MSNBC is eyeing former Florida Rep. Joe Scarborough as a possible replacement for its Imus in the Morning program, which it dropped last month.
While network executives emphasize that they have not made a final decision on a replacement for Don Imus — whose simulcasted show was dropped from both MSNBC and CBS Radio after he directed a racial insult at the Rutgers University women's basketball team — they say Scarborough has impressed them on trial runs in the morning slot.
Scarborough currently hosts a one-hour newscast called Scarborough Country on MSNBC Monday through Thursday. He filled in the week of May 14 in the morning slot, with a show called Morning Joe that featured lengthy live interviews with notables such as Walter Isaacson, author of a best-seller on Albert Einstein, and banter with a collection of sidekicks with diverse professional backgrounds.
“Joe was on a week ago, and he put together a team of people [including African-American screenwriter and frequent National Public Radio guest John Ridley and MSNBC commentator Willie Geist]. And I think he really impressed people with his performance,” MSNBC general manager Dan Abrams said.
Scarborough was on vacation last week and not available for an interview, MSNBC vice president of media relations Jeremy Gaines said.
Abrams said Scarborough will take over Imus's old time slot again this week.
MSNBC has tested several replacement anchors and formats for the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. slot since it dumped the Imus In the Morning simulcast on April 11. The network has tested other morning radio hosts, including ABC Radio's Larry Elder, liberal talk radio-program The Stephanie Miller Show, and Philadelphia-based radio host Michael Smerconish.
In addition to Scarborough, Abrams has also given NBC News talent David Gregory, Jim Cramer and Tucker Carlson a crack at the morning slot.
Cramer, who hosts Mad Money on CNBC, filled in during the morning slot on MSNBC last week.
He began the week on Monday sitting behind an anchor desk, but for the rest of the week walked around MSNBC's Secaucus, N.J., studio, relying on some of the props and sound effects that he uses on Mad Money.
“What we've been saying to all of the people that have been doing it in the morning is to do your own thing and try to make it work for you, and I think that's consistent with what Cramer has done,” Abrams said.
MSNBC's morning ratings have plummeted since it dropped Imus.
In March, the last full month it had Imus on the air, the network averaged a 0.4 rating and 316,000 households from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to Nielsen Media Research numbers. So far in May (through last Tuesday), MSNBC is averaging a 0.2 rating and 177,000 households, down 50% from its March numbers.
Fox News Channel and its Fox & Friends program dominates the morning slot, compared to its cable-news rivals. Fox is averaging a 0.7 rating and 655,000 households in May during the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. slot, while CNN is averaging a 0.4 rating and 351,000 households.
“There's no question that the numbers have been down since Imus left,” Abrams said. “I think the MSNBC morning viewers had become accustomed to seeing Imus in the Morning. And our goal now is to pick a new host and a new show and a new format, and build an audience again where people will come back to see that show,” Abrams said.
Asked if he missed Imus, Abrams said, “Sure we miss Imus. We miss Imus's program.”
While Abrams said the network hasn't set a solid timeline for picking a permanent replacement for Imus, he said a decision would be made “sooner rather than later.”