Ratings numbers are in for Friday night's premiere of Alec Baldwin's new MSNBC chat show Up Late with Alec Baldwin, and they are... OK. Baldwin's debut attracted "an average of 654,000 viewers," according to Deadline, which was up "53% compared to the timeslot’s take one week earlier." Not bad!
Though, it should be noted that Baldwin's demo numbers — the ones advertisers really care about — were down from the previous week's airing of MSNBC Investgates, to 172,000. The bulk of the audience was older, as was to be expected. By comparison, that night Fox News's talking root vegetable Sean Hannity pulled in a total of 1.5 million viewers, 338,000 of those in the target demo. So Baldwin didn't win the night by any means, though I don't think anyone expected him to.
It should also be noted that Baldwin's show is, well, a little strange. Instead of sitting behind a desk, or at a nondescript table Charlie Rose style, or even just in chairs like, say, a Dick Cavett interview, Baldwin sits in what looks to be the corner booth at some old New York coffee shop. There are other booths around him, so I suppose the impression is supposed to be that he and his guest are sitting up chatting, like Hopper's "Nighthawks" only not at the counter. The effect is too stagey, the allusion too literal. It looked like he and his guest, New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, were sitting on an empty sitcom set, as if 2 Broke Girls had lent them the space at the last minute. Frankly it was hard to take seriously, and I get the impression that Baldwin really wants you to take this show seriously.
His choice of guest was also a little odd. Sure, as mayor of New York, de Blasio would be in charge of more people than the governor of Massachusetts is, but he was still an awfully local choice for the first show out of the gate. And it gave Baldwin way too much time to nod and fawn and agree. The first episode advertised the show as a venue for Alec Baldwin to have his opinions publicly reaffirmed. Which isn't all that rare for a personality-driven cable news show, but when that's done in the soft-jazz, corner table style of Up Late it comes across hokey and sycophantic. "Here's a safe, clubby place for you to be agreed with," the show seemed to say. But, it reminds you, look at the serious expression on Alec Baldwin's face. This is cushy, but it's also all business.
Taking a complete left turn, next week's guest will be Debra Winger. Which is interesting! I don't mind the idea of Alec Baldwin having a show where he purrs that baritone at people he's interested in. His podcast for WNYC was perfectly enjoyable for doing just that. But on a cable news network, where the requirements for bold newsiness are perhaps a little higher, he seems a bit out of place, almost arbitrary. But then again, it's Friday night on MSNBC. How high are the stakes, really?
I'll continue to watch out of curiosity, but the show will have to make some definite tweaks in tone and style before it becomes anything worth talking about, while up late or otherwise.