Somewhere, Keith Olbermann is smiling — or more likely, laughing his rear end off.  In a week where viewers wanted breaking news, the new MSNBC prime-time lineup managed to fall back to third place.  And the cable channel’s putative news program now headed by Larry O’Donnell managed to lose ground to a show so weak that its death has been widely predicted:

On a week marked by a huge international story–and hefty NBC resources committed to telling it–MSNBC marked an unpleasant milestone, dropping to third place across primetime on February 1. In perhaps the most striking defeat for the network,Lawrence O’Donnell, who took over for the departed Keith Olbermann was soundly defeated by CNN’s Parker Spitzer, a show assumed by many to be such a poor performer as to be on the chopping block.

On Tuesday night, Parker Spitzer attracted 292,000 viewers 25-54, compared to O’Donnell’s 196,000.

CNN newcomer Piers Morgan, whose show Piers Morgan Tonight has had several ups and downs in its first two weeks, finished strongly ahead of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (327,000 to 260,000). Morgan broke from single-interview format to cover the Egypt story live, and interviewed former British prime minister Tony Blair.

MSNBC’s Ed Show, which relocated to 10 p.m. in the new lineup, was nowhere near CNN’s AC 360. Cooper, who’s on assignment reporting from Cairo, led with 344,000 to Ed Schultz’s 180,000.

Let’s put these numbers in their proper perspective.  For the 8 ET hour, Fox got 3.6 million overall viewers, more than twice the viewers of CNN and MSNBC combined in that period.  Among the 25-54YO demographic, Fox again doubled up on its two competitors, with 831,000 viewers compared to 488,000 combined for O’Donnell and Parker/Spitzer.  O’Donnell did win the overall viewer battle against CNN, but not by much: 948K to 825K for Parker/Spitzer.

In comparison, Keith Olbermann had well over a million viewers overall during his later years in O’Donnell’s slot.  By February of last year, his draw among the 25-54YO demo had dropped significantly, but he still got 263,000 in that demo at that time.  That’s 34% better than O’Donnell’s doing now.

It may take some time for the new MSNBC lineup to establish itself in its new form.  However, these were all established hosts with supposedly firm audiences, not a slate of new talent.  Olbermann’s departure did a lot more damage than many people would have thought.

Tags: Egypt