MSNBC’s Phil Griffin: ‘We Have a Monopoly on Smart People’

TCA: From Chris Hayes to Al Sharpton, Griffin looks to add to his “stable” of talent and tells how he plans to make them stars

In his quest to dominate the cable news arena, MSNBC President Phil Griffin has adopted a strategy reminiscent of a baseball organization — bring in new talent, develop it and then position it to be a star.

Call it the MSNBC farm system.

This is what happened with the recently hired The Nation's Chris Hayes, a longtime MSNBC contributor, who will now host a weekend morning show.

Also read: Rachel Maddow: I Love Al Sharpton

It is what Griffin suggested he’ll try to do with the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein. And it is what many see him doing with a more experienced figure – Al Sharpton.

“We have got a huge stable right now,” Griffin said after his network’s session at the TCA Summer Tour. “I’m not sure I want to go through it all.” Yet he did anyway, listing Klein, Alex Wagner and Melissa Harris-Perry, among others.

He also said MSNBC had a "monopoly" on smart people.

The key to the strategy is that the audience becomes familiar with a person before he or she becomes a host. While Sharpton has long been a national figure, cultivating a regular TV audience is another matter.

He has been an MSNBC contributor for some time, but his recent turn in the host’s seat at 6 p.m. has led most to believe Sharpton eventually will own the slot himself.

Griffin pointed to other examples of why this strategy works, like his 8 p.m. host Lawrence O’Donnell.

Also read: New MSNBC Host Chris Hayes Channels Rachel Maddow — and Tim Robbins

"When we put in Lawrence O’Donnell the audience was comfortable with him,” Griffin said. “You have to feel for Eliot Spitzer. He’s never been on CNN, and he had an hour in prime time. All our people, we’re developing them.”

Yet if CNN is what MSNBC used to measure itself by, Griffin has been outspoken about his new target: Fox News.

“This is the point where I usually talk about CNN because we’ve beaten them three years in prime time and two in the morning,” Griffin said. “I wanna talk about Fox.”

Griffin feels confident his network is on the right track, citing 13 occasions in the past couple of months MSNBC beat Fox in the ratings.

However, he also knows two things. For one, Fox is still well ahead in prime time. For another, MSNBC needs to develop its weekend programming.

That is why he added Hayes — and that seems to be why Cenk Uygur is no longer with the network. Griffin wanted Uygur to do a weekend show and Uygur wanted primetime.

The trouble with weekends is that they provide additional obstacles in finding show hosts. Not only do you need someone who is talented and experienced, you need a workaholic.

“It’s all about lifestyle,” Griffin said. “Some people have kids and don’t want to work weekends. It depends what their drive is.”

Griffin says all of his prime time hosts have that drive. Now it is a matter of filling out the roster behind them.