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MSNBC Dud

Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The carousel of failure at MSNBC has been spinning a little faster the last couple weeks. First Alec Baldwin blasted the network in New York magazine. And then the network’s latest savior, Ronan Farrow, experienced some .  .  . difficulties during the launch of his show, Ronan Farrow Daily.

Marrow

You know there’s trouble when places like the Huffington Post and the gossip site Gawker gleefully take shots at a fellow-traveler, which is exactly what happened when Farrow’s show debuted. Live-tweeting the event, HuffPo observed derisively that one of the word clouds appearing on the screen behind Farrow included the phrase “spokesperson for youth.” The word clouds—a staple of blog navigation a decade ago—are supposed to subliminally educate viewers about Farrow. Gawker noted caustically that one of the show’s early word clouds derived almost entirely from Farrow’s résumé, with “diplomat,” “activist,” “Yale Law School,” and “Rhodes Scholar” prominently displayed. Variety’s Brian Lowry quipped that “Farrow has been given an MSNBC show partly to appeal to those people who find Chris Hayes [age 35] too old.”

For those who haven’t followed Farrow’s career, the word clouds pretty much say it all. The relevant facts omitted are that he’s Mia Farrow’s son and, if you believe the gossip, possibly the offspring of Frank Sinatra (and not Woody Allen). He’s also a whiz on Twitter, according to people on Twitter.

Last week, Variety swooped in again, this time to deliver a verdict on Ronan Farrow Daily in the form of a review by the trade publication’s digital editor in chief, Andrew Wallenstein. It was an uncomfortable essay. Unlike the pack of liberal critics, Wallenstein had nothing but praise for Farrow as a person—he mentioned both Yale and the Rhodes Scholarship before the third sentence of his review. He proclaimed Farrow “awesome on Twitter” while calling him “too damned handsome,” with “limpid pools he calls eyes” that are “so mesmerizing it’s easy to lose track of what he’s saying.” Which was all by way of throat-clearing before declaring the show a “dud.”

For its part, The Scrapbook is marginally pro-Farrow. Unlike most of Hollywood, he’s good on the Woody Allen issue. And compared with the rest of the MSNBC lineup, he’s well above the median in intelligence and likability. But it’s worth noting the lunacy of trying to build a TV audience around Twitter followers.

In assessing MSNBC’s decision to cast Farrow, Wallenstein wrote, “The logic behind making such a conversion seems as sound as it is simple: Bringing over someone with a powerful direct connection to 238,000 [Twitter] followers gives a TV show a running start in the ratings.” But of course, that’s insane. Following someone on Twitter is an incredibly weak connection. Recall the Twitter phenomenon “S— My Dad Says,” which was turned into a CBS sitcom on the strength of its 2 million followers. It was canceled after 18 episodes.

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