The Hollywood Reporter recently had the chance to sit down with Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, and discuss a wide variety of topics. Griffin, who has been with the network since its launch in 1996, came up from the ranks of NBC News, where he worked with Tom Brokaw on Nightly News and did time on the Today Show. He was given executive oversight of MSNBC in 2006 and named president in 2009.
He is resposible for nearly the entire MSNBC lineup, bar Chris Matthews, who Griffin produced for a new years.
Here are some of the interview's highlights:
The Hollywood Reporter: Are MSNBC's recent ratings gains more than a temporary bump from Romney's 47 percent gaffe?
Phil Griffin: The 47 percent tape helped in a big way. But we came out of the conventions really in a great position. We beat Fox, we beat CNN, we beat ABC and CBS at 10 p.m. during the [Democratic National Convention]. And I think Rachel was the biggest winner; her ratings just soared. It's obviously our time, this period between the conventions and the election. It's bigger than any time in our history.
THR: Is it sustainable?
Griffin: I think we're going to come out of the election much closer to Fox. In 2008, prior to the conventions, we were a distant third to Fox and CNN. During the election buildup, between the conventions and the election, we didn't beat CNN until October. And then in 2009, we overtook CNN. So we went from distant third to second, and now we've been a strong second for a number of years. We're nipping on Fox's heels.
THR: Do you think a Romney presidency would help MSNBC the way the Obama presidency gave Fox News a target?
Griffin: I happen to think one of the things that gave us a boost was "mission accomplished" [when George W. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003, and declared the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq]. Some of our people in primetime had been very skeptical about the war and the buildup, and after "mission accomplished," a lot of people said, "Wow, they were right." So you never know what's going to take you to that next level. It's always easier to be in the opposition. Not to be obnoxious, but in Paradise Lost Satan is more interesting than God. The last time I said that, somebody said I should never say that again.
THR: Are you the left-wing version of Fox News?
Griffin: No. We don't put out talking points all day. The night of the vote on the Bush tax cuts, whether to preserve them or not, every show's coverage was different in primetime. It was fantastic. We did great that night. We hire smart people, and they think for themselves. The fact that President Obama has done Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC -- what is the only major TV outlet that he has not done? He has not done us.
THR: Why not?
Griffin: It should be noted, every Republican, whether they're in trouble or not, does their first interview with Fox. They are invited, and they are treated well. With us, you come at your own risk. We are not going to lay down, do an easy interview, and President Obama knows it. We're not here to be the voice of the administration. There are a lot of things we agree on, but there are no deals. They don't tell us what to say, we don't ask them to come on and then we'll give them a free ride. That isn't how it works. And that gives us a certain amount of integrity, and I think that's what our audience respects about us.
THR: Do you want more Republicans to come on MSNBC?
Griffin: Yes. Look, we like all ideas. I do think this channel is about depth. I love it when Rachel gets a big interview and it's smart, thoughtful and always polite. Morning Joe obviously gets a wide variety of guests. But people have to be prepared to go on our shows. Whether you're a Democr
THR: Have you watched Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom?
Griffin: I will watch it, and I'm sure I'll love it because everybody says I'd love it. But I want to watch Breaking Bad, and I don't have time to. But with Newsroom, it's like this is what we do and I'll be judgmental, and I don't want to be that jerk who says, "Oh, it sucks."
THR: Is there an on-air personality on another network that you would like to have?
Griffin: Yes. I don't know if I should say this. [Fox News anchor] Shep Smith. I just like his way. I like everything about him.