. We set out to build a multi-platform media company and our goal has always been to find ways in which the platform works together so they are additive and not duplicative.
You have positioned him to lead into Olbermann. How do you think the two hosts work together?
HYATT: Cenk is going to draw a new audience in just the same way Keith Olbermann drew a new audience to Current. We’re quite confident when he hands that new audience over to Current for the first time that Keith will keep that audience.
UYGUR: From my perspective, Keith was the first guy to do a progressive show on TV in the last 10 years or show. Ever since Phil Donahue got fired. We were the first to do a progressive show online.
So do you watch “Countdown?”
And have you integrated anything from it into your show?
UYGUR: Yeah, ‘go get ‘em.’ That’s the attitude. We’ve been doing this a long time so we’ve got our own segment. I think Keith is an awesome role model, but there’s nothing I could point to.
So how will this show differ from the “Young Turks” you air now?
UYGUR: We’ll bring on more guests so it’s a meeting place and home place for progressives. We want it to be one-stop shopping. If you want to know what progressive leaders are thinking, what’s going on in the world that day just come to "Young Turks" on Current.
You keep talking about progressives and young viewers. As a recent poll indicated, Fox News’ viewership tends to skew older, conservative and white. Do you feel like you and the other cable news networks are just beating up on one another and chasing the same audience?
BOHRMAN: We are not going after the same viewers that are watching Fox or MSNBC or CNN because they are presenting a completely different product than we are. We’ve seen a really interesting opportunity of unserved viewers who have a passion and want this point of view in their programming. They don’t want either a pure commodity of daily news or the shoutfest sniping back and forth that you see so much everywhere else on cable news.
Obviously a full primetime lineup will be necessary to court that audience. On the conference call Tuesday I heard someone say you’d have a full lineup by January.
HYATT: In January we’ll have a full primetime slate of programming — Cenk at 7, Keith at 8 and a soon to be announced 9 o clock person.
Who would you want to have join you in the lineup Cenk?
UYGUR: Look, I know just about every progressive in the country that is out there in the fight so I don’t want to name any particular names because that would leave out 28 other people. We know who the real progressives are, and who the poseurs are.
And who are the posers?
UYGUR: Someone who toes the Democratic Party line. If a Democratic politician proposes legislation that is totally conservative and they nod their head "yes, absolutely," that’s a poseur.
So what’s one topic that you know you want to discuss that has not received enough play?
UYGUR: Conventional wisdom drives me crazy. Luckily we break through some times. I remember the bad old days before Keith started doing anything on TV that was progressive and nothing would break through. The whole idea that social security is in trouble is absurd. It’s perfectly well financed.
When I see those talking points repeated over and over again on TV … it is a part of what’s allowed on TV. If you don’t challenge status quo you get promoted.
That sounds like a jab at MSNBC.
UYGUR: There are some strong progressives on MSNBC. The rest of cable TV is much worse. Look at CNN and what do they do with fake neutrality? Who cares … what’s the reality? It’s not your job to be a stenographer for the two different parties. I’ll give you another one. We’re talking about MSNBC. The Scarborough morning show. “Morning Joe?” [Laughs].
Come on. Come on. That’s a conventional wisdom Republican talking point machine. And then they have this aura of moderation.
So is a morning show coming to Current?
BOHRMAN: We will have a morning show. I’m thinking and looking. We’ll take some advice from Cenk and others. It was my idea years ago to put [Don] Imus on MSNBC, which may seem obvious now but was quite interesting and not easy decision 15 year ago or whatever it was. I think we’re open to a really intriguing new approach to the mornings, as we are to daytime and the later afternoon teeing up Cenk and primetime.
How will you build out your programming once you fill primetime?
BOHRMAN: Once we shore up a program to follow Keith, we’ll then back up form there. That seems to make sense to me. As we build up our capabilities we’ll attach programs with personalities that fit and go from primetime backwards.
This may seem foolish, but if you are banking heavily on next year why can’t you just introduce a big slate of new shows all at once?
BOHRMAN: It’s not an easy thing to do. The network was fundamentally different before Keith came onboard. There was a whole infrastructure to be a different kind of network. It’s pretty complicated when you’re a small, independent network to shift gears like that. We’re doing it, but it takes a little bit of technology, a lot of video plumbing and things no one cares about. You have to be able to turn on different kinds of TV systems