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MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell: “Bill O’Reilly Is Running A Flawless Television Show”

Following his first week ever of being a full-time television anchor, we talked to Lawrence O’Donnell today about how it went (the show airs Monday-Thursday).

O’Donnell explained the backstory to his Levi Johnston interview, why he thinks Bill O’Reilly “is running a flawless television show” and talked about a previous program he was involved with – The West Wing.

Whether you agree or disagree with O’Donnell politically, one thing is certain – he is not your typical cable news host. He is brutally honest (see below why he has no problem admitting he’s doing this for the money), he connects a lot of the news business back to the entertainment world, where he spent a lot of time and he will say things sure to surprise you (look for his take on O’Reilly as well as DADT). Check it out:

Mediaite: It seems the tone of the first week of The Last Word (on MSNBC at 10pmET), although you tackled serious topics and conducted serious interviews, was lighter than other shows. That you don’t take everything so seriously. The ‘OMG Breaking News’ segment last night is an example of that (video on next page). What do you think of that interpretation?

O’Donnell: I think some topics are deadly serious. The Israelis allowing a settlement freeze to expire this week is as serious as world affairs gets. There’s no light tone to find in that area. But in the rest of politics, domestically with Christine O’Donnells of the world out there. And the Senate behaving childishly. The children of politicians becoming celebrities for no other reason that being children of politicians. Those don’t strike me as things worthy of serious analysis because there is nothing serious about them.

“I never second guess ratings. Never. Bill O’Reilly is running a flawless television show. The proof of that is it’s the number one rated cable news show.”

Mediaite: Are there any cable news show not on MSNBC you watch and say, ‘wow they do this particular thing right’?

O’Donnell: Every single television product has the ambition to chase ratings, every one of them. Many have other ambitions, for many, ratings are not #1. But my experience on TV, and on the entertainment side, has been entirely ratings-based. When I look at TV I look at ratings. And I never second guess ratings. Never. Bill O’Reilly is running a flawless television show. The proof of that is it’s the number one rated cable news show. I don’t have another thought about what that show should do. You look at it and just go, ‘alright no suggestions.’ When I watch Keith’s show, I get why it rocketed to the top of the ratings at MSNBC, why he has a devoted following and it is a flawlessly presented piece of work. Rachel then follows with her own version of something that also enthralls MSNBC viewers and is the top show some nights, Keith and Rachel trade off being the top show. But if you show me a low-rated cable news show, and ask what they should do, I’d have no idea. I don’t get why people watch O’Reilly more than Hannity, or why they watch Hannity at all. But I don’t argue with it. Why did Larry King become irrelevant in cable news television? I don’t know, because he didn’t do a thing differently. It’s the same suspenders, the audience just stopped watching.

Mediaite: Obviously there will be comparisons between your show and Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. How do you think your show will be different?

O’Donnell: I will make no claim to being even slightly different. That is not for the author to do. That’s for audiences to decide. This is not my world. I’ve parachuted into it, missed my target, and have quite accidentally ended up on this side of the TV business. When you write for television drama or movies it’s not up to you how different you are from others. If I write a cop show, it’s not up to me to decide how different it is from Law & Order. I had screenwriters go on and on and on about how their cop show isn’t like any other cop show on TV. They made very good points, and it absolutely doesn’t matter. It’s entirely up to the audience to decide. I can’t do what Keith does, I can’t do what Rachel does. I watch them both as if they’re magicians – they have skills that have nothing to do with me. It’s the same way I watch Jon Stewart. Or just like me watching someone play the guitar.

>>> NEXT PAGE: How the Levi interview came about, some West Wing trivia, doing it “for the money”…

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