Alec Baldwin is apparently close to signing a deal to host a primetime political talk show on MSNBC. Mediaite, which first reported the news, says the show is a "done deal," citing "a senior source in the cable news industry with knowledge of MSNBC's programming." The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that Baldwin "could be heading to MSNBC," but says the "talks could still fall through." MSNBC isn't confirming or denying the reports.
It's fun to imagine Baldwin pulling a Stephen Colbert, doing his hour-long show in character as Reagan-loving 30 Rock corporate titan Jack Donaghy. But MSNBC isn't Comedy Central, and Baldwin takes his politics seriously. He's even flirted with a run for Congress or for New York City mayor, before declaring on WNYC that politicians are "horny for their own ascension" — and just plain horny.
His new show, at 10 p.m. on Friday, "will feature a large dose of Baldwin's outspoken liberal politics," says Mediaite's Joe Concha. Giving Baldwin his own MSNBC show makes sense, Concha adds, because of his long, fruitful history with NBC, and because his "fiercely liberal and often combative political views make sense for a network that has become the place for progressive viewpoints on cable."
If the deal goes through, would Baldwin really be a good fit at MSNBC? History is little help.
Daytime TV is full of actors who found a second career in talk shows: Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O'Donnell, Roseanne Barr, and Whoopie Goldberg, to name a few. But the hop from stage-and-screen to serious nighttime talk host is a rarer feat. There have been a few successes, like Charles Grodin (CNBC, 1995-98), Bill Maher (yes, he was an actor first), and Jimmy Fallon — and probably at least as many flops (The Chevy Chase Show ran for just five weeks on Fox in 1993; Alan Thicke's Thicke of the Night did a little better).
Baldwin and MSNBC gave us a sneak preview in April 2012, when Lawrence O'Donnell — who holds down the 10 p.m. slot Monday through Thursday — let Baldwin sit in the anchor chair for some short segments and teasers. (Watch above) But a better example of what Baldwin can do is this August 2012 episode of Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee:
Here, Baldwin is funny, earnest, and quick with the banter. And he has worked on his interviewing chops by hosting a bi-monthly podcast for WNYC, Here's the Thing, since 2011 — he talks with an impressive collection of actors, musicians, journalists, and policy makers. The Week's Marc Ambinder is a fan, calling Baldwin's "incredible" interviews "humane, literate, and often quite funny."
But Baldwin also has his darker side. (The Week cataloged his most famous outbursts in 2012.) "Baldwin will have to control his legendary temper," warns The Wrap, "or MSNBC could have another Keith Olbermann on its hands." If he blows up at his guests on-air, adds Nellie Andreeva at Deadline Hollywood, that "could make for great television but also cause headaches for his potential employer."
The other problem for Baldwin is that 10 p.m. Friday isn't exactly ratings gold — right now, MSNBC runs a prison documentary series called Lockup. NBC executives will be watching, though, and if he does well it could lead to bigger and better things at the network.
How well Baldwin does depends on which Alec Baldwin shows up: The angry one who (allegedly) attacks paparazzi, refused to put down his iPad in airplanes, and yelled at his daughter on the phone — or the talented, charming performer who has hosted Saturday Night Live a record 16 times and drinks coffee with Jerry Seinfeld.
Political talk shows don't need more anger. That's their bread and butter. But there's a decided lack of wit and humor on cable news. Comedy Central has shown that people (especially young, advertiser-coveted people) will tune in for serious content presented with a comedic flair, and Jimmy Fallon has proved that nice guys sometimes do finish first. If Baldwin can keep it funny and smart and low on snark, he might just have a new career on his hands.