How MSNBC's 'The Cycle' Won Me Over (Video)
There are two things in life that are much more enjoyable the second time. MSNBC's "The Cycle" is the other one. When the show debuted last June, it was loathe at first sight for me. Who were these four young hosts -- I came within a thin gray hair of calling whippersnappers -- and what gave them claim to expertise on anything? As one viewer commented on Huffington Post, when it joined the chorus of critics panning the program, "Bring back the adults to this time slot. I feel like I am watching a group of Disney musketeers talking politics."
Now, I still have old ties to NBC that make me care deeply about its successes and failures. I worked as a correspondent and anchor for NBC in the early 80's -- covering all the self-imploding presidential candidates, from John Glenn to Jesse Jackson – and subbed on "Today" and so many other programs, I was beginning to think my full name was Mary Nissenson Fillinginfor. Back then, we used to say news magazine shows on NBC were cursed. Between the recent tribulations of "Rock Center" and the less-than-promising beginnings of "The Cycle," it looked to me like the old curse was still going strong.
So, when initial ratings for "The Cycle" were dismal and spiraling downward, none of its critics weren't surprised -- and I wasn't, either. "It doesn't have a prayer," Bob Beckel announced on Fox News' "The Five" – charging that all "The Cycle" amounted to was a poor knock off of his own show.
But MSNBC gets the last laugh this time – and its hosts a chance to savor their revenge by serving it to their doubters the fun way: piping hot and placed in front of a very big fan. Not only has "The Cycle" ratings improved, the longer it has aired, the more convincingly "The Cycle" has established itself as no mere rehash of its predecessors. In fact, it's increasingly clear that executive producer Steve Friedman has accomplished something extraordinary in television: he's offering a fresh take on the political panel show, a format almost as old as the industry.
There is no star on "The Cycle." Unlike "The Young Turks" for example, the "The Cycle'" has four co-hosts who are, in every respect, coequals. And they're not just casually schmoozing -- as the panel so often does on "The Five" – they're presenting a solid political news show. Perhaps most striking, "The Cycle" breaks the mold of the political commentator, redefining who's entitled to wear that title to comport with the tastes and expectations of its Gen-X audience.
"What we try to do," Friedman told me, "is a show that's informative and fun. We take our topics seriously, but not ourselves." If some baby boomers don't take the hosts seriously either, I doubt Friedman's losing sleep over it. It's their kids he's targeting: a generation as likely to be convinced by a tweet from a contemporary, as a pronouncement from the pantheon of political punditry.
Given the target audience, choosing all Gen-X co-hosts was fairly predictable. But, the way Friedman chose those hosts was not. In fact, one of his riskiest decisions was to include co-hosts who had neither the credentials, nor experience, to qualify as experts. As a result, two of his four panelists are best described as attractive audience contemporaries who are by no means pundits but are passionate and outspoken about politics. It proved to be a stroke of genius.