MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on the ‘Absurdist,’ World of News, and Advice from Keith Olbermann

By Alex Weprin 

Tonight at 10 PM, MSNBC will premiere the newest addition to its primetime lineup, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” Following “Countdown” at 8 PM and “The Rachel Maddow Show” at 9 PM, “The Last Word” completes MSNBC’s primetime in a sense, as the network finally puts a live, original show in the 10 PM hour, joining competitors CNN and Fox News.

Tonight’s premiere will feature an interview with Vice President Joe Biden, but it will also see O’Donnell getting advice on how to host a primetime show from MSNBC’s most prominent primetime talent: Keith Olbermann.

“I will be getting advice on hosting the show from Keith tonight, live,” O’Donnell tells TVNewser. “He is going to appear on my first show, as he should, because Keith created the ratings platform in primetime at MSNBC that has made the creation of the other two shows in primetime possible.”

Indeed, O’Donnell, hardly a TV novice, noted that at the end of the day, the driving factor in television is ratings.

“Ratings explain everything in the television business,” he says. “A lot of other words end up in the explanation of things, but somewhere in that explanation there is going to be ratings.”

His interview with Biden is meant to drive ratings on day one, with foreign policy… along with some domestic politics, being the focus.

“It is his first interview since the Bob Woodward book has come out, and there are some quotes attributed to him that he has not responded to,” O’Donnell says. “I will also be asking him how it feels to watch his former senate seat become the object of the most fascinating political campaign in America, one in which every week there is a new revelation in what Karl Rove has labeled the ‘nutty thinking’ of the Republican candidate.”

An important part of MSNBC’s primetime lineup–and cable news lineups in general–is humor, often integrated tightly within the news and interview segments.

O’Donnell says that the absurdity of so much news today essentially forces the  hand of anchors and reporters:

“I think we are in a position to react to all the news as we see it, and a lot of it is absurdist, and a lot of it is funny, and a lot of it invites that labeling,” O’Donnell says. “When Comedy Central started off they did not expect to be running news shows [“The Daily Show,” “Colbert Report”] as their biggest rated shows. We haven’t had a former witch as a nominee for a major party for a U.S. Senate seat before. This is new, this is a world in which the news is not behaving as its boring old self used to.”

O’Donnell was referring to Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who said in an old clip on Bill Maher’s “Politically incorrect” that she once “dabbled in witchcraft.”

Despite the personal attack, Lawrence O’Donnell says Christine O’Donnell is welcome on his show at any time, due to what TVNewser has taken to calling the “O’Donnell on O’Donnell Rule:”

“Any O’Donnell is welcome on this show at any time,” he says. “Christine O’Donnell can have the entire hour if she were to come on.”