MSNBC firmed up its left-leaning bona fides on Monday with the debut of “The Ed Show,” the talk-television outing of Fargo radio talk show host Ed Schultz. With the affable, garrulous, staunchly “progressive” Schultz aboard, the prime-time lineup of news and commentary for the network has steepened its already pronounced pendulum swing to the liberal side of political discourse.
Former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, a stalwart in the prime-time lineup of the Bush years, has been banished to the relative wilderness of 6 a.m. ET; and tireless GOP apologist Tucker Carlson was sent packing more than a year ago. Only Pat Buchanan, war horse of the Nixonian era, is left to carry the Republican water in the network’s emeritus corps.
Schultz is still finding his bearings, getting comfortable with this part of the television thing. He’s done fill-in work, acting as guest host on various MSNBC programs, but this is his maiden voyage as a solo star.
There's the necessary period of adjustment. While his counterparts Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann are physically pretty much potted plants on their shows — stationed behind desks they almost never move from on camera — the network has given Schultz the comparative acreage of a full studio set, real estate Schultz walks around on not quite comfortably. Maybe they’ll steal a march on Fox Sports and add a computer-generated gridiron so Schultz can talk politics and run football plays — a flashback to his days with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
For Schultz job one is a focus on populist issues, namely health care, education and the plight of America’s unions. "If you're in the middle class, if you're a wage earner, I'm our guy," he said Monday. Schultz wears his pro-union affiliation on his sleeve, sometimes weighing in without checking his facts. On Wednesday, for example, he peitioned President Obama for a stand on the controversial Employee Free Choice Act ("Where does the President of the United States stand on this?"). It fell to his guest, Stephen Lerner of the Service Employees International Union, to tell Schultz that, as is widely known, Obama has come out for EFCA in the past.
Maybe it’s new-job jitters. At least he’s got a job, and health care; Schultz has made it his mission to champion the millions of Americans who don’t. What’s still to be seen is how he carves out a telegenic distinction between himself and the red-meat interrogative style of Matthews; Olbermann’s singular blend of the urbane and the eccentric; and Maddow’s still-developing scholar-comedian mien.
Schultz has solidified his hold on grassroots American concerns and parlayed it into a franchise on talk radio. Transferring Schultz’s radio style to the more ruthless immediacies of television is that other job one.
Image credits: All images © 2009 MSNBC.