There’s a fascinating Q&A on mediabistro.com right now from writer Andrew Tavani. It’s an interview with Marc Rosenwasser, who has worked for NBC News, CBS News and ABC news in various capacities over the years. He is now EP of Worldfocus, an evening newscast on PBS anchored by former CNN anchor and NBC correspondent Martin Savidge. Rosenwasser talks about what makes his show different from the broadcasters. “There are fewer people to do the work, by far, and there’s less money to be spent,” he says.
About the appetite for foreign news among American consumers, “[The networks] declare that Americans aren’t interested in foreign news, so they do less foreign news and, therefore, Americans aren’t interested in foreign news. Our show has had pretty substantial growth since it started. The trend is only up as people discover it. If you make it accessible, if you make it meaningful, a good story is a good story.”
In addition to working at ABC News (due to his work in Moscow) and at CBS News (after Rathergate), Rosenwasser was brought in to MSNBC to help prop-up the short-lived “Donahue.” After the jump…
You were brought on in an advisory role to help Phil Donahue’s MSNBC show. Why do you think Donahue’s dissenting liberal voice couldn’t gain traction on MSNBC, but Keith Olbermann’s show has been successful?
I think at the time — the war [in Iraq] started in March of 2003 — I think there was skittishness about [Donahue’s] point of view. He was very outspoken. I think the show, to its detriment, often booked people who were very like-minded. I didn’t think there was, as other networks might say, a fair and balanced debate going on. On a show of that format, what I think most cable broadcasters strive for is conflict. I don’t recall, honestly, enough about all of their guests. I can remember some guests, memorably, just being in total agreement with Donahue from the beginning to the end of the show. The other big mistake I thought they made was — and we tried to rectify it, and I thought we actually had some success with it before they pulled the show — is we brought Donahue back to the studio in front of a live audience. This was a guy who invented the form, and I truly didn’t understand why they were doing the show in a studio with no audience. He invented the form. So, the show actually gained some traction. He was in the audience, we were taking emails during the show, we were taking calls during the show. There were three other people, usually guests, one of whom was a like-minded person with Phil, two of whom weren’t. So it was two against two in a hot debate about something. But it was eventually pulled. Why Keith Olbermann succeeded — I think they do a very clever show… and the times are different.
So, are you saying Donahue was ahead of the curve?
On his political point of view? I’m not saying that, but I think, at the time, my impression was that there was actually some discomfort with where he was coming from.
Discomfort where? With MSNBC, GE?
I wouldn’t even speculate. (Laughs)