MSNBC filled out its prime-time schedule Monday night with the debut of “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” injecting yet another reliably liberal voice into a line-up that already includes Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.
The new show took over the 10 p.m. time slot, bumping a rerun of Olbermann’s 8 p.m. show and giving MSNBC original programming across its prime-time block for the first time.
For his first show, O’Donnell, a former Democratic Senate staffer and writer on “The West Wing,” managed to snag an exclusive interview with Vice President Joe Biden -- no mean feat for a rookie cable host.
However, O’Donnell didn’t extract any major news from the frequently loose-lipped veep, who wouldn’t even take an easy whack at Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell or comment on Stephen Colbert’s controversial turn through Congress.
Curiously, the Biden interview was chopped into pieces and interspersed with extensive commentary from Olbermann, who was on the set for the first half of the show.
O’Donnell -- displaying all the pizzazz of a small-town eye doctor -- did not benefit from the contrast. He faded into the woodwork. Indeed, Olbermann’s hijacking of O’Donnell’s show was so complete that a casual viewer might not have known which man was hosting.
And that could be a big problem for O’Donnell. In the world of cable news, failing to create a distinct impression with viewers is a deadly sin, and it’s no way to catch Fox’s Greta Van Susteren, who has dominated the 10 p.m. hour for the better part of a decade.
Over the past year, MSNBC passed CNN in the prime-time ratings thanks to Maddow’s smart, original story-telling and Olbermann’s manic, in-your-face liberalsim. O’Donnell will likewise have to find a way to distinguish himself if he has any hope of building his own audience.