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Will Ronan Farrow's MSNBC Show Be Derailed by His "I Hate Woody" Fame?

Photo of Caryn James By Caryn James | James on Screens February 24, 2014 at 3:29PM

Ronan Farrow began his new MSNBC show today by saying, "I grew up watching the greats of TV news," then delivered his wry list of "Murrow, Cronkite, Colbert." He wasn't really kidding, because Ronan Farrow Daily is all about trying to channel his generation. At a glance the show wasn't rocky; it was flat and safe, which might be worse.
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Ronan Farrow temp

Ronan Farrow began his new MSNBC show today by saying, "I grew up watching the greats of TV news," then delivered his wry list of "Murrow, Cronkite, Colbert." He wasn't really kidding, because Ronan Farrow Daily is all about trying to channel his generation, droll and fueled by social media. The program (at the unpressured, student-friendly time of  1:00 p.m.) is a generic cable news and talk show, dressed up with frills of Colbert and Fallon (hashtags!)  Nothing can be judged on one episode, but at a glance Ronan Farrow Daily wasn't rocky; it was flat and safe, which might be worse.

Let's be honest about the backdrop. This show is inseparable from the media circus surrounding it. Farrow was on Hillary Clinton's State Dept. staff and went to college at 11, but would any other 26-year-old have gotten this gig? The public knows him as an extraordinary Tweeter, the son of Mia Farrow and either Woody Allen or Frank Sinatra. (Apparently he's a genius who chooses to ignore that not-so-new invention, the paternity test.)

Farrow has helped fuel this tabloid persona, and if that boomerangs against him -- if people watch to check out the Sinatra-blue eyes but don't stick around for the politics -- Ronan Farrow Daily would become a live-by-the sword, die-by-the-sword situation.

In the run-up to the premiere he has used the gossipy publicity to his advantage while assuming the posture of rising above it. After his mother told Vanity Fair in October that Sinatra might be his father, Ronan offered the perfect comeback with his now-famous Tweet: "Listen, we're all *possibly* Frank Sinatra's son."  When MSNBC announced just a couple of weeks later that they were developing a show for him, the media asked and he skirted the paternity question. Farrow and MSNBC gained tabloid-style attention for an otherwise low-profile news show while the host could claim the high road. Sure, he looks a lot like Sinatra, but he looks exactly like Mia Farrow, so this is just an annoying publicity game mother-and-son choose to play with the public. Mia brought it up, not us; they could resolve the matter if they wanted to.

And remember, it was Ronan's Tweet that set off the latest Woody Allen firestorm in January when Allen was honored at the Golden Globes. As the tribute started, Mia Tweeted  "Time to grab some icecream & switch over to #GIRLS" but it was Ronan who attacked with "Missed the Woody Allen tribute – did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?" His Tweet, not hers,  was explosive. (The rest of that saga is its own messy story, beside the point here.)

He didn't mention any of that in the intro to Ronan Farrow Daily, jumping right into the serious stuff, beginning with a conversation about the situation in Ukraine. NBC's Richard Engel reported form Kiev on nothing new, just the public response to the protests and the former President's fleeing. Former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen and former Obama advisor David Axelrod weighed in. Farrow was smooth and the conversation shallow, as if we were watching a likable Teaching Assistant in PoliSci 101. The next segment seemed closer to the show's essence. Farrow offered "the Cliff's notes version" of who's in charge of Ukraine now"; he might have called it the Listicle version just as accurately.

Other supposedly youth-oriented features are surprisingly stale already. He'll have a daily Twitter battle, beginning with "Who has been stronger on Ukraine, Obama or Putin?" Viewers were asked to Tweet  #rfdObama or #rfdPutin. By the end of the hour, Obama had edged ahead with 56 per cent, but 56 per cent of what? And so what?

Another daily feature, "Heroes and Zeroes" was lame. Lena Dunham was a Hero, recently-captured drug lord El Chapo a zero. The segment was Colbert's "Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger" without the wit.

 A "Call to Action" segment on college debt asked viewers to Tweet a selfie holding a sign announcing what you owe on your college loan or, more discreetly, when your debt will be paid off . It's an attempt at crowd reporting, but what could be more serendipitous than reporting like this?  

MNBC is clearly counting on Farrow's high-profile and presence on Twitter, where he continues to blend politics and pop culture, with an edge. Just the other day he Tweeted: "Zimbabwe leader Mugabe turns 90 today. He's like the Betty White of corrupt dictators." (Yikes, what did Berry White do to deserve that?) But it's a leap from social media fame to serious television news, a jump he won't make instantly.  

Farrow clearly wants very much to galvanize his audience  to political and social action. Good luck with that when you're an active player in a gossipy scandal. Even since the latest Woody flare-up, awards bloggers have been asking, "Will this hurt Cate Blanchett at the Oscars?" (A question as silly as it is shallow; no, she's still a lock.) The better question might be, "Will it hurt or help Ronan Farrow?"  

 

This article is related to: Ronan Farrow, Television, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Cate Blanchett, Ronan Farrow Daily, MSNBC, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon

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