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All In With Chris Hayes Keeps The Host’s Promises

Monday night’s debut of MSNBC’s new 8 pm program All In, starring former Up host Chris Hayes, started not with a bang, and not with a whimper, but with an as-promised deep dive into a news story that probably wouldn’t lead most other news shows. Also as promised, the show featured a racially and genderally diverse roster of guests, although the way things worked out, the panel segments wound up, respectively, all white and all black. Coupled with several stylistic innovations, the host and producers of All In have delivered a show that looks like nothing else in cable news primetime. Time will tell if that’s a good thing.

If this first episode is the template, All In will feature two-segment panel discussions on two different stories, wrapped around an as-yet-unbranded commentary segment and a quick, light snack of cool things from the internet called #Click3. This was a slow news day, so it’s difficult to judge how representative tonight’s topics were, but the rupture of a pipeline in Arkansas and an Atlanta scholastic cheating scandal seem to portend editorial choices that step away from cable news sizzle. It’s a risky design, trusting the audience to either be interested in the two topics of the night, or to be engaged enough by the show to learn more about them, anyway.

The format allows for a depth of conversation similar to that on Up, without quite as much looseness, and the occasional non-doctrinaire viewpoint that made Up appealing made appearances Monday night. The first two segments were about a pipeline rupture in Arkansas that has covered neighborhoods with Canadian tar-sands oil, which led to a discussion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which environmentalists vehemently oppose. Hayes gently lampooned the manipulative news trope of dramatizing oil disasters with oiled birds. Later in the show, panelist Dan Dicker pointed out that the Arkansas pipeline spill, from an 80 year-old pipeline, could actually be a selling point for Keystone, which would be brand new, and take pressure off of older pipelines. It was a point I had been waiting to hear, but not expecting to. During the show’s latter half, Hayes unexpectedly chided a panelist for making a “cop-out” comparison that most liberals would drool over.

Stylistically, the show’s graphics and music are zippier, and less papery, than a lot of MSNBC shows, and the top of the show features no rundown of what you’re going to see, Hayes just dives right into the first story. First bit of unsolicited advice: find a way to shorten up the panelists’ bios. It’s great that you’re the Chairman and CEO of this, and the editor-at-large of that, and a Senior Fellow at your kid’s elementary school, but pick one.

Instead of the customary teases for the next segment, the commercial breaks feature glimpses of the host and guests chewing over the topics in real time, overlaid with viewer tweets and graphical teases. That little innovation sums up the All In ethos: a show that’s already sure you’re going to watch it. Teases? We don’t need no stinkin’ teases! Where The Ed Show was a big, heaping plate of steak and potatoes, All In is a tasting menu served up by a chef who’s sure you’ll like it if you try it.

Not for nothing, the inaugural edition of All In went off with an absolute minimum of technical glitchery, a testament to the production team, and perhaps to the stakes being wagered on MSNBC’s new entry. Speaking of cop outs (cops out?), only time will tell if audiences flock to Hayes’ table, but it will probably tell quickly. If you’re only going to watch one hour of cable news, you might go for a more rat-a-tat presentation, but if you want something other than the six or seven stories you just watched on Hardball, All In fits the bill.

Given the show’s format, it’s tough to choose a representative clip, but here’s tonight’s #Click3 segment, the most quickly digestible example of All In‘s appeal (second bit of unsolicited advice: #AllInskys):

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