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Why Is MSNBC Always MIA During the Holidays?

The NBC news network all but goes dark on weekends and holidays. If it wants to compete with CNN, that has to stop

Holidays are proving to be tough for the folks at MSNBC.

The cable news channel once again decided to basically go dark during the Christmas break, replacing its usual lineup of news and talk with endless documentaries about everything from prison life ("Lockup!") to the coming end of the world ("Future Earth: 2025").

MSNBC has been falling into sleep mode during holidays for more than a year now. Often, few notice, since no real news happens.

But this year, Christmas saw an attempted terror attack on a US jetliner. And MSNBC’s response was to act as if nothing much had happened.

A network spokesman told the AP Monday that the network offered regular updates on the event, though you could’ve fooled those of us who were glued to coverage last Friday and couldn’t see any real evidence of reportage on MSNBC at all.

In addition to the AP story raising eyebrows about MSNBC’s absence from the scene, the Twitterverse and blogosphere have also been jumping with "WTF, MSNBC?" posts from news junkies wondering where in the world the network was.

In some ways, MSNBC has become a victim of its own primetime success.

Before the network finally found its primetime niche with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, nobody seemed to care much that weekends on MSNBC were pretty news-free (though back in the early days of the network, there was plenty of fresh content seven days a week).

Now that newsies (especially those with left-leaning tendencies) have adopted MSNBC as their own, there’s growing frustration among the network’s fans over MSNBC’s erratic coverage.

As one newshound tweeted over the weekend, out of frustration over MSNBC being MIA: "Don’t make me watch Fox News!"

So why is MSNBC seemingly oblivious to the complaints? In a word, money.

In a quest to improve bottom line profits for parent company GE, MSNBC’s ultimate boss, Jeff Zucker, years ago decided to add more longform programming to MSNBC’s lineup, thus cutting back on live news.

After all, it’s far cheaper to repurpose old "Dateline" episodes or snap up a cheesy prison special than to keep a newsroom staffed with actual reporters/anchors.

This might have made sense back when MSNBC was struggling. But post-2008, the network is back in the game — if not as a threat to Fox News than as a viable rival to CNN.

It’s time for NBC to stop pinching pennies when it comes to MSNBC. There’s nothing wrong with including long-form specials in the programming mix, even the sleazy, sensational ones like "Lockup."

But such fare should never dominate MSNBC’s schedule. On the weekends. Or during holidays.

Why not use the weekends to test out future Keith and Rachels? Plenty of MSNBC primetime groupies would love to see Lawrence O’Donnell get his own show– why not give him a trial run on Saturday and Sunday nights?

Likewise, NBC News now sends viewers to the Internet at the end of "Meet the Press" for extended roundtable segments. There’s no reason those bonus segments couldn’t end up on MSNBC.

To hear NBC brass tell it, the cable portion of the NBC U empire is smashingly successful and swimming in cash. So if that’s true, the company ought to start spending some of those dollars on making MSNBC a true 24-hour/7 days per week news player.

Don’t make us watch Fox News, Mr. Zucker.