AT FIRST or second blush, it looks like a win-win for all concerned: Alec Baldwin, the veteran actor best known for his television role in NBC’s “30 Rock,” and his real-life role as short-fused hellraiser and sworn enemy of the paparazzi, was looking for a new challenge. After all, an Oscar-nominated actor can’t go on being a pitchman for Capital One forever.
MSNBC, the cable network always in the process of reinventing itself, was eager to continue the rescue of its weekend lineup from the wasteland of repurposed doc-style tours of America’s prisons.
MSNBC has been teasing the show for the last few weeks. In the first promo spot announcing the show, Ed Schultz, host of “The Ed Show” (and a man with his own pugnacious reputation) announces that the network, “responding to criticism,” had hired Baldwin, “a man who will address the great issues of our time while keeping his emotions in check, a man who values reason over passion and provides a soothing voice for these troubled times.”
The camera pans over to an effusive Baldwin, grinning like a madman and gripping Schultz’s shoulder.
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That ad was a sly, tongue-in-cheek allusion to Baldwin’s reputation as a man with a serious temper. On Sunday, MSNBC followed that promo with another one, this one featuring Baldwin clearly intended to downplay the outrageous in his biography — Baldwin playing it straight.
That’s it. No snark, no foaming at the mouth. But “keeping his emotions in check”? Baldwin in circumspect mode is a far cry from the Alec Baldwin who apologized after he used homophobic slurs to violently threaten a British reporter who said his wife Hilaria Thomas had tweeted about wedding presents and TV appearances during James Gandolfini's funeral in June.
“If put my foot up your f**king ass, George Stark, but I'm sure you'd dig it too much,” one tweet read. “I'm gonna find you George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I'm gonna f**k you... up,” he added.
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AND THERE’S the Alec Baldwin involved in a Feburary dustup with a New York post photographer, Baldwin reportedly made racist remarks, calling him a “coon” and a “crackhead.” “He was saying some serious racist stuff,” New York Post photographer G.N. Miller said.
Or the Alec Baldwin who shoved a New York Daily News photographer outside Manhattan's Marriage License Bureau in June 2012.
Or the Alec Baldwin thrown off an American Airlines flight in December 2011 for refusing to turn his phone off while playing Words With Friends.
Or the Alec Baldwin who called Ireland, his then 11-year-old daughter by Kim Basinger, a “rude and thoughtless little pig” in 2007.
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“Disrupt With Karen Finney,” featuring the former Democratic National Committee official, was recently added to the Saturday and Sunday lineup, joining “Melissa Harris-Perry,” a news analysis program hosted by its namesake, a columnist for The Nation; and “Up With Steve Kornacki,” hosted by the Salon senior political writer, in the weekend programming stable.
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Baldwin, who briefly considered running for mayor of New York (what a campaign that woulda been) and who reportedly backs progressive candidate Bill de Blasio (a guest on tonight’s premiere), will likely bring more of the liberal perspective that is MSNBC’s stock in trade.
“Up Late” is the network’s new bid to “Lean Forward.” But given Baldwin’s proven reputation for going off the rails, it’ll be curious to see whether this latest MSNBC programming move pushes the envelope — or rips it wide open. Stay tuned. And brace yourselves.
Image credits: Schultz and Baldwin, Up Late title card and MSNBC logo: © 2013 MSNBC. Baldwin and photographers (both images): New York Daily News.