According to the website Mediaite, MSNBC is going to give Alec Baldwin a TV show on politics. The idea is that Baldwin will have a weekly platform on Friday nights at 10, from which he can do a real-life version of “The Newsroom” except maybe talk a little less like Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Is this what MSNBC wants to do with its Nielsen anxiety, as the news and opinion channel continues to lose viewers and, at times, trail Fox News, HLN, and CNN? The left eye to Fox News’s right, MSNBC has a strong need to “lean forward” in the ratings, and MSNBC executives may see the tabloid-courting Baldwin as just the ticket. He could be their very own Geraldo, periodically transforming embarrassing moments into bad publicity, of which there is no such thing.
And is this what Baldwin wants to do with his renewed acting relevance from “30 Rock,” on which his brilliant caricature of conservative self-interest, Jack Donaghy, was one for the ages? Baldwin could spout his impassioned opinions, of which he has many, under the aegis of a legitimate network instead of on his own Twitter account or as a guest on late-night TV, where he famously yelled about impeaching President Clinton in 1998. If he were a Smiths song, it would be “Bigmouth Strikes Again” — hey, that could be the slogan for his show.
Sure, it could be a marriage made in heaven, even if Baldwin will need to vie with Rachel Maddow in the makeup room: “Only one of us can have this haircut,” Donaghy once declared. Baldwin has proven himself to be an effective interviewer on his podcast series, “Here’s the Thing,” and he may be able to bring that rare skill to the screen. Maybe the structure of a show, and the need to be consistent and relatively likable to maintain an audience, will be the inspiration he needs to control his anger.
Also, Baldwin’s most visible work has been on NBC — on “30 Rock,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “Will & Grace” — and NBC is a corporate cousin to MSNBC. His weekly show would be a bit of synergistic harmony and — here’s another Donaghy quote — “Never badmouth synergy.”
But it’s a gamble, for sure, one that could too easily be a mistake. Baldwin has a bad temper, to put it mildly, with a number of tabloid events gaining national attention. One of the most offensive was the leaked voicemail he left for his daughter in 2007, calling her a “rude, thoughtless little pig”; another was a recent homophobic Twitter fit, in which he lashed out at a British reporter who accused his wife of tweeting while attending James Gandolfini’s funeral. “I’m gonna find you, George Stark, you toxic little queen,” he wrote, among other less printable and more aggressive comments. The guy has serious anger management issues, clearly.
I really admire Baldwin as an actor, and not just for his pitch perfect work on “30 Rock.” The guy has a number of stellar performances on his IMDB page, including his fierce scene in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” his volatile work in “Miami Blues,” and his cold-hearted turn in “The Cooler.” From “Married to the Mob” to “The Aviator” and “The Hunt for Red October,” he has stood out.
But without a script, well, he’s a lot less admirable. There are two Alec Baldwins, it seems, the tabloid maniac and the praiseworthy actor. I feel the same way about Roseanne Barr: Her stand-up and her years on the sitcom “Roseanne” are powerful, distinctive, and trailblazing, but she can be close to unbearable when she’s herself in public. Her refreshing honesty too easily turns self-serving, stunt-driven, and nonsensical. I don’t want to see Baldwin without writers, other actors, and rehearsals, knowing that he might crack at any minute.
Yes, his fans often forgive him for his slips. It’s a curious phenomenon, one that Anderson Cooper pointed out in a tweet after Baldwin’s homophobic rant: “Why does #AlecBaldwin get a pass when he uses gay slurs? If a conservative talked of beating up a ‘queen’ they would be vilified.” Perhaps because of his liberal politics, he has been cut a lot of slack by his supporters, who dismiss his misbehavior as part of what they see as a cad persona. They manage to compartmentalize his offenses.
But MSNBC doesn’t need that kind of divisive provocation, does it? I hope not. Some people just aren’t meant to transform their political passions into a TV performance, no matter how much they want to; there’s an art to being a commanding TV anchor, even in partisan news. There are so many actors and actresses, from Sean Penn to Clint Eastwood to Victoria Jackson, from whom I do not want to hear political commentary. The network has made some good decisions with Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow. One more good decision won’t hurt.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.