Tonight, NBC is throwing a party to celebrate Keith Olbermann's 5th anniversary at "Countdown" — and it just happens to be in CNN's backyard. NBC head honcho Jeff Zucker, NBC News president Steve Capus and NBC News senior VP/MSNBC overseer Phil Griffin are hosting the party at none other than Landmarc in the Time Warner Center — a stone's throw from where former NBC-er and current Olbermann challenger Campbell Brown will be broadcasting live.
A little uptown for this particular gang, given how publicly they all came together in midtown earlier this year in their collective home at 30 Rock, no? Wouldn't it make more sense just to find a spot in midtown within walking distance, so that maybe even former MSNBC GM and now 9 p.m. host Dan Abrams could attend? Well sure — unless you're a perennial third-place network trying to send a message to your nearest competitor, on whom you just happen to have been gaining steadily in recent months. Surely the mass exodus up to Landmarc can't just be the spaghetti carbonara (which is apparently delicious, according to a CNN staffer who's actually eaten there)?
Indeed it is not. "We thought it would be fun to hold Keith's party in the building where the third place 8 p.m. cable news show is produced," said MSNBC spokesperson Jeremy Gaines. Gaines is referring to CNN's "Election Center," which Brown recently took over after returning from maternity leave. In March, "Countdown" beat "Election" center, so Gaines is technically correct — though for the entire first quarter of 2008, "Election Center" was ranked 6th among cable news shows in the 8 p.m. timeslot, where Olbermann ranked 20th. In March, Olbermann averaged 1,080,000 total viewers and and 382,000 viewers in the demo, while Brown averaged 995,000 total viewers and 325,000 in the demo. That number was slightly higher than the average for "Countdown's" quarter (1,033,000), which an MSNBC press release said was Olbermann's best-ever. It should be noted that the numbers for Brown — under 100,000 total viewers behind — represented her first-ever.
The upshot? CNN and MSNBC are duking it out for second place after Fox — which remains the clear leader — taking it to a bare-knuckles fight on a timeslot-per-timeslot basis, in total viewers and in the demo. Olbermann beat Brown, but CNN won 8 p.m. in March overall. CNN won the demo in the first quarter of 2008...but MSNBC and CNN tied in the demo for March. While CNN is still in second place, MSNBC continues to breathe down its neck — and tonight, that breath will be so close it might even waft up to CNN, with the faint smell of spaghetti carbonara.
CNN declined to comment on the matter. But who knows, maybe in 5 years Brown will be celebrating her anniversary at the Rainbow Room.